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Tuesday 31 January 2017


I have had OCD for as long as I can remember. Only very recently, however, have I started to recognise it for what it was (and is). As a young child people had me down simply as a ‘worrier’, and as a teenager and young adult, when the intrusive thoughts and associated compulsions began to get me seriously down, ‘depression’ is what I was diagnosed with. But the main issue all along has been OCD.

When I was eleven I sat lots of exams to get into posh secondary schools (which I passed), and when my parents and I decided on my destination, my mind was beset with ruminations on the perceived pros and cons of each of my options. I constructed elaborate mental lists, and I couldn’t eat, sleep or otherwise function until I had run through these lists in my mind and ‘figured them out’ to a degree which would satisfy me in the moment. (The key phrase here is ‘in the moment’; OCD has a tendency to constantly up the ante such that ultimate satisfaction is painfully and perennially elusive.) At the time, of course, I had no idea that what was going on in my mind was in any way weird. It was painful, sure, but as far as I was concerned it was just the way things were.

In secondary school I developed an obsession with playing table tennis. I did not enjoy playing table tennis, note – I was obsessed with it. In a way I actually hated it, for it was a source of pain. For some reason, and bizarre as it sounds, my whole sense of identity became embroiled with my aptitude at this sport. And here is the irony: I wasn’t actually very good. I had the potential to be good; I practised a lot, and mastered the techniques, but my anxiety, which was focused obsessively on my performance, had the counterproductive effect of hampering it. My arm would turn to wood as I attempted to play a winning shot. Whilst technically adept at the sport, I ended up losing to inferior players.

I had no idea what was going on. I thought I was going crazy. I couldn’t get to sleep or get on with my day until I had watched, over and over again in my mental cinema, footage of the perfect forehand smash, from a plethora of different angles. It was weird, debilitating stuff. Thankfully, my obsession with table tennis abated abruptly when, aged fourteen, I discovered girls.

The most pernicious tendency of my OCD has been its proclivity to attach itself onto my intimate relationships. I have not had a serious relationship which hasn’t been totally racked by ruminations and doubts. The proximate cause for my diagnosis of depression, aged eighteen, was the breakdown of my relationship with my first proper girlfriend. Again, I had no idea what was wrong with me. All I knew was that, paradoxically, I both loved her and was beset by intrusive doubts about loving her. My unfamiliarity with the machinations of OCD meant that I was neither able to conceptualise this in my own mind, or to articulate it to her. Obviously the relationship didn’t work out, and I fell apart when she started seeing someone else.

At university I was obsessed with my academic performance. My entire identity became bound up in my grades. If I didn’t achieve a first-class degree I was literally nothing. If I didn’t go to Oxford, I was practically an amoeba. If my brother outperformed me academically, I may as well be dead. This is all warped stuff, and I can see that now, but at the time it felt terrifyingly real. Thankfully none of my fears came to pass, but given my mental state at the time I genuinely dread to think what I would have done had they been realised. I don’t think suicide was or would ever be an option for me, but a full-on mental breakdown would have been a likely outcome.

When my dad pointed out, aged 22, that I was thinning a bit on top, it sent me into a tailspin of anxiety. I started to indulge in some classic OCD behaviour: I couldn’t leave the house until I had photographed my head from multiple angles and found one that made my balding look non-existent. I couldn’t pass a reflective surface without looking in it. I couldn’t look at another man without scrutinising the state of his hair, and whenever I spoke to anyone all I wanted to ask was “do you think I’m going bald?” And when they answered ‘no’ that would satisfy me for a bit, until a few minutes later when I took another photograph.

The thing about each preoccupation is that, when you are in the midst of it, it feels like the only thing in the world. It feels like life can’t go on until you have answered this one question, or solved this one problem. And you never can; you can’t outlogic or outwit OCD; you can’t battle it on its own terms. It’s like whack-a-mole – it will shift to something else. Some of these things are under our control but are imbued with an exaggerated sense of importance. For example, we can control how hard we work to get a first-class degree (which I did), or whether we find the right help to overcome the psychological barriers that hamper sporting performance (which I didn’t), even though such things need not define our worth. There are other things, however, that we can't control, and in these cases the job of OCD is to give us the illusion that we can. This is where it is at its most pernicious. In these cases meditation and mindfulness can be helpful in accepting what we cannot change, and directing our energies towards what both (a) matters and (b) is within our control. 

This reads a bit like a sob story. It isn’t. I have a great life, and I recognise that. I am surrounded by a supportive family who love me unconditionally. I have a wonderful wife-to-be who loves me too, although sometimes I fear that if she knew the full extent of my OCD she wouldn’t, especially since she is often the target of it. I have a job that enables me to earn a living through my art. I’m a lucky, lucky guy.

But I also have OCD.

It feels a little bit better now that is off my chest. 

Thursday 26 January 2017


This is not a punch
It’s an alt-kiss

This is not a gun
It’s an alt-flower

This is not shrapnel
It’s alt-glitter

This is not fire
It’s an alt-rainbow

This is not war
It's alt-peace

This is not death
It’s alt-life

This is not a poem
It’s an alt-revolution

Image result for kellyanne conway

Friday 20 January 2017


In a world of commotions, emotions and feelings,
and other such things that can leave a man reeling,
a bloke likes to hope for some comfort and healing –
a space to relax and unwind.

A place to be safe from life’s ripples and eddies,
a place that is faithful and constant and steady,
a place where the pace isn’t hectic or heady –
a place where you know what you’ll find...

Come sup at our table!
You know where you are with a USB cable!
A lithium battery won’t ever leave you!
A socket adapter won’t cheat or deceive you!

Rejoice in our manor!
Forget your divorce with a printer and scanner!
Your daughter’s gone missing? Well, over you trundle –
come blow all your woes on our motherboard bundle.

In here there’s no tricksters or Machiavellis,
Just PC components and oversized tellies,
and dual format soundbars, yes come fill your wellies
and pray at our altar of light.

Our trained Maplin chaplains, they know how to guide you.
So you have been let down and you have been lied to?
A broadband extender flex will not deride you -
in Maplin your future is bright.

Be part of our union!
Kneel down in the pew of electric communion!
Your dad’s had a stroke and your mum broke her hip?
Throw pain down the drain with an LED strip.

Be king of the castle!
Come dress all your stress in predictable parcels.
Come flatten your feelings with MP3 players
at your best-loved high street electrics purveyors.

At MAPLIN you’re cushty, you’re cuddled, you’re cared for,
so come get some hand tools and fill up your man drawer.
With Vodafone dongles you won't have a tiff.
A Behringer microphone's never not stiff.

At MAPLIN you’re safe now, the world’s in a lull.
A monitor won’t call you ‘nerdy’ or ‘dull’.
A portable speaker won’t steal your wife.
So come down to MAPLIN
and feast
on your life. 

Image result for maplin

Wednesday 18 January 2017

Poems About Social Media by My Students

Grown ups are very fond of moaning about how young people today allegedly 'have it easy'. I don't agree. I think the lives of young people today are much more challenging than they were when I was at school. Back in my day, if you were bullied you could at least go home and shut the door. If you fancied someone who didn't fancy you back you could go and hang out with other people, and forget about it. Nowadays we are all so perennially 'connected' that such things are not possible. Social media is a 24/7 business. I delight in ignoring most of it now, but I dread to think of the toll it would have taken on my mental health had the likes of Snapchat and Whatsapp, and even Facebook, been available when I was at school. With this in mind, the students at my weekly lunch club wrote poems based on their perceptions of social media. Some of them were a bit weird, but they all contained interesting and astonishingly poetic observations.

Social Media by Safiyah

Social media is where you can stalk
all the Youtubers.
Social media is where you can upload
whatever you want:
pictures, videos, comments.
Social media is where you can talk
to your friends and family.
Social media is where you get bullied,
from the mean comments
to the rude edits on photos.
Social media is my life.
My everything.

Talk by Taniya

I’d give my target away
I’d even give you my gravity today
Just talk to me okay?
You never talk to me
And you never even face me
Your eye is on the diamond
But let me be your silver lining
Don’t just text
Or you’ll be gone from me in a second
You never come when you’re needed
So I ask you one thing…
Let me be your phone
So you’ll never leave me alone.

Media by Sathana

The earth
The eye
The world
The seasons
Both aren’t
And finally,


 Image result for snapchat

Image result for whatsapp