Boy enters – early twenties. He shows some mild signs of OCD. Perhaps flicking the lights on and off before coming in...checking the locks on the door... Chris Tomlin’s ‘How Can I Keep From Singing’ is playing in the background. After a while, he sits on a chair.
What’s the worse thing you can tell someone who has OCD? ‘You left the tap on’...’gas is running’....’your hands are dirty’...’is that a hole in your top?’...or ‘your Mum’s got cancer’?...It’s a funny thing to believe you’re in control of so many things..there’s some sort of comfrt in being able to blame yourself if something goes wrong. Maybe it’s the blame you don’t want which is why you try so hard to turn off that tap, double check it and re-check it, then if you’re still not satisfied, stick your hand underneath it just to make sure...you switch the lights on and off, make sure the windows and doors are locked on both locks...but at least a finger can be pointed if any of that goes wrong...But who is to blame when you find out your mum has cancer? You? Karma? – is it the result of some form of past wrong living? Is it their lifestyle, choices they’ve made?..God?...I’ve been taught one or two things recently, and that is that there are some things in life, as much as I may not like it, there are just some things that I have absolutely no control over. I can turn the volume up or down to an even number. I can check the engine hasn’t been left running...I can switch off the computer, and turn the tele off standby, I can even shake the doors to make sure they’ve been locked properly. If I’m feeling super-cautious I can back it all up with a quick prayer – “Lord, please make sure everything is off and locked that needs to be and that the house and my family are safe”...But I cannot control my mum’s body. I’m not a Dr – thankfully. I’d probably spend too much time sterilising the equipment to even start the job in the first place. “Dr! You need to do this now! We’re loosing them!...In a minute! It’s nearly clean. How are the sheets? Are they fully asleep, we can’t have them waking up mid operation...beeeeep...Dr hurry up, there’s no time, no time!...In a minute I said, I can’t having them getting infected....beeeep....they’re going to die if you don’t hurry up....oh no, I missed a bit!...beeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeep...oh dear, my bad” – Yes, thankfully I’m not a Doctor, and it’s certainly not a position I envy. So not everything is in my control. Go figure....so what option does it leave you with, if you are not in control? Well, recently I’ve been learning there are times when I have to take my hand off the wheel and let God do the driving...
I’ve come to realise, that this obsession, or obsessive behaviour, has in the past taken on many forms...Compulsive over eating was I think the first – a fancy term for a gluttony. It sounds much more professional, much more ‘disease-like’. When in reality, I just liked my food more than myself. Yes, I had my time to shine in all things wide and wonderful. Obsessively eating, for comfort mainly. Food was my friend. And a good one I thought at first. It had the capacity to make me feel better, it brought me and my other friends together, it even fit neatly into my pockets, and conveniently popped out of machines whenever I needed it...there aren’t many friends you can say that about...But as is usually the case, food – like friends - betrayed me in ways unimaginable....by making me clinically obese at the age of 16. Yes in my prime, I topped the charts at 15 ˝ stone (weighing only a little less than my age) and why? Because of this thing I thought loved me....it filled me to the point, that I stretched, and stretched, and stretched...I’ve got the marks to prove it. It forced me into trousers that would swallow most people my age, and gave me a pair of those things that most men dread to develop...moobs.
There’s a method of thinking that says you can cure habits by focussing the energy you spend on them, onto something else. Replacement therapy...and so I tried it, with exercise...I ditched my old friend that brutally betrayed me for a much more cool and trendy, attractive friend. One that I could go to as many times as I wanted for as little as 25 pounds a month. Yes, the gym soon became my nearest and dearest obsession. He pushed me hard, but it was worth it. Soon I came to forget food and all it did to me. The replacement therapy had worked! I ran, and cycled, swam and stepped. I learned to treat food as my enemy, keeping it at an arm’s length and sometimes even shutting it out altogether. My unhealthy relationship with food had transferred into something that I was sure was more healthy. More appealing. Something that would guarantee you all the top totty you could ask for...
If you’d have told me, a bubbly chub when I was fourteen, that I would become an image obsessed twig by the time I was 17, I would have laughed my man boobs right off! Inside there may have been some sort of hopeful feeling, but I’d never have believed you...I read recently that the 6 pack was the most desired thing of 2009. Well I was a good five years ahead of the game. 1000 stomach exercises 5 times a week for several months. No body has the patience for the healthy weight loss of 1-2lbs a week. I wanted results now! In a few years I could get the skin removed on NHS. Let them pay for the damage I’d done to my own body...I was determined, I was ready, I wanted abs. Rock hard abs of steeeeeeel. But my obsession soon ruined my stomach, and instead of abs of steel I got what looked like the egde of a plastic bag. If I leant back far enough you could see what I believed to be a nice outline of that athletic figure. But you can’t exactly walk around bent backward at a 45 degree angle now, can you?...At least it gave me some amusement. To stretch it, and remind myself of what I used to be. I was now a shadow of my former self. So I couldn’t have the abs, not without leaning back anyway. But I could fit into nicer, smaller clothes. I could swim around in the clothes that now looked like marquee tents on my new trim figure. I wasn’t embarrassed to shop anymore, and girls started paying me attention. I was no longer the guy who had a lot of friends that were girls. I had a lot of friends who were girls, you see. No girlfriends, just girl friends. But not anymore. Oh yes, this was good, this is what I’ve always wanted. Was it?
He pulls out his mobile, checking it’s locked. Puts it back in his pocket and then does it again.
Sorry, I’ve got this thing about making sure it’s locked. Not sure why, if I’m honest...Obsession is an odd thing. It does something to the brain that really damages your perception. People started telling me I looked ill, and that made me smile. I got told not to lose any more weight but according to the oracle that is BMI I needed to shift another half a stone!...this image thing, has never fully been resolved. I’m happier now than I was but I suppose there are always things you want to change. A couple more pounds you want to lose. You kid yourself by buying the magazines and books on how to get ripped but they spend most of their life gathering dust on a shelf. I was more of a ‘I’ll do it my way’ kind of person. I like to be in control, if I feel I can handle it. But we can’t handle everything, and this was what I discovered in summer. My mum was starting to get breathy. I don’t mean like the normal – been for a jog and catching your breath type of breathy – we’re not talking Macy Grey kind of breathy. I’m talking about walking up the stairs and panting (he imitates) kind of breathy. “Dear me, I feel like Grandma” she’d say...now my mum is not a chub. My obesity as a child was not the result of some hereditary thyroid problem. No, she’s is reasonably fit. No jokes please...she doesn’t smoke, she doesn’t have asthma, she eats well, with the exception of a love for tins of chocolates over Christmas. She’s not a big drinker...overall she’s quite healthy. Fair enough, she doesn’t eat her 5 a day all the time, but let’s be honest, who does? She does forget things every now and again, though. Much to our amusement. But that can just be a sign of old age, or the tablets. Sometimes she’ll get half way through a sentence and then forget what was coming next. ‘So yeah, I said all this to them and it was really...what was I saying?’ – I wrote a play a while back about a lady suffering from Alzheimer’s and joked with my mum that I could use some methods of observation to include it in the script...Love her. But yeah, this breathlessness...something had to be wrong. After a while she went for some invasive tests that reveal the bowels in all their gory – sorry, glory. She discovered that a polyps, a small growth had begun life in her bowel. Like something off some graphic sci-fi film, this thing had it’s own blood supply, and I’m assuming that had something to do with her anaemia, which was causing her to pant like a dog after a few steps...when I found out, that’s all it was, a polyps. A harmless growth that could become cancerous if left alone...but something in me knew it was worse. I don’t know what the flip side of maternal instinct is, but that’s what it felt like. ‘Offspring observation’, maybe? Something was up. So instead of leaving it, the control freak in me came out – I cornered her in the kitchen. “Is it malignant, or not?”...the moment I asked it, I regretted it. It was like she was trying so hard to hide this, to protect me and stop me worrying. And rightly so, I don’t blame her for not wanting me to know. For not wanting any of her children to know. Realistically there was only two of us that could handle the truth...I sound like that guy on that film “You want the truth? YOU CAN’T HANDLE THE TRUTH!”...but in that moment I thought I could, and for a while it felt that way. The younger two never knew, until everything had been whipped out, appendix as well, that it was potentially life threatening. And my older sister is a chronic worrier at the best of times, so telling someone like her, something like that, would be like saying ‘bomb’ in passing conversation at Heathrow. I agreed not to say anything, because that’s what she wanted. It was hard, but to be honest I’m better at keeping things to myself anyway. I worry about things inside, and can’t really deal too well with people who vocally express their worries. Or maybe it depends on the person. I know I wouldn’t have coped with it with my sister. She’d have driven me insane. “Jon...is she going to die? What if she dies, what will we do? How will we cope? Oh my word she’s going to die”...no thank you. I was just about managing to fight off the irrational fears of funerals, I couldn’t have hers added too.
Over the next few days, and weeks I had to come to terms with the fact that this was not in my control. And oddly enough, it felt like I should have been carrying this massive burden. But I wasn’t. Like normally yeah, you would expect to be really worried in this situation. And I wouldn’t blame anyone who was. I mean, a parent with cancer, that’s pretty worrying, right? For a family man such as myself, having something happen to someone in my immediate family is like, the worst thing that could happen. It felt like I should have fell apart. I’m not sure I could diagnose myself with OCD, I sometimes just say I’m ‘thorough’. Let’s stick with ‘control-freak’, for now...I think the worst thing you could tell a control freak is that they’re in a situation that they cannot control. It’s like telling a dog he can no longer bark, or telling someone with turrettes they can no longer swear. The compulsion is to take over, to take the wheel, to do the steering and kick anyone out the way who tries to stop you...but I couldn’t. All I could do, was pray. I’ve always been a believer, some years more so than others, but a believer none the less. Now, call me a fool, or ignorant or delirious – but I would never destroy someone’s hope, however deluded I thought they were. And so, as crazy as it may seem, I turned to the only one Who I knew had full control. God.
‘Oh here we go, he’s off on one’ I hear you say. Well it may seem crazy, but if you think about it, it’s also very logical. I can do nothing...so what does that leave me with?...and you know something? It felt like there was a huge boulder hovering over my shoulders, threatening to land itself on top of me like some sumo wrestler body slam...but I wasn’t carrying it. I actually felt relieved that I was not in control of this situation. I couldn’t do anything. I was not in control of my Mum’s destiny, and something in me tells me she’d be just as relieved at that, as I am! I even learned to laugh about it at times. Not about the cancer, that’s cruel. But finding humour in difficult situations, I find is a good way of coping with it. Particularly if you’re a paranoid worrier like I am. The year before this happened, in fact, no it was sooner than that. Just a few months, actually. I had performed in a play about a family coping with the fact that the mother, my wife, was going to die. Of bowel cancer.
Freaky, right? Perhaps it would have been more difficult to perform had it been the same time as my bad news. Or maybe it would have provided some sort of useful method-acting material from which I could draw into the true emotions of the character in order to deliver a truly believable performance...anyway, I thought it was slightly ironic, and a little bit funny, that I found myself in a similar situation. Fortunately my Mum’s cancer had been found early enough for it to be dealt with, but it shouldn’t have been. Not because that’s how I wanted it, but because that brain-like thing in side her bowels had been there, they reckon for about ten years. Ten years, without spreading...I still can’t get my head around it. It does make me think though. Why her? Why my mum? Why doesn’t this happen to everyone who gets cancer...I won’t attempt to answer that, because I’m not an apologetic, but this is what happened. And so this is how I’ll tell it...So, for this show I had a hoody on which read ‘we’re not burying you in a cardboard box’ – and for reasons I cannot explain, other than this fondness of dark humour I have within me, I very, very, very nearly wore it to visit her in hospital...she would have laughed. In fact she did when I told her about it – she said she loved the show and thought it was odd how we were kind of in a similar situation months later. I told her, “I know, and it’s strange that I’ve just written a play about a lady with Alzheimer’s and you’ve started to forget things!”. You’ve got to laugh at these things, eh? Even if it’s just to keep your sanity. But I suppose a part of me felt it was OK to laugh. One because it cheered us all up, but two, because I knew everything was going to be OK. Why? Because none of it was in my control...Now I’m not saying this has been easy from start to finish. Not at all. It has been, at the risk of sounding like a X Factor contestant, an emotional rollercoaster. Sometimes a breeze, and sometimes not....what we were praying for specifically, was for my mum not to need chemotherapy. For obvious reasons. It makes a lot of people ill, vomiting, sickness, diarrhoea, baldness...some people chose not to take it, simply because of the awful side-effects. And so when the consultant called with the news that chemotherapy was not needed, we were ecstatic! My mum leaped out of bed like the man at the pool of Bethesda, and I plastered this miracle all over facebook – a handy tool to get news around fast! We were so happy...
But a further visit to the consultant changed things, a bit. They used the analogy of being an A,B, or C – A for Absolutely no need, B for Borderline, and C for...Oh, crap!
Apparently, my Mum was a ‘bad B’. Sounds more like a blood type, if I’m honest. But they told her that as far as they were concerned, the cancer was gone. Great. But. Ah...you see, cancer has a sneaky way of avoiding the radar if it’s less than 1cm big. So, they said, if she wanted the treatment, just in case, to wipe out the rest of those cancerous little scallywags, then she could have it. ‘Well, there’s no need’ I thought. ‘God has got rid of the problem. Doing that would just be going against what He’s done, and denying a healing’...’So, I’ve decided to take the chemo’....well, that was it. My boulder descended on top of me, as though it had been waiting for that moment all along. This boulder of irrational fears hurling itself at me like it was making up for lost time. I felt as though my testimony had been ripped straight out from underneath me. I was gutted. My irrational fears came back. Images of me singing my mum’s favourite song, ‘How can I keep from Singing’, you probably heard it earlier. It’s become a favourite of mine, too. Images of me singing it at her funeral. Gospel choir in tow. Struggling to keep it together. Sharing a few words etc. I got ahead of myself. “What are you doing? You’ve been praying for healing, and now you’re planning her funeral! SNAP OUT OF IT!” I’d begun to think that maybe it was some form of Divine punishment. Like my family were being effected for something I had done. Maybe I wasn’t praying hard enough, or I wasn’t being a good enough Christian. There’s the control freak rising up again – was I indirectly controlling my mum’s destiny through my own actions...? Maybe it’s the plays I’m writing, or performing in. First cancer, then the memory loss...Just saying it now, shows how ridiculous it sounds. But believe me, then it was a very real danger.
I have to laugh at my own ability to compulsively jump to conclusions without meaning to...I soon came to learn that even though all this was going on, I was still not in control. Things were not going the way I had hoped. Certainly not the way I had ideally planned. Had they have, then my mum would have never even had anything wrong with her in the first place. But, I discovered that at first, what I may have rashly classed as a foolish decision, was in actual fact, an incredibly brave choice to make. Choosing to take chemo, when you may not even need it, may sound like an obvious choice now, but it is also a very brave choice to make, and certainly not easy. And I am exceptionally proud of her for sticking with it. Why wait 20 years and discover the cancer had come back? She’d be kicking herself, and I probably would have hypocritically said ‘Why didn’t to take the damn treatment!?’ –
He gets up, and starts checking things as he finishes the monologue – doors, bag, mobile etc. This should carry on throughout the next section of speech.
Oh how fickle we can be. So, life does not always go the way I want it too. I cannot steer my own way through, because I’ll either come to a dead end or, as I demonstrated in my first car, completely flip the thing over and write it off after four weeks on the roads...It is funny though...I used to say to myself ‘I’ve never really had any hardship’...did something in me want it? Do you ever find that? Like sometimes maybe you feel like you need something bad to have happened in order to have lived a life?
Pause. He looks at the audience before walking off.
You know, who know’s what the future may hold? Not me. And I – I think I’m beginning to like it like that...maybe it’s just me.
He exits. ‘How Can I Keep From Singing’ plays again and fades.