There and Back Again

From OCD and gut problems to job applications and Portuguese palaces

Wabi Sabi
5 min readAug 25, 2021
Photo by Julia Solonina on Unsplash

Back from Portugal. Portugal! I made it to Portugal!!!

Remember a year ago? Couldn’t function — could hardly go outside. Covid was frightening. My own OCD was even more frightening. Virus out there, aging parent in here, couldn’t bear if I was the one to kill him with my negligence, no, doesn’t bear thinking about, safer to stay in here.

Remember before that? Jobbing musician, playing here there and everywhere, working with choirs, accompanying singers, leading bands, composing radio music. Adventurous life, gun for hire, exciting, fun. Stressful though. Didn’t earn very much money either. I’ve been surprised at how little I’ve missed it all through this whole thing.

Year’s been interesting — well, that’s a diplomatic word. Traumatizing, there’s a better one. Before the first lockdown I was in the middle of the best period of my life — had just read a Hermann Hesse novel that took my worldview, smacked it around and reassembled it, in the best way possible. Kickstarted three months of inner peace, radiance, a sort of half-enlightenment, what Zen folk call satori. But there’s a reason they say satori isn’t enough.

Covid hit, Dad moved in, goodbye satori. Had no idea how deep the OCD went until it took over my life and dominated my every move, where I could go, who I could see, what door handle I could touch, what part of the fridge I could store food in. You don’t realise how bad it is until other people tell you. Then they recommend you talk to someone about it. You do, and it helps. It helps a lot actually.

Financially secure as long as I didn’t do anything stupid, thanks to a combination of savings, welfare and all those odd jobs the welfare people didn’t know about (not my fault they don’t have an earnings declaration process): the occasional composing gig, some proofreading. Nothing steady. Applied for some steady things, didn’t get ’em. Considered TEFL. It costs that much to get a proper certificate? I didn’t want to do it that much in the first place! Reconsidered TEFL.

Married? My friend’s getting married? He’s younger than I am! I don’t even have a…never mind. Getting married in Sintra you say. Let’s look it up. Man, that’s the most beautiful palace I’ve ever seen: bold shapes, bolder colours. I want to see that palace. I want to go to this wedding in this town and see this palace. RSVP: yes. Fuck it.

OCD counselling continues. The secret to overcoming large problems is to voluntarily take on smaller problems every day…got it. Take small doses of poison so you gradually build up an immunity — good metaphor. Reminds me of Princess Bride. Behavioural approach — do anything that smacks of excessive caution or “checking”, and I have to do it eight times. I have to really want to make sure someone won’t slip on that floor or trip over that shoe.

Meanwhile, gut problems develop. Probably brought on by stress. The doctors say all they can detect is ‘mild inflammation’, but it doesn’t feel mild to me. Not fond of the low energy or dizziness either. Can’t even jog — stomach growls at me when I try. So many foods off the table. Haven’t had a single glass of beer in months.

Forgot to mention — I move out. (I wasn’t Dad’s carer, don’t worry, dude’s in better health than I am.) I take C19 too seriously and he doesn’t take it seriously at all, and I can’t stand all the worrying. I’m gone.

Lucky to have somewhere to move to. Lucky about the minimal rent. Lucky to have that small payment coming in every week. Now to keep applying for those jobs. May be lucky to have the money, but that doesn’t mean I enjoy telling increasingly labyrinthine lies to bored bureaucrats every other day. Good thing they never ask to see my -

‘Hello, is this Wabi Sabi? Just ringing on the anniversary of your welfare claim. Have your circumstances changed? No? Genuinely looking for work? Yes? Haven’t been earning a red cent from, I don’t know, any American publishing houses or national broadcasters lately? Good, good…if we could just see some bank statements to that effect…’

[Emphasis added.]

The dreaded bank statements call. I got this. I’ll just show ’em the bare totals themselves, not the actual history of transactions going back to -

‘Dear Wabi, thank you for taking our call today. This is just a follow-up email asking that you give us the last three months of your bank statements so we can make sure you haven’t been lying your ass off…’

[Emphasis added.]

The last three months?! That was the most profitable period of my whole lockdown!

Only one thing to do: cut off my free money supply. Better ‘n being investigated for fraud.

Bad time to be heading to Portugal for a couple of weeks.

Fuck it. I’m going anyway.

Back now. Can’t believe I managed to do all that — go all those places, see all those (vaccinated, antigen-tested) people. The palace looked even better up close. The food was exquisite, and my gut let me have surprising amounts of it. I even had beer. And wine. And whiskey. Wow. Social anxiety barely a factor. Covid anxiety somewhere in the mix, but manageable, so manageable. Wow.

And here I am again, applying for work, managing my ‘mild inflammation’, doing my spiritual thing, writing, musicking, navigating my various intra- and interpersonal problems. Did I mention applying for work? Hard not to let that get me down. Being turned down for endless shit I didn’t want in the first place. Depressing enough before, but now with the added urgency of being cut off from all that free money, eating into my meagre savings with every cent I spend…

Hey, at least I have a sense of direction now (direction: away from being flat broke, towards having a steady stream of money coming my way. Hope that clarifies things). And such a sense of freedom. Freedom from the bored bureaucrats. Freedom to start over, shape my life however I want to shape it. Freedom that comes with knowing I can go from shrinking back from doorknobs to flying off to explore a palace in Sintra in the space of a few months, all through taking that daily dose of poison.

Life’s a bitch, but it’s my bitch now.

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Wabi Sabi

Writer, composer and filmmaker, into soul music and Chinese philosophy. Editor @ The Small Dark Light