“OCD is like having a bully stuck inside your head and nobody else can see it.”
- Krissy McDermott
Have you ever had a disturbing, or unwanted thought, cross your mind? Has it ever lingered longer than you would have liked? Has it ever repeated? Over, and over and over again?
Have you ever had these thoughts consume your mind?
The answer is probably yes, and believe it or not, this is normal.
Your mind is a very powerful weapon. According to Wikepedia, the renowned digital book of knowledge we all admire and trust: The mind is a set of cognitive faculties including consciousness, perception, thinking, judgement, and memory.
But what it fails to mention, is that the mind can often be a powerful weapon to itself.
An intrusive thought is an unwelcome involuntary thought, image, or unpleasant idea that may become an obsession, is upsetting or distressing, and can feel difficult to manage or eliminate.
And although everyone is subject to some form of intrusive thoughts on a daily basis - some have to struggle with these debilitating thoughts in everything they do.
“Everyday when I wake up in the morning, I need to make sure to plan at least 5 minutes of, what I call 'just in case' time”, my friend Silvia opened up to me.
"Basically what that means, is before I leave the house, I need to check all the used outlets from that morning. Flat iron, coffee maker, toaster etc. I run my hand over the outlet 3 times, run my finger around the flat iron to make sure it's not touching anything that could set on fire, and if I'm feeling extra cautious that day, I'll push the prongs into my palm so that if I'm tempted to turn around and go back home to check, I can just look down at the redness on my hand to see the indentations for validation. It usually stops there, but sometimes I'll feel inclined to make sure everything looks perfect, neat, clean. Your clean, is probably my disaster."
Though experiencing these cogitations sporadically is a basic human trait, the constant reoccurring thoughts are a form of mental ruminations, typically triggered by OCD (Obsession Compulsive Disorder), or PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). So how can we tell the difference between healthy thinking and intrusive thoughts?
For myself, I was worried I was going 'crazy' a term we have all come to fear. I've always dealt with intrusive thinking - but just like Silvia, the thoughts flourished into a full blown overburdening monster after experiencing a sudden death at a young age.
Silvia mentioned, "The intrusive thoughts probably didn't happen until about 2 years ago. Maybe something to do with the tragic loss of a friend, maybe the continuous reminders to check the straightener, coffee machine, oven, stove all that."
Sadly, intrusive thoughts are not always as complaisant. Some can be quite frightening and disturbing. The important thing to remember is, just because you think something doesn't mean it's true or that you're actually going to act on it.
I'll never forget the moment I actually opened up and told someone about what was going on in my mind. I visited a support group every Monday, and one evening I finally said what was on my mind.
"There was been a lot of deaths in my life over the past 5 years - I can't get them off of my mind. Even though I don't want to die, I can't stop thinking about dying. Why wont these disturbing thoughts stop? Is there something wrong with my brain?" I asked the counsellor.
I was happy to hear that what I was going through was normal, and actually a seldom discussed symptom of OCD. And although I was diagnosed with OCD by a Psychiatrist, he never explained to me what attributes derived from the disorder.
After speaking with Silvia, it put my mind at ease knowing I wasn't alone in having these thoughts."My biggest fear was that if I told anyone how I was feeling, their response would be "it's just a phase", which happens to be the biggest misconception about mental health." She mentioned," I'm never one to give a shit about what people think of me on the other hand. So fuck them."
Once I had opened up to a professional, I felt a little more 'normal' (although, what exactly is normal, anyway?). I told my boyfriend and my close friends, who were incredibly understanding. As people who overthink most things, it's a good reminder that we're probably overthinking this, too. The people who love you, would never judge you.
"It really helps to have friends around to remind me throughout the day. (My friend) Jenna is a saint. She'll make sure to say it to me before I even have the chance, which not only shows me what an angel she is, but that she understands me. (My boyfriend) Eric as well, oh my god. Thank you both", Silvia affirmed.
I am unsure if these thoughts will ever go away completely. I am still uncomfortable around anything to do with danger, or death. A part of me is sad, realizing my “free spirit” dimmed after losing people I love. I used to love rollercoasters and theme park rides - but now I get nervous even being on a Ferris Wheel. I used to have no problem being the passenger in a vehicle, but now I nearly burst blood vessels, gripping on to the side of the door handle. The thing I try to remind myself of, is that this has no reflection on who I am as a person.
If you, or someone you know suffers from intrusive thoughts, here are a few resources for getting help:
For information about Mental Health Services in Ontario call 1-866-531-2600 (toll-free).
Special thanks to Silvia Muic, for bravely opening up about her experience with intrusive thoughts.