The next guest post in my ongoing series is from Stephanie, a mental health advocate and podcast host. You can find more from Stephanie on twitter here. Her podcast, This Manic Mind, is available every Wednesday and you can find it here. Stephanie has shared her experience with intrusive thoughts and OCD.
If the topic of intrusive thoughts (inc. violence) may upset you please take care reading this post.
“Take the gun from the drawer and shoot her.”
I jolted up from the prone position, throwing off my covers. I looked straight into the light brown eyes of my beloved Malamute/Shepherd mix, Brandy, as she lay panting on the floor, blissfully unaware of the thoughts racing through my head.
“No,” I responded, “I don’t want to.”
“Are you sure?” The thought probed, “What if you did?”
Thus, began a years long journey of combating intrusive thoughts, mostly about causing harm to those closest to me. It didn’t end with Brandy; it seeped into every relationship I had. My now husband – then boyfriend – was a huge target for these violent obsessions. I confessed to him, as I felt I needed to confess to everyone.
“I am comfortable giving you a knife right now,” he stated one night, “I know you wouldn’t do anything.”
He tried so desperately to convince me.
“Please don’t,” I begged, “I will hurt you”.
I would rush to bed at night, hoping to fall asleep before he did, so I didn’t have an opportunity to kill him. Every time I saw a knife the thoughts would spring into action full force. I became convinced I was a danger to everyone around me; surely, I needed to be locked away to protect the world.
I began having panic attacks every day. I couldn’t eat. I couldn’t sleep. Nothing could distract me from the repetitive demands that I do away with the individuals around me. Eventually, I got up the nerve to check my symptoms online. I was shocked when the first thing that came up was Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder.
Like most people, I was ruefully ignorant of many mental disorders. OCD, after all, was about needing everything to be orderly; that is how pop culture portrayed it. How could this, symptoms I had never heard of before, be a common occurrence in the disorder yet never talked about?
OCD, which used to be called “The Doubting Sickness”, is characterized by scary, obsessive thoughts that plague the sufferer, who turns to compulsions to get the thoughts to leave. The compulsions, however, usually reinforce the thoughts, causing a terrible, continuous cycle. The thoughts can be anything; the ones I experienced, called harm obsessions, are common among OCD sufferers. About one-third of individuals with OCD experience these particular obsessions.
There is hope. Exposure therapy has shown to be effective for most anxiety disorders, while avoidance usually makes them worse. It works by basically showing the brain that there is nothing to fear. In my case, it included holding a knife and not putting it down, no matter the thoughts and urges I experienced. Eventually, I stopped having the thoughts and could use knives again.
It’s not perfect. When I am tired or anxious, intrusive thoughts sometimes show their ugly heads. Nonetheless, I now have the tools to deal with them. Instead of becoming obsessions that last for weeks or months at a time, they come and go in a matter of minutes. That, my friends, is recovery.