The countless number of times I’ve told one of my friends I suffer from OCD and they reply with ‘but how can you have OCD when your bedroom is such a mess?’ It echoes the common misconception that OCD is solely about having to be clean and tidy, which it isn’t at all. Nobody ever really pays attention to the other aspects of OCD such as intrusive thoughts. There are never really any platforms that speak about it brutally honestly (that I have found). It’s not discussed the way other mental illnesses are over social media, that slowly make them lose their stigma. There are seldom documentaries or main characters on TV with the illness unless it is solely to capitalise off the fascination with a person who compulsively cleans. The term OCD is thrown around a lot when things aren’t matching or symmetrical but what are the lesser known aspects of the illness, such as intrusive thoughts, really like? and how can we deal with them?
Obviously there are many aspects of OCD, but I want to focus on intrusive thoughts in this piece. Repetitive compulsions are annoying and tiresome and embarrassing but the intrusive thoughts are what really scare the shit out of me. For years I would have these horrible weird thoughts in my mind and I would think ‘I’m a fucking lunatic, if people knew what I was thinking I’d be locked up’ and so I never told anybody, I let them eat away, panic and scare me for years. I let them ruin activities that I couldn’t take part in without having these horrible destructive thoughts be triggered. Even now as someone who is aware that they are just thoughts and I don’t actually mean them, that they’re a symptom of an illness I have, they still drive me into an absolute panic at times.
I remember when I first found out there was a term for these thoughts and googled it, to my surprise I came across a forum where somebody had one of the exact same thoughts as mine, and on further research found this to be the highest type of disturbing thought people experienced. The relief of knowing I wasn’t crazy felt so amazing, I could finally calm down, let these thoughts stop ruling my life. It’s easier said than done and in extremely panic ridden times of my life they still pop up and I find it hard to get them away. However I have found a couple of ways to tackle them and hopefully if you’re experiencing these thoughts they may help you too:
1) Acknowledging the thought: ignoring it just makes you think it more, and it just keeps growing into this unavoidable thing, try telling yourself; this is just a thought I am having, this isn’t who I am, this is my illness, this will go away I am in control of my own thoughts.
2) Remember you’re not the only one who has these feelings: One of the worst things about these thoughts is you feel like you’re alone and crazy for thinking them. But you’re not. There are plenty of other people, even people who don’t have OCD, that experience intrusive thoughts from time to time. If you’re worrying that you’re alone, that you’re the only person who this happens to and you’re in some way going crazy- you’re not.
3)Sharing this is happening with someone: I know this is easier said than done when you’re having disturbing thoughts that you don’t even want to admit to yourself you’re having, but telling a trusted friend or family member really helps. Being alone with the thought is what makes it seem bigger and worse. Even if you don’t want to tell the exact details of what the thought is- just tell someone you are having a bad intrusive thought and if you want to vaguely tell them about what it is you can. You’re in control of what you tell people, but even sharing that you are having the thought can bring the anxiety down and make you feel a little calmer.
These are the things that usually make me feel a bit better, I’m not a doctor and this might not work for you, but I feel like any shared knowledge on this subject is beneficial.
I wanted to share my experience and tips as a way of attempting to open some kind of conversation around the subject. It is not something that people openly and honestly discuss in the same way as other mental health issues, mostly in the fear of being ridiculed or shamed by these horrible thoughts. But the main thing to remember is this is an illness, many people suffer from these thoughts, you are not crazy and you are not alone.