Please remember, if you need help, we are not experts. We can only share what has worked for us. For professional advice and support speak to one of the friendly people at Mind, Samaritans or- if you’re in the UK- the NHS or your local GP.
For the experts’ definition click here.
To hear me talk about these challenges click here.
You are not your thoughts.
I mean that. Say it aloud. You are not your thoughts. And again. And again. Not shrilly or threateningly, but gently and firmly.
People have stupid, ugly, gross and weird thoughts every day. They laugh, shrug and pass on by. So that thought passes on by too. It got no reaction so it slips back into a shifting grey sea of thought stuff and dissolves.
Not so for me. Maybe not so for you either. If you are capable of claustrophobic anxiety, rigorous self-reflection or venturing curiosity, you might catch the thought before its gone. Pull it out and stare it eye to eye. It wasn’t anything. It was about to be salt and water and air. But you breathed life and meaning into it.
You are not your thoughts. I like the beautiful Headspace analogy: your mind is the constant deep blue sky and your thoughts flit and fight and glide across it like clouds. Behind the play of the weather, you will be dazzled by the constant blue.
Before I properly understood I had intrusive thoughts, my therapist at the time gently suggest I research them. I was sixteen and terrified. I thought I was an evil monstrous person in the shape of a hard-working student. I knew I was even worse for being such a coward for not killing myself. I left the leaflets unread.
Two years on and it had gotten so bad again that I just googled it. Yes it might trigger a rampage of worse thoughts. Yes it might confirm my familiar 3am demons. But I was already consumed almost entirely by hopelessness but for a small flickering maybe.
What I found cracked everything open and light and colour and depth returned. There are people out there. All kinds of funny, young, old, happy, sad, people there with intrusive thoughts. At different stages of understanding. That’s the key. The happier ones are the ones who understand more.
So go read about it. Talk about it. Yes, it might get scary. So do it in daylight, sit in your favourite cafe and maybe have a good friend nearby. Do it bit by bit. Go back in. Go back in. Go back in and educate yourself.
There is a wonderful, beautiful, enormous life with intrusive thoughts.
I think it can feel like you lose many things when intrusive thoughts become a route your mind starts to walk day in day out. That was one of the overwhelming feelings I felt. A deeply catastrophic loss. Friends I felt knew me, connecting with family, being able to have a normal job, relationship and, for me, one day having children. All ripped away from down the path ahead and leaving… what? Suicide. An asylum. Or, perhaps, a day when they are gone.
It took a long time to believe there might be a post-intrusive thought world. It has taken even longer to realise that misunderstands my experience of this form of OCD. These are just thoughts. It is my reaction, my understanding and my identity-endowing processing of them that make them an isolating and destroying force. Through re-programming my reaction, filling my life with things I love, and other changes, I have found something crucial.
The end goal for me now is not to get rid of intrusive thoughts. The end goal is realising there is a wonderful, beautiful, rich and strange life with intrusive thoughts. Taking purposeful daily action to react calmly to thoughts, to build the life and habits I want and to seek out inspiring and strong people to connect with, that has been it. I now worry about beautiful mundane fears and insecurities that I used to dream of concerning myself with. Will my report at work go down well? Did I upset that friend when I had to cancel? Is 60 minutes of yoga still good for you if you do it all in child’s pose?
Don’t wait to ‘get better’. Be ruthlessly and fiercely loving to yourself, tell yourself you’re not going anywhere. You are enough already. You are capable and worthy of a miraculous existence.