I talked about how the content of my intrusive thoughts kept me from seeking help for most of my life.
Another factor in my silence and fear was how those thoughts presented themselves. This is a part of OCD I really haven’t seen many people talk about, and honestly, I have to say it’s making me anxious to consider it myself. But I have this platform to share my own experiences and I hope that they might someday help someone else, so here goes.
The thoughts I obsessed about were terrifying and horrible. They disgusted me and I feared them. And they hit so hard, often out of nowhere or because of a trigger, that I was afraid they were urges. They felt like urges, and I was petrified that having these urges meant I really wanted to do these awful things — because I didn’t understand that my reactions of fear, shame and disgust negated that idea.
I spent years of my life convinced I was a sociopath.
Let me give an example; I’m going to warn for suicidal imagery here.
One intrusive thought I have frequently is that, when a train speeds by, I should try to stick my arm between the cars or step in front of this. This one was a really difficult one when I lived in New York and rode the LIRR and subway every day. I couldn’t get to work or certain classes otherwise, so the unintentional exposure eventually helped.
But for over a year, I’d be standing on the platform, just behind the yellow strip, and the intrusive thought would hit me so hard and with such strength that I thought I really wanted to do it.
Now, after therapy and, quite honestly, some actual suicidal periods in my life, I know the difference. I didn’t want to step in front of a train back then. I didn’t want to stick my arm between the cars. It was just an intrusive thought that popped into my head, scared the crap out of me, and the daily repetition of that process reinforced it.
At the time, I thought it was an urge.
Now, I know this kind of mix-up is really common among us. A lot of OCDers have intrusive thoughts that feel like urges, or deep, deep fears that their intrusive thoughts might be urges. A lot of us are afraid and ashamed of what having “urges” with the kind of content that intrusive thoughts often hold might mean about us.
It doesn’t mean anything.
We’re not our thoughts unless we act on them. And our reactions of fear and disgust and shame toward our intrusive thoughts are a pretty good sign we’re not going to act on them.
I know it’s hard to believe. OCD raises doubts — including the fear that we’re the one exception, the one person with OCD who really will carry out our obsessions; the fear that our obsessions are really fantasies and we don’t have OCD at all; the fear that we’ll act before we can restrain ourselves.
I struggle to believe my own diagnosis some days. Talking about these things with my therapist or writing them here always carries the fear that someone will say, “Wait, you don’t have OCD at all! You really do belong in prison!”
But the longer I go with this illness, the more I believe that it really is just an illness, and I’m not the kind of person my OCD brain wants me to believe I am.
Photo by dandeluca