The average person has tens of thousands of thoughts every day. Most of these are fairly mundane and ordinary, but given the sheer amount of chatter running through our brains, it’s no surprise that we sometimes get strange, even disconcerting, thoughts that appear to come from nowhere. You’re walking across a bridge and suddenly think of jumping off. You’re cradling a newborn baby and get an image of throwing her down the stairs. You enter a hushed cathedral and have the sudden urge to swear at the top of your voice. Psychologists call these ‘intrusive thoughts’, and research has shown that everybody gets them. Intrusive thoughts are our brain’s way of dealing with uncertain circumstances, which we’ve had throughout our evolution. Thoughts will come into our minds that are loosely connected with what’s going on around us – some of them will be good ideas, and some will be bad. According to this view, intrusive thoughts are part of our brain’s in-built problem-solving system – a literal brainstorming mechanism that’s designed to keep us alive. Just as our ancient ancestor, when faced with a tiger, might have thoughts about running away (good idea) or trying to befriend it (bad idea), so our brains today are constantly coming up with ideas to help us make sense of our surroundings – ideas which might be helpful, weird, or just downright scary.
Most people are able to dismiss the unhelpful intrusive thoughts as quickly as they arrive. But someone with OCD is unable to ignore them. They’ll interpret them as saying something fundamental about who they are. What if I’m a danger to myself? What if I harm this baby? What if I’m evil?
My intrusive thoughts began to convince me that I was a horrible, evil person. If I was using a knife, I’d worry I’d suddenly lose control and stab someone. If I saw an epidemic disease in the news, I’d worry that I was going to suffer from it. In fact, I somehow convinced myself that I had that disease and I was preparing myself mentally to die. At some point, my OCD became so worse that I was convinced that I was going to die very soon and I used to think of the life I had lived so far. I was only 11. If I saw any human in the street, I’d get intrusive thoughts about the internal anatomy of the human. Like, I never saw a human as a human. In fact every time I try to see a human as a human, I couldn’t get their picture in my brain. In fact instead of the clothes they are wearing or their faces, I used to see them as a skeleton with colorful internal organs.
Somewhat like this. NO. This is not funny! I couldn’t even see an actual human as an actual human and this picture was the literal example of what I actually used to see when I looked at them. I avoided going out in public due to intrusive thoughts that only led me to doubt everything.
It was mental torture. OCD is known as the ‘doubting disease’ because it makes you question everything. It slowly erodes your sense of identity, and every waking hour becomes consumed with unwanted thoughts. I developed acute anxiety, depression, and debilitating headaches. Even going to the shops became an ordeal, as just one intrusive thought could bring my anxiety to tipping point. It was like living two lives at once, and there were days when I wanted to go to sleep and not wake up again. OCD is like living with a monster inside my mind. Before my logical mind can say, ‘This is not a threat,’ I’ve already been completely overwhelmed with anxiety throughout my entire body. It kind of feels like your brain is on fire. You can feel your heart racing so fast it feels so heavy. Anxiety clouds your thinking. And having OCD is like you are in the state of panic attack all the time. The OCD had really gotten to me at that point, and there was a lot of suicide ideation. There was a lot of picking dates and doing dangerous things, which ultimately led me to that first Google search to try to figure out what was going on before I really did something harmful. You can’t just “not think”, you know. It’s too hard to not think when you already know whatever you are thinking is completely irrational and is just your own made up thought.
I am now 20. What changed? The way I perceive things. I learned to live with the intrusive thoughts and now I can manipulate them . I am trying hard to learn how my brain works and I am trying to use it on my favor. How many people could embrace such disturbing imagery? I always thought. But now, I can because i have to, to keep myself sane.