Intrusive Thoughts, something that isn’t discussed as openly as it should be and why should it? It’s something solely disturbing, embarrassing, fallacious, a lie. A perpetual daily battle of fighting with distressing thoughts that pop into our minds at the most inconvenient of times. Perhaps you are wondering what an intrusive thought is, maybe you are suffering silently with intrusive thoughts too horrified, humiliated to even dare speak what is running through your mind daily. Imagine the revulsion of others after hearing what consumes you and eats you up inside identical to a poisonous, deadly snake which you cannot seem to loosen as it strengthens and intensifies itself around your mind. Imagine the people around you believing what your thoughts are telling you to be true, the snake triumphantly winning and leaving you isolated and defenseless, a loser. So we do as we are told and we sit in silence, in turmoil batting these thoughts away like an uncontrollable, frenzied game of tennis. The quicker we bat the thought away, the hastier it returns with added perseverance and need to make the scenario seem more factual than the original time it rudely showed up. Intrusive thoughts are soul-destroying, antagonistic and quite frankly a bitch. They leave us for dead as we lie excruciatingly uncomfortable in the bottom of the snake pit.
- “ You should step in front of the next Tube that arrives on this platform “
- “ You left your front door wide open “
- “ You are going to throw up in front of all of these people, choke then die “
- “ You must get off this train before you throw up “
- “ You are a paedophile – You look at Children “
- “ You are going to break your leg in an unnatural, awful way “
- “ When you change a baby’s nappy, you are going to do something to them… sexually “
- “ Your Grandmother is lying dead on her kitchen floor “
- “ Your partner is cheating on you “
- “ Your partner is Gay “
- “ Put this knife to your throat “
- “ Do a sharp left now with the steering wheel on this flyover and kill everyone “
- “Jump off this balcony “
- “If you go out tonight, you will get raped “
- “This car is going to come off the road and kill you whilst you are walking “
- “Your partner is dead”
Uncomfortable right? whilst I was writing some of those I was so tense, my body felt awkward and my body convulsed in a way I am used to when I am forced to face these thoughts that I have continually had throughout my life. I was very young when I first started having these kinds of thoughts and I continually chose to ignore them until all I could hear was this demonic voice similar to my own yet more sinister yelling these untrue, crippling statements in my head that nobody else could hear. I couldn’t concentrate, I was never listening to anybody, I was always looking over my shoulder and I was constantly living my life in fear wondering when I would come to act on these thoughts. My life spiralled rapidly and eventually, I noticed it was just lifeless me and my malicious thoughts having a slow, painful showdown waiting for the end to eventually peak.
I managed to seek the help I needed to combat these thoughts. What amazed me whilst doing so was how many people in this world were suffering the same thoughts that I was. I thought I was a freak, a weirdo, there was something seriously wrong with me. I had surrendered myself to believe that I would do some of those things and that each statement about me reckoned to be true. They took over my body and poisoned their way throughout my brain to eventually make me a weak shell of myself. These thoughts had won ownership of me and they controlled my life like the captor they so proudly were. It was they who convinced me that there was nothing I could do. They had me tight-lipped, voiceless drowning in shame.
But what are Intrusive thoughts? Why do we have them? How can we stop them & how can we speak more openly about intrusive thoughts?
WHAT ARE INTRUSIVE THOUGHTS & WHY DO WE HAVE THEM?
In short, Intrusive Thoughts are stuck thoughts that cause a great deal of distress. They seem to come from out of nowhere, arrive with a whoosh, and cause a great deal of anxiety. The content of unwanted intrusive thoughts often can focus on sexual, violent or socially unacceptable images. Intrusive thoughts are a form of OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) No, OCD isn’t just a disorder which focuses on cleanliness, there is alot more to it. To break it down simply your obsession is the thought itself being present, it’s what we obsess over. The compulsion is what we choose to do with it, our repetitive behaviours, our rituals. This could be a mental or physical ritual, something we think or do to ease our anxieties but this ease is short-lived, our rituals are a temporary fix. The reality of this constant back and forth and fighting with our thoughts prove draining, self-destructing and take up an extreme amount of our precious time.
The average person has 12,000 – 60,000 thoughts per day. 85% of those thoughts are usually negative and we cannot control the negativity that comes through, no matter how disturbing. The difference between someone who suffers from Intrusive Thoughts is that we attach a meaning to a particular thought. Meaning that we dwell on that one thought rather than simply letting it go. We let the disturbing thought eat us up inside and we panic of its authenticity which is what then causes the high waves of anxiety and anguish. Have you ever wondered why we don’t dwell on a thought like ‘Our Partners surprising us with dinner when we get home from work ‘ but are open to the mental battle with ourselves that ‘our partners are in our bed with another person having mind-blowing sex?’ My therapist said to me that we have these particular disturbing thoughts and we get ourselves into such a panicked state because we know that this kind of action is so far from the truth and the person that we are. We fixate on trying to convince ourselves we are a danger to ourselves and others around us, a threatening version of ourselves, but that version doesn’t and never will exist. If you are feeling somewhat joy from your thoughts or an urge to act on them, that’s when you should be worried, that’s when something is not right. These Intrusive Thoughts are designed to make us miserable and extremely uncomfortable because we know what we are thinking is unfathomable.
HOW CAN WE STOP INTRUSIVE THOUGHTS?
I believe there is no such thing as stopping intrusive thoughts altogether, a thought is a thought and we cannot control what pops into our heads every day. However, what we can control is what we choose to do with them when they do make an appearance. I always suffered in the past with convincing myself that I was going to throw up in spaces I couldn’t escape from fast, usually, this would be during peak time, on a packed London tube where the air is non-existent and there are plenty of people to throw-up on.
When this thought used to enter my mind, I had the same reactions, I would sit up straight (regarding I had a seat) whilst my body temperature started to rapidly rise followed by an awkward stretch. I would touch the back of my hair to prove to other commuters everything was fine when really I was convincing myself. Whilst talking myself down to wait until I got to the upcoming stop, I would fly off the train to go and throw up. I NEVER threw up, the only thing I did do was make myself late for work and ultimately I let the little voice in my head win, time and time again. What I learnt through therapy, which took me a long time and I am still adapting to filtering this into my daily routine was to control my reactions, resist the urge of the sit straight, stretch and touch hair ritual I had become so accustomed to and as much as it was uncomfortable, I had to learn to sit with my uncomfortableness by not reacting, not stretching and not jumping off the train at any given chance. I eventually started testing myself to make it further and further down the Jubilee line, stop by stop and before I knew it, it would be my actual stop, I made it. The feeling was euphoric.
We have to learn to accept our thoughts and sit with time to allow it to pass through as we do with the ‘I’m packing my bags and leaving for Barbados tomorrow ‘ after a tough day at the office or “ imagine if I won the lottery “ thought. We sit with it, never make an actual decision or commit to it and it vanishes. Our thoughts are wild snippets of our huge imaginations most of the time and the focal ones rarely have anything to do with our reality.
HOW CAN WE TALK MORE OPENLY ABOUT INTRUSIVE THOUGHTS?
Hopefully, to those of you who are reading this, you may be suffering, have suffered or know someone who may be suffering from this disorder can take away that WE ARE ALL NORMAL, we are not weird, or murderers, pedophiles or dangerous. Shout it out loud, YOU ARE NORMAL. These thoughts DO NOT define us and yes we can conquer them.
I have so many friends who suffer from Intrusive thoughts and every time we open up to each other about what we are feeling, it’s as though a heavily weighted demon has been lifted and we can see a future not being eaten up by this monster. The more we feel comfortable with accepting that these are only thoughts and that we aren’t alone, the more we will feel inclined to be able to speak out and to others without feeling burning shame. Instead, we can feel accepted, ordinary, free.
Intrusive thoughts may have us stamped as unhinged and flat out weird but we deserve compassion, support and care when it comes to vocalising what we are going through. Whether that be to our therapists, friends or a family member. These flurries of everyday sadistic thoughts appear to be the keeper of us all but we can flip reverse this proprietorship with the support and willpower to truly understand what Intrusive Thoughts are and why we have them. We lack a space where these thoughts are spoken openly about because we feel nothing but shame and humiliation but wouldn’t these feelings be eradicated if we knew just how many others were thinking the same thing?
Below I have listed links that talk more thoroughly about Intrusive Thoughts and how to get help if you are suffering. If you share one thing today make it this particular blog post. It just might be what someone needs to read who is suffering in silence, to scared to speak, to seek help like I was. If you would like to continue the conversation, as always my DM’s are wide open.