OCD: thinking the unthinkable

I mentioned in my initial post on this blog, My Mental Health Story, that for the past three years I have had intrusive, repetitive and extremely distressing thoughts about suicide. I have come to the conclusion that these thoughts and the emotional terror they cause are anxiety-based rather than being a reflection of what I actually want to do. In short, I have OCD.

OCD isn’t all about hand-washing or lock-checking. It’s not about being clean or tidy or not liking it when a picture is hanging on the wall at a slightly wonky angle (though that does do my head in, I must admit).

OCD is a painful, embarrassing, debilitating and chronic anxiety disorder which generally consists of two things: obsessions (the ‘O’ part of the name) and compulsions (the ‘C’). The obsessions take the form of unwanted intrusive thoughts, images or feelings. For example, a new mother might have a sudden terrifying thought about throwing her baby down the stairs. A devout church-goer might have the urge to shout ‘fuck you, Jesus’ really loudly during mass and will therefore be sent to hell. A man might have a strong feeling that he ran someone over in his car when running late to work. A father might believe that if he picks up a pen that has been used by other people, he could pick up a horrible illness and pass it on to his children, who will then die and it will all be his fault.

I have unwanted and scary thoughts that I will never recover from mental ill health and that I will decide I want to commit suicide and go through with the act.

Everyone has these weird thoughts from time to time. They’re not unusual. The difference is that an OCD sufferer cannot dismiss these thoughts as the random and nonsensical brain farts that they are. The thoughts stick and are accompanied by fear, horror, and the belief that they are true.

The ‘C’ part of the disorder is where it gets worse. OCD sufferers go to great lengths to neutralise or disprove their distressing thoughts. Hence the stereotypical hand-washing rituals (to make 100% sure that every last germ is washed off your hands, because otherwise you might kill your children). The compulsive praying and repenting for the blasphemous Catholic. The checking, checking, checking (going back to the scene of the ‘crime’, reading the local news over and over again) of the guilt-ridden worker who was sure he had hit someone in the traffic. The post-natal mother who can’t be alone with her child for fear that she might harm him.

For me it’s ruminating, analysing my thoughts and feelings in case my suicidal thoughts are true and that therefore I’ll have to act on them. Even writing this now is triggering me slightly: what if they are true? Why would I be thinking them if they weren’t true? What if I’m just in denial? How can I be absolutely sure that I have this illness and that I’m not just scared of killing myself because it’s scary by nature?

One of the many difficulties with OCD is that it generally attacks things that we cannot be 100% sure about. In the example of the father being scared to pick up a pen in case it ends up killing his children, although this sounds absurd, it’s true that nobody can be absolutely, unequivocally, one hundred percent sure that this will not happen. OCD picks up and feeds on this 0.0001% chance.

The other problem with OCD is that nobody with OCD is fully convinced that they actually have OCD. If we were sure our thoughts were a load of bollocks, well, we wouldn’t need to worry and it wouldn’t be an issue, would it? What if we are all just in denial and we are suicidal, satanistic, germ-ridden baby killers who just can’t accept it? I mean…who knows?

I’ll write more about this soon, including some helpful things I have done to try to combat the misery that this disorder brings. In the meantime, here’s an absolutely brilliant article about OCD. I first came across it about three years ago and I cry every time I read it because this is exactly how it is. Plus, it’s beautifully written with incredible honesty and insight:

Pure O: a Rude Awakening

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