An open letter to anyone experiencing distressing intrusive thoughts
Intrusive thoughts are a normal part of life. Unfortunately, everyone has them. Maybe you’ve been standing on a train platform and had a mental urge to jump onto the railway. The thing is with intrusive thoughts, that most people tend to shrug them off as just that — thoughts. However, people with obsessive compulsive disorder will likely ruminate on them. They’ll question what these thoughts mean and whether they have any purpose. The most likely answer is of course no — but that doesn’t stop the anxiety.
And so this is an open letter to anyone who has OCD, and who suffers from intrusive thoughts.
Firstly, I want you to know that you’re not alone. I also have OCD, and I’ve fallen victim to the rumination of these thoughts, over and over again. It’s a vicious cycle that’s hard to beat. But I hear you.
Secondly, I want you to know that your feelings are valid. It is totally understandable to feel anxious and uneasy because of your thoughts. It is totally understandable to question whether they are a part of your character. But they are not. Your thoughts absolutely do not define you.
Thirdly, I want you to know that your illness is valid, too. OCD is often shrugged off as a need for things to be clean — and maybe this is your form of OCD. But the thing is, with OCD, it’s different. It’s constant distress by your thoughts and your urges and your compulsions. It’s crippling anxiety. It is not looking at your kitchen counters and wondering whether you need to go over them again with some kitchen spray. In fact, OCD was once ranked as one of the most debilitating illnesses in the world, by the World Health Organization. That’s how bad it can impact your life.
Your intrusive thoughts are meaningless — not in a way that they don’t affect you, but in a way that they are not reflective of your character, or of who you are. They are, of course, a huge part of your life, and so there is some meaning there — in terms of the fact that the illness can so easily have a grip on you. Sometimes it feels like you’re chained to someone and being pulled along with no end in sight.
But I want you to know that it gets easier. With time. With help. With treatment.
But it’s also not easy to get treatment; I’m one to know that — it’s taken years of fighting for help to finally get to a place where I can shrug the thoughts off, even though it probably takes longer than the average person without OCD, and although they still cause anxiety.
I learned this through multiple sessions of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). I was experiencing incredibly distressing thoughts (thoughts I’m not ready to open up about yet), that were impacting my daily life, to the point I was experiencing panic attacks daily and barely left the house.
CBT was amazing in helping me to learn that my thoughts are not an indicator of who I am as a person. It helped me to acknowledge that I have an illness — and that it needs to be treated as such.
What I have in fact learned is that I am a good person — and that my thoughts are actually reflective of this.
I am so conscious of being a good person and of having a positive impact on people’s lives, that my OCD tries to ruin that and to convince me of the opposite. It tells you that you are a risk and that you are a monster. It’s often the exact opposite reflection of your character.
I wish that those of us who do suffer from obsessive compulsive disorder felt more inclined to talk about our intrusive thoughts. To be open and honest and to live without fear of someone confirming our worst fears and telling us we are bad people. That’s the thing — people who don’t understand OCD might think these thoughts are real, even though they’re not. And so many of us feel too scared to speak out just in case this is the case.
If you have intrusive thoughts and they distress you, know that you are a wonderful human being and that your thoughts are meaningless and mean. Your OCD is a bully, and while your feelings towards it are totally valid, it’s okay to want help. You don’t need to be embarrassed or ashamed.
Please, if you’re suffering from obsessive compulsive disorder, speak to somebody about it. But speak to somebody you trust, and try to help them gauge an understanding of what you’re going through.
To make this easier, it could start with a letter, exclusively stating the symptoms of OCD right at the top so that they have an understanding before you pour out all of the feelings you have been feeling for so long.
But please, do pour them out. Don’t let them continue to build and build until you get to the point where you experience suicidal ideation (which I wrote about for InSpire the Mind here).
It’s your turn to receive some help and some love and some support and some understanding. It is your turn to feel like you matter and that your feelings and experiences are valid. It is your time to have someone to hold your hand, and to help you lead the way through these so suffocating thoughts.
Your intrusive thoughts are not you, and they will not beat you. Instead, I promise that you have the strength to beat them — no matter how much you don’t believe it right now.