'Your Life Isn’t Worth Living' Is the Biggest Lie My Brain Ever Told
“Your life isn’t worth living” is the biggest lie my brain ever told. During a few chaotic months in my mid-20s, it told this lie so many times it had me convinced.
I’d been experiencing unwanted, violent, sexual thoughts as a symptom of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) since I was 15 years old. And after 10 years of searing anxiety and depression, I was ready to finish the life that my brain called worthless. The idea of “forever” was terrifying. I thought about death every day.
As we come to the end of suicide prevention month, I wanted to jot down a few thoughts about OCD and suicidal ideation; and about how I learned the wonderful truths behind the lie.
There have not been enough studies to clearly establish the risk of suicide among people who have OCD. But having worked and written within the mental health community for several years now, it seems that suicidal thoughts are very prevalent among those with severe OCD.
I’ve spoken to countless people who, at some point, have felt as close to the edge as it’s possible to get without tipping over it, and who now live fulfilled, dynamic lives. So if you’re at your lowest ebb right now, remember this first truth: you are not alone. Whatever your brain tells you about being a solitary freak, it’s lying. There are thousands of people out there who can relate to you and who won’t judge you for your pain.
One reason OCD causes suicidal thoughts is that it’s so all-encompassing it doesn’t leave much space for life to happen. The World Health Organization ranks OCD as one of the 10 most disabling health conditions of any kind, in that it so dramatically decreases quality of life.
I can vouch for that. When my OCD was at its worst, I’d have my first intrusive sexual mental image the very split-second my eyes were open in the morning. Every image prompted a compulsive counter-thought – some mental attempt to rationalize or dispel the image. This obsessive-compulsive cycle would repeat ceaselessly until I slipped into sleep at night, and even continue spiraling into my dreams, until every speck of my life was filled up.
In the midst of this mental fray, the anxiety would sometimes fall away and depression would take over. In those moments my brain would tell me that I’d never be happy — a lie which belied another crucial truth: things can get better.
My mental health started to improve when I began talking about my experiences. First I told my boyfriend I’d been thinking about suicide, and the relief was immediate and awesome. That catalyzed my search for the excellent therapist who helped me take back control of my life. Since then, I’ve continued to grow in confidence through my writing on OCD and my work with intrusivethoughts.org, which has given retrospective meaning to my lowest moments.
The last truth, which I’m still trying to learn, and which I often forget, is that it’s important to forgive my brain for what it put me through, and so to forgive myself — we are flawed and that’s OK. Being better doesn’t mean having perfect mental health, it means being kind to myself, even when my mind is spinning me a yarn.
In 2016 I am happier and healthier than I ever imagined I could be. So it may surprise you when I say I still think about death every day. Well, mortality at least: every day I’m aware, in a curiously un-morbid way, that I won’t live forever, and every day I feel glad and privileged to be alive.