When It Feels Like the Thoughts Won't Ever Stop
Editor’s note: If you struggle with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741. To find help visit International OCD Foundation’s website.
Imagine you’re in the car, turning the knob on the radio as you try to find a clear station.
For some reason, no matter how much you search, all you can find is static. Each station blasts a garbled jumble of sound through your speakers and you only manage to catch a few words.
Imagine those words are screamed at you and each one says something that stirs up a sick, guilty feeling within you. One is full of blaring curse words and blasphemous names that make you feel so dirty you have to apologize repeatedly to God to make sure he still loves you. Another screeches out descriptions of various sexual acts that somehow get stuck in your head on repeat, even though you’re disgusted nearly to the point of tears. The next station tells you in a hissing whisper everyone you love is angry at you and they all actually hate you. The station after tells you to meticulously focus on every single part of your body, because what if you’re getting sick and you just haven’t realized it yet? Still another gives you a graphic account of what it would be like to purposefully injure your beloved pet and you’re terrified because now you’re wondering: what if I want to do that?
Now imagine all those stations playing at the same time. Imagine them playing from the moment you wake up until the moment you fall asleep. Sometimes they even play in your dreams.
This is what my obsessive compulsive disorder is like.
Often times, when I have talked about my OCD with mental health professionals, it seems we mostly discuss my recurring obsessions and compulsions — the obsessions and compulsions that are a consistent, unchanging part of my life.
These include things like my fear of getting sick and subsequent need to wash my hands and avoid touching certain objects, as well as my need to tap things like light switches and faucets in multiples of four because otherwise I don’t feel right.
We rarely talk about the static — the never-ending buzzing swirl of intrusive thoughts playing through my brain 24/7. And it’s frustrating. Yes, I want help with stopping the need to wash my hands all the time, but I want just as much help in dealing with the thoughts that attack out of nowhere.
When people talk about OCD, they are typically interested in what a person’s outward compulsions look like — things like washing your hands, organizing things symmetrically, flipping the lights on and off, etc. But there’s so much more to the disorder—so much that no one can see. And to me, that’s the most terrifying part.
My outward actions are far less distressing than the internal thoughts constantly bombarding my brain. Sometimes there’s a loop and I’ll get caught in it for hours or days or weeks or sometimes years. But there’s always static — the endless battle of intrusive thoughts buzzing in my brain, pulling my attention away from the present.
I can be brushing my teeth and I’ll suddenly have a horrific image of grabbing my dog and brutally wounding him. I sit down to write and the thoughts tell me loudly something doesn’t feel right and I physically can’t even begin typing. I’ll be laughing with friends when suddenly alarms in my brain start to sound because what if I unknowingly said something horribly offensive and now they hate me? What if I’m a bad student, even though my grades are excellent? What if I’m gay? What if I’m not a good daughter? What if I didn’t try as hard as I should have on my homework? What if God hates me? What if I’ve committed some kind of unpardonable sin? What if my thoughts make me evil? What if I was accidentally rude to a coworker the other day? What if…
It never ends. I wish it would. In the past four months, it seems I’ve tried so many medications, but so far nothing really truly works – at least not without making me feel exhausted and discombobulated to the point where I physically can’t move. It’s a tiring and discouraging process. I just want a moment of quiet.
While I wait to discover the right combination of medications, my hope is I will find the right therapist. And I hope when I find them, their focus will not only be on my recurrent, consistent obsessions and compulsions. I hope they will give me a chance to explain the thoughts that never stop. I hope they will listen.
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