How I Began My Journey to Overcome Intrusive Thoughts of Harm
Editor’s note: If you experience suicidal thoughts or 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.
“I could crash my car right now, right this second, if I really wanted to.”
“Wow, I could step out into oncoming traffic, right now, if I wanted to.”
“Look at that knife. What if I cut myself with it instead of chopping these vegetables?”
Contrary to what you might believe, these are not the thoughts of someone who wants to die. These are not the thoughts of someone who has any intention of attempting to kill themselves. These are not the thoughts of someone who is suicidal.
These are the thoughts of someone who loves their life, who wants to wake up every morning and do what they love. These are the thoughts of someone who has a great education, a loving family, supportive friends and colleagues. These are the thoughts that cross my mind on a daily basis.
But they are just that — thoughts. They do not define my intentions. They do not define who I am.
I struggle with unwanted, intrusive thoughts, all related to harming myself. Many people have thoughts they would consider to be unwanted or intrusive, but for the majority of people, these thoughts are passing — arriving and disappearing within a split second. Someone else might have the thought of crashing their car and think, “huh, that’s a weird thought. I would never do that on purpose,” and then move on from it. But for me, these thoughts become stuck. They become a continuous thought-loop, repeating over and over again in my mind. I obsess over what they might mean, what they really say about who I am. I become stricken with fear that I might act on them. These obsessive, intrusive thoughts are an unfortunate aspect of living with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), a fact I recently discovered about myself.
For the longest time, I was unable to recognize these thoughts for what they were. I thought they signified some sort of deep-seeded desire to harm myself, a subconscious loss of the will to live. I was terrified to share them with anyone, because of what I thought they might mean. More importantly, I didn’t know how other people would react. I had no idea that these thoughts and obsessions were more common than I ever realized.
After a series of episodes where I found myself stuck in a parking lot after work, unable to drive because I was frozen with fear, I learned that these thoughts were potentially not what I thought they were. I was told they could be indicative of OCD, and after struggling for so long, I decided to pursue counseling. Five weeks ago, I began my journey towards accepting and overcoming these thoughts, the thoughts I had been giving so much power and importance to. It was the best decision I ever made. Every day, I am learning more about myself and the illness I have. Every day, I am making progress in my ability to recognize and process these thoughts for what they are. Every day, I am getting a little bit better, and I am amazed by how different I have started to feel.
There are so many things I have learned in a relatively short amount of time — but the most important thing I have learned is this: The more power and importance you give to these thoughts, the more disturbing and scary they become. Thoughts are just thoughts. They are not actions. They do not signify intent, or a subconscious desire to act upon them. If you practice accepting them for what they are, eventually they start to become less terrifying.
Obviously, this is way easier said than done. It’s a learning process — one I am just beginning to become engaged in. But I have started to gain more tools to accept, cope with and overcome these thoughts, and for that, I am incredibly grateful. I definitely have a long road ahead of me. However, five weeks ago, I felt like I couldn’t even find the road. I feel like I am finally on the path to recovery, and being on that path feels amazing.
Before this experience, if someone mentioned OCD, I thought of things like compulsive hand washing, needing things to be perfectly positioned, requiring things to be in a specific order – symptoms of OCD that are often portrayed in the media. I had no idea what obsessions were. I had no idea that OCD could take many forms. I had no idea that the thoughts I was having were actually obsessive, unwanted, intrusive thoughts.
If I wasn’t so terrified to share these thoughts, maybe I would have recognized them for what they were sooner. But I am so incredibly thankful I was finally able to seek help. The counseling I have received has already begun to drastically improve my life and has completely changed my perspective.
If you’re like me, and you live with unwanted, intrusive thoughts, know you are not alone. Know there have been studies and research showing that simply having these thoughts does not make you any more likely to act on them than someone else. Know there have even been entire books written on the subject (“Overcoming Intrusive Thoughts: A CBT Based Guide to Getting Over Frightening, Obsessive, or Disturbing Thoughts” by Winston and Seif is an excellent one). Most importantly, know that recovery is possible, and there are people out there who are ready and willing to help.
If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, the Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386 or reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741.
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Photo by Geran de Klerk on Unsplash