Why Having 'Dark' Thoughts Doesn't Make You a Bad Person

It can happen to us all — out of no where we have a flash of an unexpectedly dark thought.

What if I just ran my car off the road right now?

But for people struggling with anxiety, OCD or other mental illnesses, these thoughts are not a temporary flash that can simply be laughed off. We don’t just continue on with life. These thoughts are usually present 24/7, on a never-ending loop. Dark, miserable, painful thoughts of “what if?” Images and ideas that can’t be controlled. Constant. Constant. Constant.

I was a teenager the first time it happened to me; holding a pair of scissors while working on homework, and out of no where the thought came to me, “What if I just drag these scissors across my wrist?” I didn’t want to do it. I had no intention of doing it, but the thought came to me and it stuck. It would replay in my mind over and over, “What if?” The harder I tried to make it stop, the worse it got.

When getting my drivers license, I remember thinking, “What if my car spins out and hits someone else and I kill them?” There are lots of thoughts I have around driving, and none of them are logical. But they are there. On a loop. Constantly.

And it’s not just driving. Cooking dinner I can be thinking, “What if I don’t clean up properly and I make my husband sick?” It’s not an unusual thought for a “normal” person to have. Where it becomes a problem is when it starts to interfere with my daily functioning. When I refuse to even cook because I fear I will kill someone.

The worst ones are the various ways I could die by suicide. Graphic images of hauntingly real, and often violent, ways I could end it all. I would never do any of them, but that doesn’t stop the thoughts from invading my brain and forcing me to relive all the way I could.

For so long I thought I must be a terrible person. I must want these things to happen. I must be doing this to myself, to my own brain, from my own brain. Even thoughts about thinking are on a constant loop. “Is this my fault? Will it ever end?” Over and over those questions play out, until some uglier thought takes their place. I can’t control it, I can’t stop it, and some days I don’t think I can live with it.

It wasn’t until I read an article about OCD, in which former hockey player Corey Hirsch describes those exact thoughts, that I finally realized I wasn’t alone. I wasn’t alone in having these terrible thoughts. I wasn’t alone in wanting them to end. I just wasn’t alone. And that, for me, made all the difference.

If you’re sitting there reading this, feeling like those thoughts define you and will never change, know that there is hope. If you are desperately seeking a way out from those thoughts, know that there is help. You can feel better, you don’t have to live like this forever — and I know, it can seem impossible to continue living when your thoughts are dominated by uncontrollable flashes of the worst things imaginable. But hear me when I say there is hope and there is help. I didn’t believe it when I first read Corey’s words about the beautiful things in life that are out there, but now I know he was right.

“If you are in a dark place right now, thinking that you can’t go on anymore, I know you probably cannot foresee these kind of things in your future. But your brain is lying to you. It’s lying. There is a light, however faint, in all this darkness. There is help out there for you. There is hope. I swear to God, hope is real. You will reach the light.”

These thoughts don’t make you a bad person. They don’t make you weak. Ask for help. Never stop asking for help until you get the help you need. The dark, painful thoughts are a symptom of a problem, not a moral failing.

You are strong. You are resilient. You are a good person.

You are not alone.

Your thoughts do not define you.

There is hope. Never let go of hope.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

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 741741.

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Unsplash photo via Daniel Monteiro

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