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To Anyone Living With Intrusive Thoughts

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I’ve been living with intrusive thoughts since I was 7 or 8 years old. They didn’t take over my life until I was 15 or 16, and even then, I didn’t seek out treatment until I was 19. Why did I wait so long? Because of the stigma behind the intrusive thoughts that can come with living with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).

Even when I first sought treatment from a psychiatrist and a therapist, I didn’t immediately disclose the content of my thoughts. I was disgusted with the images and words that blared through my brain on a daily basis — the constant doubting and questioning.

I’m writing this to tell anyone out there dealing with intrusive thoughts, please don’t be ashamed to tell your doctor or therapist what the thoughts are. I learned during exposure therapy that saying the thoughts out loud in many ways can diffuse their power. It’s often the secrecy that breeds the anxiety.

I can say aloud now that I’ve had intrusive thoughts of tragedies occurring, of harming others, of obsessing over my identity, of sexual images. I used to think if I admitted these things, it would say something about me. That because I have had these thoughts, I must be a bad person, right? Wrong.

I once read somewhere that everyone in the general population experiences the occasional disturbing thought. The only difference between people with OCD and those without is that we with the illness can get stuck on the thought — making it appear with more intensity and frequency. We often get stuck and obsess, while many neurotypical individuals may have a fleeting disturbing thought and quickly move on, not thinking anything of it.

It can be hard to live with intrusive OCD thoughts. It can be hard to live your life without engaging in compulsions to try to ward them off (when the reality is the compulsions often only make things worse) and by just learning to accept the existence of the thoughts. But I’m trying every day.

To anyone who is dealing with intrusive thoughts, OCD and/or anxiety, please don’t be afraid to tell your doctor or therapist what your thoughts are. The sooner you reveal your thoughts, the better you’ll feel. Remember, the thoughts do not speak to who you are — they’re simply a part of your disorder.

Image via Thinkstock.

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Originally published: January 4, 2017
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