intrusive thoughts

Avoidance, Confrontation, and Safe Places

As people with anxiety and obsessive behavior are often wont to do, I spend a lot of time reading about my own dysfunction, on the one hand to understand it, but on the other because I obviously have to obsess about obsessing. Because sometimes obsessing about obsessing is better than obsessing about upsetting obsessions.

Ya feel me?

Anyway, recently, I was reading about what’s called “Pure O OCD” which most accurately describes my experience. Here is a pretty good rundown from the OCD Center of Los Angeles:

However, it should be noted that the term “Pure Obsessional OCD” is somewhat of a misnomer. While it may at first appear that these individuals experience obsessions without compulsions, a careful assessment almost always uncovers numerous compulsive behaviors, avoidant behaviors, reassurance-seeking behaviors, and “mental compulsions,”. These behaviors are not as easily observed as other, more obvious OCD symptoms, such as hand-washing and lock-checking, but they are clearly compulsive responses to unwanted obsessions.

This is the kind of thing I read and say: why won’t my psychiatrist listen to me when I say I have compulsive behaviors? Oh, I don’t wash my hands over and over again and therefore I don’t have compulsions? Try living in my head for a minute, madame.

The article goes on to say:

Some common examples of compulsions seen in Pure Obsessional OCD include:

  • avoiding numerous situations in which one fears the possible onset of unwanted thoughts
  • repeatedly asking for reassurance that one has not and/or will not commit an act that one perceives as being “wrong” or “bad”
  • compulsively “checking” one’s body in an effort to get evidence that one is not sexually attracted to someone who he/she considers inappropriate (especially in cases of POCD, HOCD, and ROCD)
  • silently praying or repeating certain phrases in an effort to counteract or neutralize thoughts that one considers to be sinful, immoral or sacrilegious
  • performing superstitious behaviors in an effort to ensure that bad things don’t happen (i.e., counting, tapping, knocking on wood)
  • repeatedly confessing to people, even total strangers, that one has had thoughts which he or she considers to be unacceptable
  • continually ruminating about obsessions in an attempt to prove to oneself that he or she has not done and/or will not do anything “wrong” or “inappropriate” or “sinful”

I’ve underlined the ones that I experience regularly.

My biggest problems are rumination and avoidance. Since I read this article, I’ve been thinking a lot about my own avoidance, and I’ve decided for the purposes of bettering myself to put out into the world some of the things that I avoid or have avoided because of my condition. This is a limited list to what I am willing to admit and is not, by any means, a comprehensive one. I’ve explained them where I am comfortable doing so:

  • Pearl Jam’s song “Better Man” [this song triggered the first big wave of obsessions relating to my relationship back in January]
  • Days when I am anxious or particularly susceptible to ruminating, I will not listen to any music for fear that it will trigger anxious obsessions.
  • Children
  • Family members
  • Some of my friends
  • As a general rule, I won’t look at any strangers for fear that I will find any piece of them attractive or alluring.
  • Coworkers
  • A street near my work that has the same name as my significant other’s ex. The association sometimes will send me into jealous ruminations that drive me insane and are totally unproductive.
  • People who remind me of my significant other for fear that I will find any piece of them attractive or alluring.

You’d think that avoiding triggers would be a good idea, you know? If you’ve ever quit smoking or drinking or some kind of addictive behavior, you learn to keep yourself away from addiction triggers. But it works differently with anxiety. It seems sort of counter-intuitive, but avoidance is a major part of the problem.

Using the street name as an example, I had to force myself to walk down this street and repeat multiple associations other than my S.O.’s ex’s name so that I could rewire my brain. It’s like changing muscle memory. By making multiple associations, you’re eliminating the potency of the “bad” association and therefore remove the “bad” from, in this case, the street near my work. But in order to do this, you have to confront it. You have to force yourself to be near the thing that you fear. And what I fear is the thoughts. I don’t want to think about these things. No one wants to think about their significant other being with another person, regardless of when it was or if you even knew them. But instead of it being common jealous thoughts like most people have, the ruminating is what makes it unhealthy. It’s not that I will think about it for a few minutes or for an hour.

I will think about it for days.

Weeks, sometimes.

When I write that out, when I admit that I think about such inane things as my boyfriend’s ex for weeks at a time (not constantly, mind you; it does come and go), it makes me ashamed and it makes me sad for myself. That so much of time is consumed by a person who I don’t even know and will probably never know. And who will never really have any bearing on my life.

So why do I think about it?

Well, to be honest, it probably is because I can’t fathom being a person’s first choice. That being the best thing that ever happened to a person just isn’t possible. Clearly, says my Mean Voice, clearly you are just filling in for some other person. You’re a replacement for a person who he can’t have anymore. Clearly, you’re a consolation prize. You don’t deserve happiness. You don’t deserve this amazing person. This amazing person was clearly meant for someone else.

This doesn’t just happen with jealousy. It happens with everything. Last year when I had that thought that ruined my year, I spent the entire year thinking about the thought and convincing myself that I was a horrible person who was just going to hurt someone. Sometimes, I obsess that my boyfriend doesn’t love me. Or that I don’t love him. Because either A) I don’t deserve a healthy relationship so clearly he must be lying about loving me or B) I am a bad person and am manipulating him on the daily.

Anyone who knows me or my significant other would probably say this is the very furthest from the truth.

And see, that’s just it. I can’t say it enough: the content doesn’t matter. It isn’t that I’m ruminating about my S.O.’s ex or not loving him or thinking I’m going to hurt someone – it’s the fact that I’m having the rumination IN THE FIRST PLACE. It isn’t about the actual thing, it’s about the rush of thoughts you can’t control or forget.

I think that’s why people who don’t have this problem say: well, just don’t think about it. Because I don’t think that they can conceive of a headspace where your thoughts are your greatest enemy. And because of this, you’re a prisoner in your own mind.

Because of all this, I don’t know how to trust myself. I am rebuilding. I’m telling myself it’s okay to have thoughts sometimes. That my thoughts do not determine who I am. That my thoughts and I aren’t always one. That sometimes I am a Harvey Two-Face. Sometimes I have an evil voice in my head that wins.

And I suppose once i start to accept that this evil voice isn’t a part of who I am or who I want to be, that is when the thoughts will go away.

But right now, I feel like I’m doing all this work and I’m still waiting. I’m getting a lot better, believe you me. Things are much better now. But I want my head to be a safe place. Not a place where I see disturbing images or think about my significant other with another person. I want to be my own safe place.

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Life Without Meds and the One Thought that Ruined My Year

Last week, I stopped taking my daily low dose of klonopin. I’ve been up and down, had a couple anxiety attacks, and faced my standard non-medicated, 4 AM, wake-up worry. But, in truth, I don’t mind all that. I can deal with escalating anxiety at work or whatever it is that might cause some frantic moments. (Though, when I’m in those moments, I would say that they are a living hell and I’d do anything to not have them.) Honestly, what bugs me out more than anything is having the thoughts.

While on my medication, mostly the thoughts were only around when I was stressed out. Now, they come and go as they please. For several days, I felt great. No problems, no thoughts. Now I feel like I’m back to square one.

Though, if I’m being honest, I’m not back at square one. I’m doing better. I can live without meds right now. Six months ago, I couldn’t go a week without a panic attack. Now, I’m not letting the anxiety get out of hand. And that’s more than I could’ve said for myself even just a few weeks ago.

More than anything, it’s the shame.

Shame for having thoughts. Shame for doubting myself. Shame for letting the doubt take over. Shame that I can’t handle this better than I am. Shame that, even for a moment, I might buy into a delusional thought. Not in the sense that I actually think it’s reality. That isn’t the case. It’s that…I worry that it’s real. Which is different than believing it’s real.

The content of my thoughts generally has to do with honesty. And perfect behavior. My particular brand of obsession has mostly to do with lying to myself, lying to people I care about, and being caught up in self-worth battles that never seem to end.

Am I good enough? Will I ever be good enough? What if I hurt somebody?

Last year, I was working in a toxic environment that constantly devalued me and made me second-,third-,fourth- guess my self-worth. When I started working there, I thought I had finally found my Place outside of college. And at some point, it became apparent that I was not of value, despite all of my hard work, overtime, and dedication.

I (along with my coworkers) knew I was getting laid off for about six months before it happened. Going into work every day was like…walking into the deepest reaches of hell. Everyone around me was depressed and anxious. People were clearly not coping well. And on top of it, our management didn’t seem to give a shit about any of it.

At some point, very shortly before I was laid off, my anxiety disorder started (probably not as suddenly as I think it had). I had a singular, instantaneous thought. One. Single. Thought. I ruminated about this thought for…a day straight. I’m not comfortable with sharing what the thought was, or what the rumination was. But, essentially, it was this: I had a thought about hurting someone I care about.

I thought that I was a horrible person who was going to hurt someone I love.

It threw me into this horrible, isolated depression. I couldn’t tell anyone. How could I tell someone that I had thoughts about hurting someone? I’d become a pariah.

I felt totally alone.

I started thinking things like “what would happen if I jumped in front of that train?” And as soon as those thoughts came, I called a therapist that very day. I knew I was headed down a destructive road.

I was shaking when I walked into my therapist’s office. I thought somehow I had already done something wrong. As if having the thought itself was committing the action. But it isn’t. It isn’t the same.

My therapist told me recently: “I knew the moment you told me about the thought that you weren’t going to hurt anyone.”

People with OCD commonly have disturbing, depraved thoughts that are totally contrary to things they would actually do. Usually, these thoughts are triggered by stress or trauma. But the problem is that the person focuses so much on purity and perfection that the thought itself is like committing the action.

The person I had the thought about…I still struggle to be around them. It makes me hesitate to be near them. It makes me question my morality, who I am, what I’m capable of. I’ve avoided that person for the better part of a year and a half. And nobody close to me or that person (outside of a very, very few people) knows about it. They must think I’m being selfish, because I’m not around as much.

And I can’t tell them, or anyone around them, why. I risk alienating myself from the people close to me. Because of one thought.

Do you have any idea what that feels like? To think you are the worst kind of person? And truly believe it?

Essentially, I protect the people I love from myself.

The thought never happened again. Only that one time. But it’s the worry that it will come back that drives me away from the person it was about. Other “intrusions” (as I call them) alienate me from other people that they involve. Likely, I have so many anxiety attacks around my boyfriend because so many of my obsessions thematically involve him, my feelings for him, and his feelings for me.

But I love him more than I need avoidance. It isn’t even fucking close. And, honestly, I think working through the anxiety that is brought on by my relationship (however healthy and fantastic it is) is making me stronger. It’s making me confront my anxiety and deal with it head-on. And, honestly, I couldn’t do that if he didn’t grant me the safe space to be honest. I can tell him some of my thoughts. I can have a conversation about them. I feel as though I can trust him to never judge me for them.

This monster that lives inside me, I’ve isolated it. It used to be a fog, or a poison, inside of me. Now, I’ve pushed it into a corner. I’ve located it, I’ve named it, and I’ve got its number. I’m done with this mean voice. I’m done giving it power. And I’m done letting it ruin my life and my relationships.

For any of you who have mean voices, loud or quiet, beat them back with everything you have. I believe in you, even if you don’t.

This is What Bad Headspace Looks Like

I’ve been in a terrible headspace lately. The last two weeks have been tough, life-wise and therefore head-wise. In my relationship, I’ve had to take on the role of supporter, as my S.O. has been going through some difficult things both having to do with circumstance, and I think, as a result emotionally. Because I’m a fixer – a loyal person who wants to take on all of people’s problems as my own – his problems become my problems. I take on a substantial load of the weight and, frankly, do too much to help.

Because of this, I get tapped out easily. And because I’m tapped out, I’m emotionally vulnerable. In the midst of this “crisis” (for lack of a better word), and possibly as a partial consequence of it, I began to have issues with one of my friends which was only escalating the stress having to do with the situation at hand.

Would you be surprised to know that I’ve been having a lot of “old,” intrusive thoughts? No, I suppose you wouldn’t. I look back on the stress level that I’ve been at lately, and I’m surprised I haven’t popped yet (read: massive anxiety attack) – and I suppose I should be a little proud of myself.

But, frankly, it just makes me sad. Sad, lonely, and tired. I feel isolated. Though I know the content of my thoughts don’t matter (it’s the obsession that’s the issue at hand – the content is irrelevant), I feel like I can’t share them with my S.O. He’s enduring a lot right now, and I don’t think he’s in the headspace where he can endure what’s on my mind. And that makes me feel alone. Because I can’t talk to the one person who seems to really understand.

I went out with a few friends who I haven’t seen in a long time and felt so far away from them. I spent most of my time with them worrying about their opinion of me, thinking that I was a bad friend for not being around enough, and convincing myself that they were all mad at me.

I can’t get myself to my therapy appointment next week because of the circumstances at hand. And that makes me feel worse.

I can’t stop obsessing about this or that, and my mean voice (normally abusive only to me) has started to project outward. Which makes me abuse myself emotionally even more.

I can sense the separation anxiety monster in me brewing a lot, and I don’t know how to make the mechanism stop anymore. I have made efforts to stop the obsessions. While out at a party last night, I started experiencing anxiety, fell into myself, began to obsess, and then said to myself “I’m not going to ruin my evening by hyper-focusing on every single fucking thing that happens and sitting here feeling like shit.”

I should be proud of myself for that, because my methodology worked. But the anxiety is still there. I still got home and cried. I still came home and hated myself for it. I still came home and felt ashamed and guilty.

I didn’t sleep all night. Kept waking up every 20-40 minutes or so. I know that getting through the day or getting through anxiety is often just a matter of changing your perspective and looking at things in a positive way. But, honestly, I just don’t have it in me today. I’m irrationally terrified that I’m pregnant. I’m convinced that I’m only going to hurt every single person who gets close to me. And I feel like I’m just waiting for the moment when everyone I love will abandon me.

I told myself that I would never dump negativity on this blog at all, because I don’t know if it’s productive. But maybe somehow this is helpful as well. To see what the really negative side of this looks like on paper. To see how much more honest it is.

It isn’t. This entry has been more reticent and distant than anything else I’ve written here. Why? Well, because I’m convinced you will all reject me.

I’m falling into myself, and when I’m wading in this deep of water, I forget how to swim.

I know I’m doing better. I am. But I am fucking tired of thinking about shit that I don’t want to think about. Thinking about the shit that upsets me more than anything. And I’m petrified that the monster that lives inside me and makes all of this up in my head is going to win for just one moment when I’m weak, and I’ll lose everything.