When I was in fourth grade, I remember being in the classroom playing with pogs and my opponent threw one at me (obviously my slammer had just destroyed his stack) and it hit me in the eye. I was fine but my mind started imagining this scenario where it wasn’t, and while I won’t go into the gruesome details, let’s just say I imagined much more than just a worst-case scenario. This is my first real memory of having what would be later diagnosed as intrusive thoughts.
Over my entire life I have suffered from intrusive thoughts-I often found myself thinking of my loved ones dying, what I would have to say at their funerals or coming home to my house after it has been broken into. I had no control over these thoughts; them appearing or making them disappear.
To be honest, it was so commonplace for me I thought it was “normal” and assumed people just didn’t talk about it because it was unpleasant. I never shared with anyone these thoughts, because while I didn’t like them-they didn’t really impact me. Oddly enough, I never was really bothered by them, I just felt like I had an active imagination. That is, until I had my oldest daughter.
With my hormonal shift, my thoughts morphed into much more, including: physical anxiety and obsessional thoughts (I was convinced my husband was going to die on me and leave me as a single mother. If I didn’t say “I love you” as the last words to my family I obsessively worried that I wouldn’t ever get the chance to tell them again). These thoughts became an obsession and I would repeat the word, “Nope” in my head for hours of each day to try and control them. When my attempts to control the thoughts didn’t work, I would start to suffer physical anxiety-a constant throat bubble I couldn’t swallow down, chest hurting, the “inability” to take a deep breath. It took me a long time to even realize I was also suffering from anxiety since the symptoms could be explained as other things.
While the first big shift happened after the birth of my oldest daughter seven years ago, a major shift occurred after my second was born three years ago. I’m not sure if I became more overwhelmed being a mother to two, a job change or the fact that my baby never slept (literally-less than five times before 17 months did she sleep more than two hours) or a combination of it all, but I really began to suffer.
Approximately a year ago, I realized things were getting worse instead of better. I started to perform, what I now realize, are rituals-running my hand along the wall after unplugging my curling iron so I could physically feel and confirm that I didn’t leave it on. Driving back to my house after I had already left to make sure that I didn’t leave the garage door open. Counting how many breaths in and out and making sure I was always breathing in even numbers (two counts for a breath in, two for breath out).
I also became very easily agitated and after having one too many fights with my husband due to my own inability to process my emotions, I finally sought out help. I was extremely shocked to learn I had OCD-of course looking back now it is obvious but I didn’t obsessively lock my doors, I didn’t worry about germs, I wasn’t a hoarder. I didn’t identify with the symptoms but now I know that I have what is called Pure-O, a variation of OCD that primarily presents itself as experiencing obsessions without observable compulsions.
Seeking help from a psychiatrist has been life-changing. To be honest, we still haven’t figured out the right medicine for me-one of them made me experience more mainstream OCD symptoms (for a while I had to drive with the windows down in my car, even in the rain, because the sounds were uneven due to weatherproofing). I have complete faith though that I, along with my doctor, will find the right medication to help manage my symptoms.
In talking with other people, I realized I am far from alone in my suffering, but it is something that is so rarely focused on. I know not everyone who has intrusive thoughts requires medication, or would ultimately receive a diagnosis of OCD-however if I had realized that it wasn’t “normal” I would have reached out for help a long time ago.
As open of a book as I am, it was so hard for me to admit the depths of my intrusive thoughts as I felt “crazy” but didn’t want to receive a permanent label. I am so much more than my diagnosis but sometimes, once you receive one, it feels like you are defined by it-especially with mental health. That said, I have received so much relief from just talking about it. So if you are like me, there are resources out there that can help, random bloggers (me!) who are happy to chat, and assistance to help manage the worst of symptoms.