Obviously this started to impact my work. I could only hold concentration on tasks for a minute or two at most. I would try to physically shake the idea out of my head every time it popped in, and after a day or two, developed a tick whereby I twitched my head to the left or right like a terrier with fleas.
For those first few days, I would slip out of the office every few hours, walk around the corner, sit on some steps, furiously smoke cigarettes and cry. I'd slap myself out of pure frustration. When I wasn’t at work, I would drink a lot, in an attempt to overrule the thoughts and relax my mind.
I remember being worried that I’d never have total control of my brain again; that this uninvited thought would never go away. As an extension of that, I worried that I’d lose my job and relationship, because the terrier twitch and the drinking and the sheer amount of crying would give the game away that I was, truly, losing my shit over something totally implausible.
I didn’t tell anyone what was going on for about a week, because how do you tell someone that all you can think about all day is female castration? And I felt underserving of sympathy or treatment, not only because I’m the kind of crap person who doesn’t go to friends’ birthday dinners, but because I felt that nothing bad enough had ever happened to me to warrant this brain malfunction. ‘Therapy’, I thought, ‘is a privilege that should be reserved for people who actually need it.’
Eventually, I cracked. I tried to get on the train to work one morning and could barely think about anything beyond scissors and knives. I was aware that I was freaking out and crying a lot and people were staring, so I got off at the next station and went home. I called my boss and told him that I thought I was losing my mind which, in hindsight, must have sounded quite melodramatic. Then I called my Dad, who very patiently said, “Okay, call the doctor”. So I called the doctor, who asked me whether I thought I might hurt myself.
I can honestly say at that point I thought I might. I was so tired with obsessing – with what felt like hallucinating
– that I was no longer sure what was real and what wasn’t.
“Yes,” I said, “I do want to hurt myself.”
Do you think you might do what you’ve been thinking about to yourself?” he asked.
"Maybe." I didn't really know anymore.
The doctor told me I had 'intrusive thought OCD', and instructed me to go straight to a surgery. There, they put me on diazepam (Valium) and Fluoxetine (Prozac), and after a consultation, I went home and passed out in bed for a really, really long time. When I woke up, the obsessive thoughts were still there, but they were bothering me less frequently. I went for a run for the first time in years, despite feeling a tad high off of the valium. I found it soothing.
In the following weeks, I reluctantly bought my first self-help book, Mindfulness
, and reluctantly enrolled in CBT (I lasted about two sessions but it was helpful). I continue to exercise when I feel like I need to calm down, and have been on the anti-anxiety drugs for nearly a year. I now rarely have the intrusive thought at all – maybe once or twice a day. When I do, I have learned not to freak out, but to let it pass out of my mind in its own time. That way, I don’t get caught up in the cycle of panic.
on why people experience intrusive thought OCD is inconclusive, although I've found mine to be exacerbated by stress. There are also no accurate statistics of how many people have it. The disorder is characterised by a recurring thought that gives you a sense of guilt, so a lot of people keep their suffering a secret. Common thoughts often involve paedophilia, incest, or hurting a family member – thoughts that you’d naturally be ashamed to give voice to.
It’s important to remember that this is not your thinking, but rather, your mind conjuring the thing most abhorrent to you. From my own experience, I learned that acknowledging your illness – despite the fact it's not one that you can see
– is the first step to getting better. Telling people about intrusive thought OCD lifts the shame and reduces the sense of anxiety. When people don’t judge you as you assumed they would, you realise that what you’re going through is clinical, and as such, that it probably has a cure.
If you are experiencing intrusive thoughts visit OCD UK for more information or speak to your doctor.