Storify: Intrusive Thoughts

Storify is shutting down in May and has informed users that we have to migrate our content elsewhere if we wish to save it. This is one of my old threads.

Let's do a thread on a thing I don't see talked about on here much: Intrusive Thoughts. A wiki link first and the standard disclaimer that I'm talking about personal experience. I'm not a doctor.

I've had intrusive thoughts for years, without knowing they were a Medical Condition. I thought I was 'crazy' or broken. Intrusive thoughts are associated with OCD, PTSD, and ADHD (and other things!), all of which I have. When I first saw someone use the term on a forum, I actually wept with relief to realize the thing I did had a name. It wasn't just me.

So how do intrusive thoughts manifest for me? Some examples.

When I'm riding in a car, I have repeated visions of rolling the window down and throwing my cellphone out onto the highway. These mental images are incredibly distressing to me, and are accompanied by a fear that the images will escalate to a compulsion. I don't want to throw my phone away! I'm terrified that I'll feel compelled to do so. The images replay over and over.

When I talk to friends, sometimes I'll be seized with images of me saying incredibly damaging things to them and ruining our friendship. They'll be talking and my brain will loop a clip of me saying something unforgivable, right then and there, destroying our relationship. At work, I'll have similar thoughts when someone talks to me, but it'll be of me saying something that would definitely get me fired.

These aren't things I want to do. They're not even reasonable fears of "I might mess up" in a vague way. They're very specific mental images of me saying (or doing) very specific things that I would never say to another human being. Variations on these images can include physical violence towards people I don't feel negative emotion towards. A face slap, a phone break. Picking up a glass of water and pouring it over someone's keyboard while they talk. Over and over and over.

The more the image plays, the more agitated and fearful I become. The more agitated I am, the more the image plays. I spent years thinking I was a danger to myself and others because of these weird thoughts. I didn't realize they were a known condition! Knowing that for the last few years has helped a lot. When I get the images, I know now they're not a compulsion for me. I still don't like them, but I don't fight them. I'm just "hello, intrusive thoughts" and then try to excuse myself to go to the bathroom.

So maybe that will help you too! Intrusive thoughts aren't your "deepest, realest desires". They're just your brain being silly at you. Books and movies kinda messed me up in that regard, making me think that deep desires manifest that way to be extracted by magic or science. But no. Intrusive thoughts aren't some meaningful glimpse at your truest, evilest form. They're just brain farts, and I'm sorry.

[TW] I should also note that intrusive thoughts can dovetail with self-harm ideation and it's sometimes hard for me to separate the two. So none of this means you can't or shouldn't reach out for help if you're seeing something scary. Help is a good thing. But it can help me to know that just because I have a repeated mental image, it doesn't mean I "want" that to happen.

Nobody knows exactly why intrusive thoughts happen, but my pet theory is that your brain is trying to help? My brain is thinking "What's the one thing I absolutely shouldn't say/do right now? This! Avoid say/doing this!" THANKS BRAIN. THANKS.

Brain: "No problem! I'll just keep replaying on a loop the thing we shouldn't do/say! For safety!"

Th-thank you, brain.


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