Living With OCD - How To Control Intrusive Thoughts
OCD something I’m so passionate about raising awareness of at Crazy Creative Cool, as I’ve personally struggled with this disorder since I was 8 years old. Awareness of mental health issues seems to have be growing over the last few years, which is incredible - but awareness and support for people living with OCD is still minimal. I think it’s due to so many parts of OCD disorders being seen as embarrassing and shameful, it really stops us from being able to say what’s going on in our heads, out loud. I really want to highlight and celebrate those people out there who are turning their pain into power and bravely sharing their stories.
First up is Stacey Barber, an inspiring mental health blogger based in the UK, who uses her platform to help others who may be struggling with mental illnesses. During our chat with Stacey, she explains more about obsessive compulsive disorder, how it manifests and ways she personally controls her symptoms that you might find helpful.
CCC: Hey Stacey! Thank you so much for chatting with us and for everything you do to raise awareness! How would you describe obsessive compulsive disorder to someone who doesn’t understand it?
SB: Intrusive thoughts are unwanted thoughts or images that keep playing over within your head. They are distressing, scary and at times just annoying. Most of the time, intrusive thoughts are because of OCD. I have lived with them for twenty years, thanks to obsessive compulsive disorder and they sometimes get nasty.
CCC: Can you explain the difference between a “normal” thought and an intrusive one?
SB: Intrusive thoughts are not like normal thoughts or even negative thoughts, that can come and go, these stick like glue and keep playing over and over, causing anxiety. Since the thoughts are stuck, many people then act on compulsions to make them stop. Intrusive thoughts can be about anything and everything you can think of. It could be thoughts that you are a bad person or that you are going to cause harm to your somebody. It could also be that you are going to cause an accident or that you have done something awful, when you know, deep down, you haven’t.
CCC: Can you explain compulsions to someone who hasn't heard about them in an OCD sense?
SB: Compulsions are an act to try and make the thought go away. They can be both mental and physical. It could be that you need to do things in an order or you have to drive back to somewhere you’ve just driven to make sure you didn’t run someone over. For some people, they may have to tap things a certain number of times, or count in a particular pattern. Mentally they might have to sing a song or say specific words over and over. Again, just like the intrusive thoughts, compulsions can be about anything.
CCC: How does obsessive compulsive disorder and intrusive thoughts affect your life?
SB: I can honestly say, with my hand on my heart, intrusive thoughts suck and they really do make you feel like an awful person. People who suffer with intrusive thoughts often know that what they are thinking is irrational but they still can’t stop them. Often they have a “what if” fear over their compulsions. The thing with intrusive thoughts is, one: you can’t control them and two: compulsions only make them disappear for the short term.
CCC: Have you ever asked for support to help you manage the intrusive thoughts?
SB: I have been battling my intrusive thoughts for a long time. As life goes, on the thoughts change and I have been obsessed by some for months at a time. I have been in therapy for them, kept diaries and even taken medication, to try and make them go away. In the beginning of trying to deal with them I was looking for a way to stop them completely but I soon learnt there is no way to stop thoughts, because that’s all they are. Even though they are scary and make me anxious they are just thoughts. That was the first step in controlling how I deal with them.
CCC: Was realising this a turning point for you? Sometimes, we try so hard to control our thoughts that it actually makes us feel worse about ourselves when we can’t shift to a more positive one - I’ve definitely been there!
SB: Definitely. You can’t control which thoughts pop into your head randomly, so you cannot control thoughts that get stuck, it’s impossible. Trying to get rid of the thoughts can actually make them worse in the long run. One of the key things that has helped me when trying to overcome intrusive thoughts is to actually just let them be. Strange to hear, when they are so awful but it’s important to just give them no attention. Don’t argue with them or try to come up with an explanation at why they are wrong. Most of the time these, thoughts fall into the “what if”. What if someone dies, what if I left something on, what if I’m a bad person. The best answer to these thoughts is “so what” and that’s it. These thoughts are that, thoughts. There is no magic here and I can promise you you’re not predicting the future.
CCC: This is something that so many of us with OCD believe - and fear! That feeling of fear that our thought could cause something horrible to happen. What do you tell yourself now, to retrain your brain when these kinds of thoughts arise?
SB: My motto, which has helped me so much with my own intrusive thoughts is this:
OCD is always wrong, but even if it’s right, it’s wrong.
If something bad does happen, it doesn’t mean the thought was right or had the power to cause it. A bad thought that you don’t choose or can’t control, doesn’t make it happen.
CCC: What advice would you give to someone who is suffering with this disorder?
SB: To remember that there are ways we can manage our thoughts. Of course they are always there and sometimes we will break and feel like we need to act on them and complete a compulsion. We’re human and for many of us who have lived with OCD for a long time, our brains have been programmed to react to intrusive thoughts in this way for a while. We can’t always get control them. intrusive thoughts are hard to live with but there is hope in dealing with them. Don’t give up and ask for support if you need it.
CCC: Thank you Stacey! Where can we find you online if anyone wants to connect with you?
SB: I blog over at www.fixmeinfortyfive.com and you can find me on Instagram @staceybarber_x
〰️ OCD MENTAL WELLNESS TOOLKIT: 〰️
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