J. Grant talks about his experience of coping with intrusive thoughts.
This blog contains details of abuse that some people might find triggering. If you are feeling vulnerable, do take care.
When I was a teenager, I didn’t know what I know now. I didn’t know about thought disorders or how my mind works. All I knew was that I was 14 years of age and I was petrified of being a paedophile. I knew I wasn’t one, but I had unfortunately encountered a paedophile, and for some inexplicable reason that led to my continued battle with intrusive thoughts.
I remember the day the world found out that my youth worker had been arrested for sexual assault. For some reason, the eventual arrest triggered something in my head. It began in my science class the next day when the word ‘KIDS’ suddenly bombarded my mind. In that moment I found it almost impossible to not think of that word. I can’t explain it perfectly but from that moment, unwanted thoughts and accusations started popping up in my head and I became terrified that I was a paedophile. I subsequently spent what felt like most nights of my teenage years lying in my bed, alone, awake, and scared. Sleep was a Holy Grail that could not be reached. That single word ‘kids’ followed by accusations of ‘you’re a paedo’ constantly ramming through my head, incessant thoughts and images tapping at the periphery of my mind.
From a young age I realised that my mind was not my friend. I spent a tremendous amount of energy trying to quieten my mind. I would focus on a black space of nothing and think of something safe, something neutral and then hold on to that image until the unwelcome thoughts at the fringes of my mind disappeared. It wasn’t until 17 years later I stumbled across the term ‘intrusive thoughts’. I was at a bar with a friend and we met two girls who happened to be psychologists. I overheard one of them say something along the lines of “There is nothing wrong with intrusive thoughts. They are only thoughts!”
Later that night I looked up the term on the internet and was overwhelmed by what I read. I would never have expected that my experiences as a child and beyond could be summarised and defined so easily through a 3am Google search. It put colour to a painting that was already sketched in pencil. It articulated what I already knew: I had never struggled with paedophilia. What I had wrestled with were “unwelcome involuntary thoughts, images, or unpleasant ideas that may become obsessions, are upsetting or distressing, and can be difficult to manage or eliminate.”
I do not have any medical credentials or a degree in psychology and, in an academic sense, I know very little about intrusive thoughts. All I knew was that I was a ‘normal’ kid and I turned out to be a ‘normal’ adult – I simply experienced some horrific thoughts along the way. Until that night I had no idea that there were terms for what I had struggled with.
I learnt from my sleepless nights as a teenager that it is my conscious response that is important. After time, I learnt to simply shrug off the thoughts that kept me awake as a child. Even now, some years later, my mind is still not entirely my friend. I will still occasionally have strange unwanted thoughts suddenly enter my mind but these thoughts are totally outweighed by my belief that these intrusive thoughts are simply not worth worrying about. Professional opinion is clear that intrusive thoughts do not lead to the doing of the feared action and do not indicate a moral flaw.
My experience is that it is the horror of the thoughts themselves and the reluctance to explain them to others that can cause deep emotional distress. I wrote this article to try and answer a simple question: how does one say that they have scary thoughts of child abuse without sounding like a paedophile? How does the mother explain that she thinks of harming her child without having to doubt her own sanity? How does the person who fears contracting a disease through seemingly impossible means ever sound OK? In short, how do we explain the horrors of our mind without sounding horrific?
The answer lies in understanding that intrusive thoughts are actually just thoughts. We need not be scared or ashamed of these thoughts no matter how shocking they may be. Now that is a wonderful thought. I think intrusive thoughts as a topic need to be in the consciousness of mainstream society. My hope is that people who spend their waking days struggling with what goes on in their mind will not need to fear what other people may think. Instead, the thoughts and anxieties which form in our minds can be unashamedly mentioned and understood. So here’s me, mentioning them.
Intrusive thoughts can be really hard to cope with. For support, contact your local Mind or call our Infoline on 0300 123 3393.
Intrusive thoughts can be associated with OCD, for more information on this, visit our website.
This article was originally published on Planet Ivy. Please note the article contains information which could be triggering.
You can follow the author on Twitter @JGrant12345