I really began to notice my anxiety when Miss 7 was born – it was such a sudden onset in it’s intensity and I had no idea that it was anxiety for another 3 years or so.
A lot of my anxiety revolves around safety and control – the safety of myself and my family, my ability to control their safety etc.
Yesterday during my therapy session, when I mentioned some thoughts I had in a particular situation, my therapist mentioned “intrusive thoughts” and it was the first time I’d heard a name associated with what goes on in my head. It also scared me a little as when I heard “intrusive thoughts” I also heard “voices in your head” which turned into “mad”.
Is it normal to have intrusive thoughts?
I can confirm I am not “mad” and the voices in my head are my own thoughts. Everybody has tonnes of intrusive thoughts run through their minds every day, from “what should I cook for dinner today?” to “where should I go this weekend?” and even “that noise is really annoying me”. These thoughts are so simple that they come and go without a second thought and half the time, we don’t even notice them.
Unwanted Intrusive thoughts for me, are my bodies way of trying to protect me, but getting a little off track in the process. Unwanted intrusive thoughts are thoughts that can be upsetting or disturbing, and mine feed into my anxiety related fears. They can also be known as “obsessions” and in some people, they can lead to “compulsions” which are actions a person takes to try to cope with the unwanted thoughts.
Examples of unwanted intrusive thoughts I have had include:
- Master 4 having a pain in his leg and my mind telling me it could be cancer in the bone.
- Carrying Miss 7 upstairs when she was a baby and having an image of me dropping her on the stairs.
- Going to a park and imagining how it would feel if one or both of the kids went missing because I’m not watching them closely enough.
- If the train I’m travelling on rocks quite a bit, I become scared that the train is going to come off of the tracks or tip over.
These are just a small number of intrusive thoughts I’ve experienced in the last 7 years. They all relate to keeping myself or my family safe in one way or another and situations where I may not have control. In a more simplified explanation, I have intrusive thoughts about death and needing certainty around safety issues.
Compulsions I’ve had in the past include:
- Getting off a bus because my intrusive thoughts told me I could die if I didn’t .
- Sleeping on the floor in the kids bedroom on numerous occasions because one of the kids had a temperature and I needed to monitor them so they didn’t die.
- Taking Miss 7 to hospital last year because she had a stomach bug which caused her a lot of pain and I needed to make sure it wasn’t appendicitis.
The problem with unwanted intrusive thoughts is that it’s exhausting trying to reason with yourself. One part of your mind is telling you the worst case scenario in a misguided attempt to protect you, and the other part of your mind is like “really? Are we really gonna go from 0 to 100? Can we be rational?” and then in the middle is a smaller part that says “but what if you don’t listen to the worst case scenario and it happens – it will be all your fault!”. The worst case scenario is like a red, flashing warning beacon that overpowers the colleague who comes and says “don’t worry, it’s only a false alarm” when the fire alarm goes off at work.
How do you stop intrusive thoughts?
So, apparently there’s a process to dealing with intrusive thoughts which I will begin to explore in therapy over the next few months:
- Accept your thoughts
- Take the thoughts less personally
- Take the fear out of your thoughts
- Stop changing your behaviours.
Yesterday, we talked about accepting my thoughts. To accept them, I need to understand that my body is trying to protect me by preparing me for the worst mentally. Obviously, it doesn’t work but my body hasn’t worked that out yet. So I need to accept the thought I am having, be kind and thankful to my body for trying to protect me and then try to remind myself it is JUST a thought. It’s not real. The only power the thought has is the power I give it.
Currently, I react to these thoughts as if they are real – I give them that power without even realising because it’s something I’ve been doing for so long. My mind has decided that we need to pay real attention to these thoughts and then I have an emotional reaction to them – normally fear – keeping it relevant. I also have behaviours I’ve changed to accommodate these thoughts – hovering around the kids at the playground, making sure the kids are breathing before I go to bed, sleeping on the kids bedroom floor if one of them is ill etc.
Living with intrusive thoughts is hard. It’s overwhelming, mentally draining and makes people refer to me as a “hypochondriac” which is equally frustrating for me because I feel misunderstood. It’s not as simple as just “overreacting” or being a “drama queen”. It’s a symptom of my anxiety disorder which I have very little control over although I am trying really hard to work on it all through therapy. It’s not fun and I don’t want or need attention.
I just want someone to understand me enough to turn to me and say “it’s okay Shareen. I understand you’re scared and I want you to remember these are just thoughts and only you can give or take their power” whilst understanding that I may not be able to control that just yet. I just want some comfort amidst the noise that is my mind.
It’s been a long post but it’s something I really wanted to share as it makes so much more sense now and is a part of my mental health journey.
If you want more information about unwanted intrusive thoughts, I found a really helpful website called MoodSmith that explains them in much more detail and how you can manage them, and it’s really helping me to explore what it all means. I didn’t sign up to anything on that website and I only found it when searching “Intrusive Thoughts” on the internet so I’m sure there’s plenty more that can be found.