Intrusive Thoughts and the Fear of Acting Impulsively (OCD)

Intrusive Thoughts and the Fear of Acting Impulsively (OCD) May 26, 2017


I have a general fear of acting out or impulsively doing things that are inappropriate and harmful; to myself or others; though I’ve never acted on those impulses. They’re just things I think about repeatedly until I get butterflies in my stomach. I guess you could call it a phobia of doing something horrible. I’m genuinely afraid I’ll impulsively do something I don’t mean and it scares me so much that I get goosebumps and have heart palpitations thinking about what could go wrong. My knees get weak and I even get dizzy. That’s when it’s really bad. That’s when the ‘what if’s’ have taken over and my anxiety level is too high. I’ve had this fear for as long as I can remember. Actually, intrusive thoughts have troubled me since childhood and I always felt as though there were something deeply wrong with me. I used to think of myself as a monster, in fact. However I never admitted to this to anyone. Now, I understand that the recurrent thoughts I have are a symptom of one of my illnesses and that with treatment I can manage those symptoms and have a better peace of mind.

I decided to make a list of a few of the fears I’ve struggled with over the years, to give an idea of what it’s like to have these constant ideas running through your mind. It’s really difficult to tune them out and I’ve had to work hard at ignoring them. And also at not feeling like a terrible person for having these thoughts in the first place. I’m reluctant to mention these fears because I don’t want people to think I’d ever act on them. I’m only sharing this post in the hopes that people can relate to what I’ve gone through and/or understand what this is like for people with this type of issue.

I haven’t listed everything here of course. There is too much to mention from my life. Some of the fears found below are specific in nature, some are more general… Some may seem innocuous, however since they don’t gel with my lifestyle, I’ve included them. I’ve not addressed this subject with my doctor in detail because I didn’t realize it was a major issue in my life until recently. There are other aspects of my ocd that I’ll cover in another article. Thankfully, I now know what to tell the dr. and what questions to ask in order to get the help I need for this issue.

What if I suddenly:

  • Push the emergency button on the elevator and everyone gets hurt or we’re stuck indefinitely
  • Shove my disabled friend while she’s using her crutches, causing her to fall and get hurt
  • Push someone down the steps (many variations on this)
  • Drop a lit cigarette on a puddle of gas at the gas station (despite not having a cigarette)
  • Shout out something scary while in a crowded coffee shop or movie theater
  • Jump out of the back seat of a moving car into traffic causing a major pile up
  • Drive my car into oncoming traffic for no reason causing people to die or get hurt
  • Touch/grab someone inappropriately in public
  • Send an inappropriate picture to the wrong person
  • Send an inappropriate picture to the whole internet
  • Send an overtly inappropriate text/picture to a religious figure (known religious people)
  • Cut all my friend’s clothes into little pieces with her scissors
  • Harm someone with their own kitchen utensils
  • Upload a picture of myself without hijab to all my social media sites
  • Destroy all the breakable/glass items on display in a store
  • Take one fruit/vegetable from the fruit/veg. display in a store causing everything to spill (specific because the items are in a particular order)
  • Blurt out something that would cause my married friends to fight
  • Blurt out a harsh/hurtful word about a stranger’s appearance before I could hold my tongue

Many people may feel like they’ve had a few of these kinds of thoughts before. They might even wonder what the big deal is or why someone would worry about stuff like this. The first thing to remember is that these are not voluntary ideas. And you’re constantly questioning yourself as to what kind of person thinks like this. I used to berate myself and tell myself what an awful person I was for having these thoughts and it really damaged my self-image for many years.

It becomes an issue when it takes over your day and you can’t stop thinking about it. Or as mentioned above, when you experience physical symptoms related to your fear of causing harm to someone. For me, I’ve had these thoughts all my life. I can’t remember a time when I haven’t had them. And sometimes they’re going on when people are talking to me. I remember during the early days of the internet, I used to stay up late at night researching traits of various disorders that seemed to fit what I was experiencing. Because I thought so poorly of myself, I self-diagnosed my symptoms according to disorders that are highly stigmatized and sensationalized in the media. That was a major mistake that damaged my self-worth and cost me a lot of time in getting the appropriate help I needed. But recently, I’ve been able to turn a corner with all this and get control of my thoughts. It’s been a blessing. There is no cure, but these days are much better than before.

What has helped me get through this is a variety of things. First, I’ve learned to tune out the thoughts, as I mentioned earlier in the article. And also, I learned that when you don’t fight the recurrent thoughts, they tend to recede on their own, in time. The more I struggled with my brain and tried to force myself to overcome these repetitive ideas, the worse it got. It was like a never ending loop. I had to just let go and relax. If I notice an errant thought these days, I keep going about my day. Eventually it passes. But I also take my anxiety medicine. That helps me avoid going over the same ideas repeatedly.

Another thing that helps is something one of my mentors taught me. I like his take on things because he is both an Imam and a doctor. He’s been able to give me an interesting perspective on my illness. He said to be like a bee and not to dwell on any one subject too much. He said to spend small amounts of time in each area of my life, giving nothing too much attention all at once. That will help me not obsess and ruminate, he said. I liked that.

I’m anxious to see my main psychiatrist soon and talk to him about all of this. But I’m also not as afraid or intimidated as I once was, though this has been the scariest part of my illness to date. Bipolar and general anxiety aren’t this challenging for me. And I’ll admit to being uncomfortable with some parts of mental illness, like this. This subject isn’t one I’ve been willing to shout from the rooftops like the others. But maybe one day I’ll be more comfortable with it.


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