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How I deal with intrusive thoughts

Intrusive thoughts are totally normal and lots of people experience them, but for some people they can be really distressing. Laura, 20, explains how she deals with them.

My definition of an intrusive thought

Before I’d experienced intrusive thoughts, I had never heard of them. I’ve since discovered that we all have them, but they can still be really alarming when they happen, especially if we do not know what they are.

My definition of an intrusive thought would be an unwanted thought that pops into your mind, often unexpectedly but sometimes triggered by an event, which is distressing. Most people are able to see that the thought is just a thought – it doesn’t mean anything. But for some of us, intrusive thoughts can have a lasting effect on our entire day, because we question why we’re having them and what they mean, which can leave us doubting ourselves in the worst possible way.

My experience of intrusive thoughts

I remember the day that I first experienced an intrusive thought – nothing seemed to trigger it, it just came into my mind and lingered for many weeks. The thought began with me worrying that I’d done something bad or embarrassing while under the influence of alcohol, and resulted in me questioning everything I’d ever done while drinking.

Like many people of age, I drink responsibly, and I am not the type of person to do anything irresponsible while drinking, but intrusive thoughts are not always logical. I became extremely panicked and distressed when I couldn’t remember details of a night out – I began to seek reassurance, which just fed my intrusive thoughts more as they seemed to thrive on my self-doubt and uncertainty.

The feelings that followed this intrusive thought were horrible – I felt as though I was a bad person as I may or may not have done something terrible that I couldn’t remember, and I began walking around with a guilty conscience despite not knowing whether I’d actually done anything wrong. The intrusive thought itself is scary, but the feeling of not remembering is just as bad. I felt like a failure because I couldn’t recall something that felt so important to remember. I struggled to function day-to-day as my brain was just focussed on this one thought about whether I had done something wrong while under the influence of alcohol, which seemed to come from nowhere.

Reaching out for help

Reaching out for help when you feel like this can be very scary. I found that I was conflicted as to whether to seek help or not, because I didn’t know if what I was experiencing was an intrusive thought or a reality. After doing a lot of self-help reading, I found that getting stuck worrying about intrusive thoughts is correlated with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD).

It’s very important to educate yourself about intrusive thoughts. I learnt that the reason these thoughts were so upsetting to me was probably because they are so at odds with my character. I feel confident in saying that I am a caring person and I would never want to cause harm to anybody. It’s precisely because of this that my mind latched on to this intrusive thought about doing something wrong while on a night out and potentially hurting someone - it seemed so shocking and terrible to me.

If you are struggling with intrusive thoughts, I would also recommend seeking professional help – they will hopefully help you to understand that everybody has intrusive thoughts from time-to-time and we just need to learn to ignore them as they are not relevant to us – they are just thoughts and do not mean anything. I understand that they can be very scary, so I really recommend reaching out for help as soon as you become affected by these thoughts. You are not alone and with time you will reach a place where you are able to ignore these thoughts and be comfortable with uncertainty.

Author: Laura, 20

Find out more about intrusive thoughts and OCD

If you think you are struggling with intrusive thoughts or OCD, have a look at our OCD page for advice on where you can go next for help.

If you want to find out more about intrusive thoughts, have a look at OCD UK's page on types of OCD.

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