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Why we all have to learn to live with uncertainty

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Before I even knew what OCD was, I endured horrific intrusive thoughts, which ultimately led me into oblivion and depression. I had an urge to saw my hands off so I couldn’t inflict harm upon anybody, punch strangers in the face, or drown and molest little children. I had gone mad, I needed locking up, abandoning in a cave. I had to escape civilisation and start a new life, alone and foraging in the wilderness.

Then BOOM, I had what can only be described as a mental breakdown. That was it, a straightjacket beckoned, my family would disown me, and the only escape would be suicide.

Finally, I was told I had OCD. Specifically, Harm-OCD. Ok, I had a label, but how the devil would that help me? I still had intrusive thoughts 24 hours a day. Every waking moment. Every piece of mental energy dedicated to this disorder.

The fight had only just begun. One I didn’t think I could ever win. But five years later and I’m still holding my own. Looking back, I realise I’d been fighting most of my life.

The suffering comes from resistance to the thoughts. The urge to analyse every facet of the thought as if it is important, and not the meaningless gargle of electrical activity in the brain. This only leads the brain to think ‘Ooh, this must be terribly important, let’s get scanning for danger’. The biggest mistake you can make is self-reassurance or trying to gain reassurance from your peers. This behaviour just embellishes that there must be a problem and thus the primitive part of our brain will keep asking questions for which there can never be affirmative answers.

Research up to now suggest OCD is a neurobiological disorder. We have a faulty limbic system. The caudate nucleus is a filter that normally only allows important thoughts or impulses to the conscious level that need to be acted upon. The thoughts that make it to our conscious level are generally disturbing as they are ones that are normally suppressed by the caudate nucleus. ‘Normal’ people dismiss the thoughts as they appear to have the correct wiring. The thalamus receives the impulses and thoughts from the caudate nucleus which are then sent to the frontal area to be acted upon.

OCD is a misunderstanding of how the brain works. Now I see this, I know that you can’t resist thoughts by suppressing them. Everybody – yes even that sweet little lady – has intrusive thoughts. With OCD, we just have to learn to play the game a little differently.

I find that by agreeing with the thoughts and sometimes even exaggerating the thought it removes the fear at source. You don’t have to be 100% sincere when agreeing with your thoughts but enough to let your OCD know that you don’t really care what wacky thoughts it can conjure up.

‘Hey Mark, you’re a murder in the making, go and stab that little old lady!’ ‘Do you know what? Maybe I am. Let me just go and polish my blade in a moment. But for now, I’ll drink some tea.’ The more you laugh at the OCD, the more disrespect you give it, the less power it has.

Learn to live with the uncertainty! Remember, 100% certainty just does not exist. Make room for your intrusive thoughts. When your OCD realises that you’re dismissive towards it, it will just settle down in the back of your mind. Once you realise you don’t need to know all the answers, you will eventually habituate to the anxiety.

Intrusive thoughts, with whatever ghastly theme, are normal events, and attempts to control them will only cause you problems. We have brains, so we have endless thoughts. 99% of which we don’t even take notice of. When you try to run away from your thoughts you give them legitimacy. You make the thoughts seem important. You indirectly engage with your thoughts. This doesn’t work.

It’s not the thoughts that matter, thoughts are meaningless. All thoughts. They are meaningless. It’s our reactions to those thoughts that are the problem. We can never control what we think, ever. But we can control our reactions. I heard a great quote once, which sums it up perfectly, ‘What goes on in my mind is none of my business!’

Your concerns relating to what the thoughts might mean about you, is causing much of your distress. Thoughts have no meaning until we assign meaning to them. Again, they are meaningless.

People with Primarily Obsessional Disorder (Pure OCD) have compulsions (the acts we perform to reduce the anxiety) but they are internal and covert. OCD creates the problem and pretends to have the solution to the problem – compulsions.

They include the avoidance of people, avoiding situations where harm could occur, seeking reassurance, mentally reviewing thoughts thought neutralisation, and even researching psychopaths to determine that you aren’t like them. This is just a tiny sample of a long list of compulsions people might carry out.

I now run an OCD support group, The OCD & Anxiety Community where I have met some extremely special individuals. People who are compassionate and loving, not the sub-humans some people may stigmatise us as being. I’ll continue to spread awareness for as long as it takes for public ignorance to be eradicated.

Mark Curtis

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