Inappropriate Thoughts Don’t Have to Become Intrusive

So here’s an embarrassing story: When I was in fifth grade I decided it was time to shave my legs for the first time. I’m pretty sure I told my mom my idea and she discouraged it, but my memory is a little fuzzy on those details. I was determined to have smooth, hair-free legs–despite the fact that I was only 10 years old–and tried my shaky hand at shaving my legs with one of my mom’s disposable razors.

Oh, boy. It was a disaster. I nicked my shin, and it was deep. I felt the tug of the blade as I pulled the flimsy pink razor over my leg, and the whole thing was icky. And painful. A chunk of skin was stuck in the blade, and I had drawn blood.

If I did that now, I’d be mad at myself for not being more careful, and, yeah, the nick would sting, and I’d have to hold toilet paper over the little wound until the bleeding stopped, but it wouldn’t be so bad. But back then, we’d just learned about first aid in health class. We’d learned about major arteries. About tourniquets. About applying pressure to wounds to control bleeding.

And about the possibility of death.

I jumped out of the tub, grabbed a towel to wrap myself in, and held a ball of toilet paper against the nick. Bright red blood kept seeping through the toilet paper, and I panicked. I ran out of the bathroom, crying hysterically. My mom wasn’t home, so I asked my dad for help. My brothers made fun of me for this part for years afterward: I wailed, “I’m too young to die!”

We were still in the bathroom trying to stop the bleeding when my mom got home, and she said, “For heaven’s sake, Kenny, put some pressure on it.” We got the bleeding to stop, and soon everything was fine.

Man, did I overreact. Those of us with OCD are all too familiar with this: An inappropriate thought worms its way in, and we panic. We berate ourselves and figure we must be the worst people ever. We overreact, and somehow OCD manages to make us think we’d be wrong to not overreact. We think, “What kind of person would I be if a thought like that didn’t bother me?”

Well, we’re people whose brains go into overload when faced with uncertainty and fear. We’re people with OCD, and while that can sometimes feel unfair, the good news is that we can fight this disorder. We can learn to simply react to unpleasant thoughts, to accept them as a part of life, and to allow the thoughts to enter without judging ourselves. I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again: Everyone has bad thoughts. Everyone. Seriously. But people who don’t have OCD can let those thoughts flow through their minds without getting sweaty and breathless.

Trust me, please: I never thought I’d be at this point, where I’m able to talk myself through my bad thoughts. I don’t like those thoughts, but I don’t hate myself for having them. Oftentimes my initial reaction is still a bit panicked, so it’s an ongoing process to be one of those people who barely notices unpleasant thoughts, or even laughs them off. But I can live with having to be mindful of how I react to unwanted thoughts, because there was a time when spiraling into a tailspin of obsessions was my only reaction, the only way I knew how to respond. And this way is so much better.