Dealing with OCD and intrusive thoughts

I have a thing for numbers. I guess you can call it a strange sort of fascination. I don’t love math, but numbers themselves are fascinating. It’s how they interact that gets me. Combinations, coincidences, pairs, all of it. It’s part of how my OCD manifests. I get hung up on numbers in every facet of my life. For example, on social media I always check my followers versus how many people I follow. Not because I’m interested in how many there are, but because I’m addicted to the numbers in my count. I need to have things even. And I also have an obsession with odd numbers. Weird combination, I know. As an example, if I have 1443 followers and follow 774 people, I’ll feel off. Even typing that made me feel icky. I can’t handle seeing it. So for my social media, I’d have to then delete somebody to make the 3’s match. And it’s a constant challenge because people are always following & unfollowing one another. It never fails. As soon as my numbers match, someone gets added to or deleted from my count, and I have to start the whole process again. Sometimes I’ll notice that I’m coaching myself in my thoughts. I’ll say things like, “Ok I just have to choose 5 people to unfollow and then it’ll be alright”.

It happens in my religious life too. Such as with the Quran. In it, there’s a verse where God says He taught Adam the words to say (a prayer) to seek forgiveness. That’s in chapter 2 verse 37. Then in chapter 7 verse 23, there is a description of that very prayer. The circular nature of those numbers is amazing to me. It’s something I think about all the time. I repeatedly go back to those 2 verses to check that the numbers are still similar, even though I know for a fact that they are. I can’t explain it.

I can name countless other instances where numbers and counting play a big role in my life. But that’s just one facet of my obsessive disorder. Another thing I deal with on a constant basis is intrusive thoughts. Sometimes even in my sleep. Ever since I was younger I’ve had this problem. Like when I’m near someone on the steps, it scares me to death. Because out of the blue I often think, “what would happen if I suddenly pushed this person down the steps by accident?” Or when I’m in a moving car I’ll wonder what would happen if I suddenly jumped out. One time I did start to open the passenger door. It was almost like a compulsion. I couldn’t stop it. All of a sudden at the last moment I caught myself and jumped back from the door handle. I remember crying silently because I didn’t want my mom to know what had almost just happened. It was one of the scariest moments in my life.

Some of the other intrusive thoughts surround my relationship with my children. I’ve mostly had thoughts about what would happen if I didn’t feed them for a period of time. Or something of that sort. This all sounds absolutely horrible, I know. And I used to think I was a monster for thinking these things. But I couldn’t help it or stop it from happening. I used to cry, thinking I was a psychopath. It took years of me researching psychopathy and then finally getting my OCD diagnosis to realize that I wasn’t a monster; that I simply had a disorder, which was causing these thoughts.

Here’s a story which illustrates how harmful it can be to have this problem during a crisis. When my son was a baby, a fire broke out in my dining room. At the time we were living in a 2 bedroom condominium and the washer/dryer set was situated off the side of the dining room. In a small nook. I was sitting with my son across the kitchen in the family room. I could see the fire straight ahead. I realized it was coming from the cord plugging the washing machine into the wall, so I called 911. But at the same time I was having trouble collecting myself in order to leave the apartment. I kept thinking about what would happen if I left without my scarf on. I was in my pajamas and uncovered. And I thought something bad would happen if I left. Not in a religious sense at all, but in some other ominous way. It consumed me and I ended up literally turning in circles deciding what to do. I ran back and forth between my bedroom and the front door, filled with indecision.

I ended up unplugging the washing machine, on instinct, and the fire burned itself out. Later when telling the story to someone, she gasped. “You’d leave the house uncovered in that case!! She shouted. Of course I know that. It’s obvious. But that’s the problem with intrusive thoughts. You can’t just decide to shut them off. Even when faced with danger.

Fast forward to today. I’m so pleased that I’ve finally learned to take control of my OCD and begun living again. Even though what I’m describing doesn’t sound functional, it’s heartening to know that things used to be so much worse before I sought treatment. Now when those thoughts come, I can challenge them. And of course medication helps a great deal. Even when faced with symptoms I can’t quite manage, the time it takes me to recover and move on is much less. For instance, instead of spending hours correcting my social media numbers, I may spend only a few minutes. And when harmful thoughts come, I don’t take as long to ignore them. This is my life with OCD. A glimpse of it anyway. But it’s no longer my life ruled by OCD. And that makes me happy.

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