So here’s an embarrassing story (and there’s an analogy somewhere in here, so try to bear with me): When I was in fifth grade I decided it was time to shave my legs for the first time. I’m pretty sure I’d told my mom my idea and she discouraged it, but my memory of those details is a little fuzzy – much like my legs. Sure, I was only 10 years old, but I needed to be like the women in the shaving cream commercials. So one evening while my mom was out I tried my shaky hand at shaving with one of her disposable razors.
Oh, boy. It was a disaster. As I pulled the flimsy pink razor over my leg, I felt a tug at the blade. I’d nicked my shin, and it was deep. The whole thing was icky. And painful. A chunk of skin was stuck in the blade, and I had drawn blood.
We’d just learned about first aid in health class. About major arteries. Applying pressure to wounds to control bleeding. Tourniquets.
And the possibility of bleeding to death.
I jumped out of the tub, grabbed a towel to wrap myself in, and held a wad of toilet paper against the nick. Bright red blood kept seeping through the toilet paper, and I panicked. I opened the door to the bathroom, crying hysterically. My dad came running, my two older brothers not far behind. Those two still make fun of me for this part: I wailed, “I’m too young to die!” (Well, I was.)
My dad and I 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.” She pressed hard on the cut and raised my leg in the air. The bleeding stopped, and soon everything was fine.
Man, did I overreact. Story of my life. It wasn’t the first time and it wouldn’t be the last, by a long shot. Those of us with intrusive thoughts are all too familiar with this: An inappropriate thought worms its way into our brains, 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.