Life with OCD: How to Talk About Taboo Intrusive Thoughts

Very few of my obsessions are easy to talk about, especially to people who don’t know much about OCD. While I may choke up a little talking about my childhood obsessions because it’s a painful memory, I’m not embarrassed or ashamed of them.

Fast-forward just a few years to the obsessions I had in middle school, and then every obsession beyond those, and things get awkward. Embarrassing. Shameful. Kind of scary. They’re sexual obsessions with some fixations on my body and appearance mixed in.

But as you may know if you’ve been following this blog, I do talk about most of them, and pretty candidly. I certainly didn’t start out saying, “Hi, I’m Alison! I once wanted to die because I couldn’t stop obsessing about incest. Nice to meet you!”

When I made my first appointment with a psychiatrist, I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to say what I needed to say in order to get a proper diagnosis and treatment. My plan was to print out an article I’d really identified with and hand it over to the psychiatrist, mumbling, “I related to this.” Unfortunately—and I can laugh about it now—my printer didn’t work, and the article never printed. Not only did I not have the resource I needed to speak for me in case I couldn’t force the words out, it was somewhere in my home printing queue—as far as I was concerned I could never use that printer again. I couldn’t bring it to anyone for troubleshooting because an article about intrusive sexual thoughts might spit out, exposing me for the pervert I was.

I had to resort to Plan B, and it worked beautifully. As I sat there struggling to speak, I said, “Let’s just say I really identified with an article called ‘Thinking Bad Thoughts.’” I was lucky; my psychiatrist knew just what bad thoughts meant and launched into a description of exactly what I’d been going through, taboo intrusive thoughts.

Since then I’ve used similar techniques to tell people about my obsessions without divulging too much about myself. I had my boyfriend at the time (now my husband) read The Imp of the Mind by Lee Baer, telling him that it explained a lot about me. It was a way of sharing my painful story with some distance between me and the embarrassing words: sexual, pedophile, incest.

I recommend you do the same. If you need someone to know what you’re struggling with but you’re embarrassed or even scared, share an article, a book, or a video that explains what you aren’t ready to. Over time I’ve become comfortable telling most people about my obsessions. It’s a moment-by-moment decision based on how I’m feeling and who I’m addressing, but it’s gotten easier every time. Start small, and prepare to feel less alone and more supported than ever.

How have you told loved ones, or even strangers, about your obsessions?

Alison Dotson


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