Intrusive Thoughts and the Search for the Answer: Part 2
As I said in Part I, the intrusive thoughts that seemingly took me over as a girl, became a fact of my history that I spent a lot of time trying to figure out. It was a reference point, a mystery, and an indictment in my mind. How could I say I was a feminist? How could I say I cared about women? How could I be a good person? Surely these thoughts and images of violence invalidated anything I might believe about the value of women. In my 30's I started seeing a therapist for depression and anxiety, and worked up the courage to tell her about the thoughts. She did something that many therapists do: she gave her interpretation. Interpretations can yield useful insight if they're not about obsessive thoughts. She said that it sounded like I was angry at my mother.
Although it was reassuring that she didn't think I was a bad person for having the thoughts, the idea that such violence in my mind's imagery was somehow symbolizing anger at my mother scared me. What kind of daughter was I? How could I ever survive such awful anger? Interpretations add fuel to the OCD fire. Each new interpretation brings its own set of things to figure out.
It is the painful irony of OCD that intrusive thoughts often strike at the very things that are most precious to us. A truly pious person has blasphemous thoughts, a gentle soul has violent thoughts, a feminist has thoughts of violent pornography. The other brutal irony of OCD is that even when books or websites that clearly describe the experience of intrusive thoughts, and the fact that they say nothing about you as a person, the OCD latches onto this and sets off a cascade of figuring out: "Do I really enjoy these thoughts? Do I really have OCD? How can I know if the thoughts are actually intrusive?" Or if you see a therapist, you can fall into the "What if I'm not truly expressing my thoughts clearly, so the therapist can't see how truly bad and twisted I am? What if I am deluding them?"
It helped immensely when I found an exposure therapist, and he knew that this cascade would appear--he would say, "I bet you are trying to figure out if your thoughts are an exception to the rule, and the OCD is getting louder and louder as we sit here--am I right?" Making the pattern explicit helped me to know it's sneaky insidious ways, and the insatiable desire to prove once for all that I am ok, not bad, not unredeemable.