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Monster, Master, Thinker, I


From age 16 when my intrusive thoughts started to about 23, all of my coping was self-taught. I don't think I'm alone in this: shame will keep people quieter than an old lady shush at a musical (I miss theatre, forgive the laboured metaphor. Remember audiences?!)



My brain was creating violent visions that would dominate my mind and put me in a state of panic and half-functionality until I was either too exhausted to be scared. I would bargain that I would never do the things I was imagining, I would suppress like a mofo, I would rage, I would run: I had no peace and no rest. I had no system to overcome an intrusive thought, no grace to pause in. Some days were ok, many were torment.


Through this mire, I began to piece together from online articles what an intrusive thought really was, an invader. I began to distance my soul from my mind in that I personally wasn't responsible for the thoughts showing up, but I was responsible for my reaction to them and therein lay my power. I had to learn to control my reactions to the thoughts entering my brain.


Simple? Yes. Painstaking? Unbelievably.


I needed a filing system. I needed a way to identify, acknowledge, accept and place my thoughts so that they couldn't control my life. And this is where it gets a little odd, because I made my intrusive thoughts into little silly monsters in my brain.



When I first had an intrusive thoughts, I would be overcome, not so much by the thought itself, but by the gripping fear I would act on one of my visions. So what these monsters did for me was focus that fear into a little being that I could act on and identify. This is how it works.


I have an intrusive thought, always accompanied by an image, let's say "I'm going to kill you" which was popular for awhile with my brain circa 2016.


In my mind's eye, I see this little monster and I identify him as the "I'm going to kill you" Thought Monster. This is step 1: I have identified and "pinned" for lack of a better word, the thought. In my mind, this I see slightly to the left. Who knows why. Psychologists out there?


The next thing I do is acknowledge this thought and the specific visual and sensory aspects of it. Maybe it would go like this. "Hello thought! I see the vision you have presented me with and it is mighty fearsome. I am impressed at your level of artistry in depicting a horrifying murder. I am just, wow, yup, that's truly horrifying, you've outdone yourself today brain. Oh, there's more? Oh my, well that's gruesome too. Well done!"


Sometimes it feels like I'm appraising a 5 year olds artwork with as much genuine enthusiasm as I can because, and this is important, you have to MEAN IT. You cannot be glib or flippant because that's fear manifesting in distancing yourself. You have to get in the mud with your intrusive thoughts. You have to be the first one jumping in the lake. Intrusive thoughts cannot survive genuine interest and exposure.



The disclaimer here is that the only way to diminish the fear reaction is to accept any and everything your brain can throw at you, which is terrifying, because as anyone with PO-OCD knows, the sky's the limit when it comes to the disgusting, immoral violence your mind can create. The thing to remember is that you're not accepting it to condone it, you're accepting it to diminish it. Which leads to...


Accepting the thought in all its glory. This is the love part folks. This is the part where you wrap your little scared heart up with so much affection and forgiveness for what your brain creates. This is where you thank the Thought Monster because it's just trying to keep you safe. This is where you appreciate it because its doing its job and you realize it's a tough job. This is where you thank that little monster for just doing what it knows best to do.


Lastly, comes the placing, and this is where all the magic and hard work cements.


A thought cannot be unthought. An idea cannot be discarded so easily. (Inception anyone? Kind of a meh movie after all these years, not Nolan's best. I digress.) Once your brain has processed something fully and step by step, you cannot un-think it. My metaphor for this recognition, this placing of a seen-thought, is a flag.



It is a truth universally acknowledged that a Thought Monster identified, acknowledged and accepted cannot refuse a flag. They simply cannot because that flag is the process you've gone through with that Monster, and it cannot be undone. So once you've handed a Monster a flag in your mind, you'll be able to see it coming next time around and that little fucker can't let it go.


There are some intrusive thoughts in my brain that have been coming around for so many years now that that specific monster is just a pair of feet sticking out from under a pile of flags. The "I'm going to murder you" thought monster hasn't been able to get up for years now because every time he shows up, well, you get the picture.


(I know that's a net, but its so close to perfect.)



I wish I could remember the first time I did this, I wish I could remember the first time I handed a monster a flag, but this process grew in me almost like a Seurat painting; non-sensical and diverse at first and then finally into something that makes sense when you step back. Healing is cumulative, not immediate.


I'm a very creative and visual person: I act, I draw, paint, sing, dance, I write poems, blogs, music, I choreograph dances in my head and sometimes I even write movies. I'm also very organized and I would say most days, pretty disciplined. It's no surprise my mind in its desperation would seek a visual and specific solution. It's ironic that the creativity that fuels my intrusive thoughts would be handed an antidote of the same variety.


Or maybe that's the truth of this journey. That my healing comes from inside me. From the love I can pass to myself when I'm afraid. The love I can shower infinitely. Because you never run out of flags and you never run out of love.



Thought management is not a new concept. It's old hat when it comes to coping with OCD. Call it meditation, call it mindfullness, call it self-awareness, call it "incoming brain wave reorganizing" but the principal is the same: as a person with OCD, I believe you are required to have a higher level of intimacy with your thoughts than most people. But who says it can't be specific to you? Who says your thoughts have to be faced any one way?


I have to stress that in the early days of this process I was climbing uphill, every thought, every intrusive image, every triggering encounter (cutting vegetables in the kitchen with a loved one nearby, anyone?) was a painstaking mental process of slowing my mind to a conversational pace and pressing pause on the images I was seeing to fully embrace them and fully welcome them. Imagine changing a 5 year filing system from hardcopy to digital; the learning curve was huge and it was work I did alone.



But the pay off, the pay off has been the life I get to lead. The other day I had an intrusive thought about being afraid of intrusive thoughts (can I get a "fuck you OCD") and I felt the fear rile in my stomach. Would I back slide? Would I start having worse thoughts again? Would I lose my sense of joy? All the terror came rushing back.


But I know what fear is and how it's just doing its best, same as me. I know where to place the Monsters and how to love them and I hope, maybe, someone out there will read this and have another tool in their toolbox for contending with this mental illness that can take over so much.


So dearest reader. Dearest human with a brain that won't quit. I have been where you are. If and when you feel strong enough, begin the work you deserve. Your love for your thoughts makes you stronger than them. So tell them to take a flag, and move the fuck along.












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