Anonymous, 23, Cambridge, UK

Thoughts that frightened me would keep circulating, sometimes every few minutes, for days on end

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My experience of OCD has been of the purely obsessional variety. ‘Pure O’ is an invisible but debilitating and frightening form of mental health problem in which sufferers find it extremely difficult to stop thinking certain thoughts that scare or disturb them.

Like many people I can pinpoint my first experience of pure O, when the thought that I could ‘go mad’ led to a physical reaction – a mild panic attack. From then on for a period of months, a variety of thoughts that frightened me would prompt this physical reaction of anxiety, then keep circulating, sometimes every few minutes for days on end.

For a short while this led to what I now recognise are ‘avoidance behaviours’ – not putting myself in situations that I thought might spark the intrusive thoughts, avoiding certain articles or films.

A quick Google early on led me to discover this was a type of OCD. Learning about the way the thought processes work helped me to stop being worried by the actual content of the thoughts themselves. What took longer to overcome was a kind of hypochondria about my own mental health, and a worry I would never regain control of my thoughts.

This involved persistent ‘meta-thinking’ – thinking about my own thoughts, why they appeared, why they wouldn’t stop, what would they lead to? To use the analogy of a machine – a car – instead of a mind, it would be like continuously stopping to lift the bonnet, scrutinising all the nuts and bolts, peering inside the engine and under the seats to check there are no problems. It would take a long time to drive anywhere!

While this kind of thinking was a problem for a while, it was an understanding of how my thought processes worked that allowed me to leave the unwanted ones behind. The first step for me was to detach ‘pure O’ thoughts from the physical reaction of anxiety. Cognitive behavioural therapy helps a lot of people with this. After that, I found it was a case of gradually regaining confidence in myself and reminding myself that phases of unwanted thoughts will pass. And until they do, they’re just that, unwanted thoughts.

It’s been more than 2 years since I had any prolonged problem with ‘pure O’.

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