*Trigger Warning* This blog post talks openly about suicidal thoughts and other matters that could be triggering so please don’t read any further if you are likely to be affected.
Everybody gets intrusive thoughts. It’s the content and intensity of them that can turn them into a symptom of mental illness. Intrusive thoughts are, like the name suggests, a thought that intrudes into a person’s mind that wasn’t initiated by them. For example, a person could be standing at the top of a flight of stairs about to descend, when the thought, “I’m going to trip and fall down the stairs!” pops into their head. This is a fairly typical intrusive thought and provided the thought doesn’t persist to a point where the person is too afraid to walk down the stairs, this isn’t a symptom of mental illness. It’s just a fleeting thought that the person can dismiss easily.
I get intrusive thoughts like this quite a lot, but the thoughts that really affect me are the ones that are either to do with suicide or other people. At the moment, I get a lot of intrusive thoughts on the theme of suicide that aren’t fleeting, and can sometimes cause me distress. They are very opportunistic too, so the thoughts interact with my surroundings.
For example, a short while ago, I was walking near to a bridge overlooking a river and the thought, “Jump over the bridge!” popped into my head. It wasn’t a fleeting thought; the thought didn’t go away straight away. Rather, it stayed in my head and made me imagine jumping off the bridge for the whole length of time I was stood there. In my mind’s eye, I could see myself jumping off the bridge. My imagination made me experience my family’s grief at me doing such a thing. It wasn’t pleasant and I felt immense relief at walking away from the bridge.
A few years ago, I used to get intense intrusive thoughts that made me imagine that I was going to kill my family. They were so intense that I used to say the thoughts were telling me to kill my family. Obviously they weren’t telling me to kill my family, they weren’t voices, but the thought was so intense that it was like I was being instructed to do so. I would be around a member of my family and would ‘see’ myself plunging a knife into them, ‘hear’ their agonised screams and my mind would picture them lying on the floor dying. These thoughts really upset me. I’ve never wanted to do anything like that and never have done anything like that. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say these thoughts were traumatic for me.
I wish I could now give magical advice about how to beat intrusive thoughts but I can’t. As I say, I’m still experiencing quite intense thoughts and I don’t know the cure for them. I know making sure I tell myself I’m not responsible for these thoughts stops me from blaming myself for them but that’s about all I can do to ease the struggles I experience with them. I used to blame myself something awful for intrusive thoughts, particularly the ones around killing my family, but I now know that they’re not my fault. I can also try and walk away from places that trigger suicidal intrusive thoughts, but it’s not always possible. I will clarify here that I’m not suicidal at the moment. The thoughts may make me think about suicide but I’m not going to do anything.
So if anyone knows ways to help with intrusive thoughts, please leave a comment below. It would be immensely helpful!