What are obsessions, intrusive thoughts and ruminations?

My earliest memory of an intrusive thought came from a road trip to the coast. I must have been around ten years old.

The road passed wind turbines that had me fixated. My fascination quickly turned to fear as I pictured myself being tied to one. Unable to break free, endlessly spinning until my consciousness ceased.

This thought didn’t leave as the turbines disappeared in the rear view mirror. They remained just as vivid as I dipped my feet in the sea an hour or so later. My wrists still feeling the burn of being tied behind me and my head still spinning with the metal.

This was an intrusive thought. Little did I know how many I would have, on so many topics.

I wanted to talk about the difference between my obsessions, intrusive thoughts and ruminations before moving onto the types of OCD that I have.

St. Paul’s is a good backdrop as religion often plays a part in my obsessive thinking.

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Obsessive thoughts flood my mind every single day. Most of them aren’t very pleasant.

Obsessions tend to be the things I worry about the most in general.

Intrusive thoughts are the unwanted thoughts on this topic that occur against my will.

Rumination is to constantly dwell on these thoughts, overthink them and try to ‘correct them’ with compulsions.

The obsessions

I have many obsessions. Most of them focus on safety and making sure things are secure.

Some are more deep and make me question my own existence or the universe around me. Others make me question my morality and if I am a good person.

thoughts

I have attended therapy because of these.

I once took a taxi straight to the nearest A&E because my thoughts were so relentless I felt like I was going insane. It was the most terrifying moment in my life.

I was questioning everything. My existence, my reality. I was referred to therapy after this incident.

From there I was able to take a breather, and understand better how OCD works.

For me, the obsessions are the topics that I start to have intrusive thoughts about. So if I obsess about being a bad person in general, I may have specific intrusive thoughts about hurting someone I love.

The intrusive thoughts

Intrusive thoughts are the specific thoughts I have on a topic I worry about, the distressing images in my mind.

These come from my obsessions.

As I constantly obsess about house fires or break-ins, I often get intrusive thoughts as I’m leaving for work or before going to bed.

These intrusive thoughts usually involve burning in a fire or breathing in thick smoke as I sleep.

I also have intrusive thoughts manifest due to existential obsessions.

I once had a major panic attack trying to grasp eternity and infinity, something we just cannot do.

I’d often picture myself floating through space for eternity, with no control. Nightmares of this nature were regular, waking me up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat.

Describing having night terrors with St Pauls in background

At the beginning of this post I mention how religion often plays a part in my OCD. I understand that this is the case for others too.

I am not very religious, however this doesn’t stop me having disturbing thoughts about family members being in hell, or that I am destined to head there myself.

This no doubt fuels my obsession about morality and questioning if I am a good person.

I ruminate on these intrusive thoughts

The rumination is what I find exhausting. My brain goes into overdrive trying to understand, answer or reverse these thoughts.

Some, such as my obsession to understand infinity and eternity, are impossible to answer.

The best way I can describe ruminating on such topics is like running away from a cliff edge, but the whole ground below me is a treadmill dragging me back to the edge. My mind is running all day trying to get some relief but getting nowhere.

I don’t have the off-switch to stop the thoughts, and no matter how much I try, I will never be able to think enough to get the answers my OCD wants.

It is an endless cycle and the more I get sucked into it, the harder it is to leave.

It was especially hard in my teens and twenties because I was doing most of this in secret.

Oddly, I felt like I was the normal one at the time.

Why is no one else questioning these things? How can everyone go about their lives normally with all these questions to answer?

describing how I felt that everyone were zombies because they didn't question everything like I did

Knowing I am not alone

When I spoke about this in therapy, I was very relieved to hear that this is all common for a mind with OCD.

I knew the term obsession, but it was the first time I had heard the terms ‘intrusive thoughts’ and ‘rumination‘ being used in OCD.

Knowing that there were terms for my behavior meant that I didn’t have to fear my behavior, just understand it.

I could escape the cycles I believed I would be stuck in forever.

Don’t get me wrong I still have trouble with OCD, but I understand the panic attacks and existential crises more. I can prepare for them and cope accordingly.

Today might be cloudy. But sunny days return. It is important to use those sunny days not just to enjoy, but to plan for the cloudy days ahead.

St Pauls with the sun directly behind it

The next section looks at the four main sub-types that affect me.

These are:

Click any of these to be taken to their dedicated page.

Or… you can always go back to the OCD homepage.

From there I have categorized my OCD posts not into sub-types but into themes such as ‘OCD in the home’, ‘Philosophy OCD’ and ‘Gender and Identity OCD’.

3 thoughts on “What are obsessions, intrusive thoughts and ruminations?”

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  2. Your words are exactly what I go through. I am trying to stop the cycle, the fear of eternity, never ending time and death. Scares me. I try to label my thoughts, but then I ruminate on them. I want to stop ruminating, and let them happen without engaging with them. I see a therapist next week – I hope he can help me. It’s so hard to live like this; they put me on an antidepressant but it doesn’t work. I just want to be happy and free and feel no doubt that these are just figments of my imagination- because for years it felt like I knew some secret and could comprehend time and space and it was terrifying. I don’t want these scary thoughts in my mind to be based on reality- but I keep saying “what if” what if I’m right and I can envision the reality of eternity ? I hate it so much-

    Reply
    • Thank you Edna, apologies, I created a long response that didn’t process!

      I am sorry you are suffering anxiety, however I hope you find comfort knowing that all anxiety is really doing is trying to keep us safe. And anxiety comes when we don’t know everything. The mystery is the scary part, but will no doubt go away when it becomes less of a mystery.

      I have suffered the same fears as you have, in July I had it worse than it has been in a long time, probably as bad as it was in my mid twenties when it was at its peak. But I was going through a detox in July and the withdrawals were crippling.

      But this gives me comfort, knowing that there is science behind what causes anxiety, fear and when it comes about. It is possible to change things. The fears such as life, death and eternity that I was experiencing in July are hardly there anymore, which shows it isn’t an absolute. It can be treated!

      One quote that I love is that ‘nothing in life should be feared, only understood.’ I love it because it reminds me that nature doesn’t scare me, only the unknown. And this is only to keep us safe. Similar to a fear of the dark, the dark in itself isn’t scary, only our lack of knowledge about what is in the dark. These are two completely different things 🙂

      I remember speaking to a therapist about eternity, and she calmly replied ‘how do you know that’s what eternity is?’. It instantly made me feel better. I realised that all I was doing was thinking the worst- or scariest- scenario about what it could be and seeing it as fact. I do this with a lot of things, such as worrying about illness or failing a job interview.

      Rarely our fears are what reality actually is. And even if it was the same, we only worry because we don’t know everything. Like our ancestors feared earthquakes and hurricanes, we don’t fear them now because we understand what they are. Even if they strike we know why and can even prepare for them.

      I honestly feel that we aren’t scared of things like eternity or death so much, we just fear the anxiety that is caused by us trying to wrap our heads around them. OCD and anxiety are the things we should fear, but the best thing is they can be treated 🙂

      I do hope this helps, and I wish you all the best with your therapy.

      Reply

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