There has been some talk of late around intrusive thoughts and their impact on wellbeing and mental health and it was a topic I wanted to pick up on. An early disclaimer, the title of this blog is in reference to a scene from “Game of Thrones”. If you are a fan then you will hopefully know which scene I am referring to, but if you aren’t then head to you tube and search for “Hodor death scene”. It gives a good visual representation of how I was feeling at the time and hopefully some context to the rest of this blog.
For anyone not aware, an intrusive thought is defined as : unwanted thoughts or images that you find distressing and/or disturbing. Intrusive thoughts can also result in compulsions, which are the things you do to help you cope with the unwanted thoughts. You may believe that they mean something bad about you as a person. ( https://moodsmith.com/intrusive-thoughts/)
The conversations I have seen around intrusive thoughts have focussed mainly on thoughts about bad things happening (your family dying) or doing something bad yourself (crashing your car in to someone). I have had and still have these kinds of thoughts but if I’m honest they don’t really bother me. I recognise them for what they are and don’t give them much more consideration. However, following on from these conversations it got me thinking about whether some of the thoughts and behaviours I had, particularly when I was at the peak of stress and anxiety, were actually intrusive thoughts in disguise.
You see, when I was at the peak of my difficulties I felt like I was going to explode. I was being pushed and pulled in all directions, I didn’t know if I was coming or going and there just wasn’t enough time to get everything done. Mornings were fraught, with constant rushing around and the inevitable shouting when children weren’t moving quickly enough or doing what they had been asked!! Something I should confess to now is that I am very time orientated. I was fixated on getting out of the house at a particular time and would get very stressed if that wasn’t happening. I knew how long it took to drive to different places and what time I wanted to arrive in the office. I wasn’t prepared to be flexible on this regardless of the fact that I had flexi time at work and therefore no set time to arrive. The thing is my life was balancing act, and everything had a set space and time it must fit in to in order for everything to flow.
I am sure in reality this is no different to the majority of people’s lives, so what makes me think I am different I’m sure you are asking and more importantly what the hell has this got to do with intrusive thoughts?!?!?!
I’ll explain… so I’ve set the scene – a mad house of a morning with lots of rushing, shouting and stress (sounds delightful doesn’t it). Now you may think that the things that I was cramming in to this very definite inflexible allocation of time would be essential things only – teeth brushing, dressing, breakfast, lunch making etc etc etc. A “normal” person might have identified the priority tasks and just focussed on achieving them before we left the house. But the mistake you could be making is assuming that I was a normal person at that time (or now for that matter!).
Oh no!!! So aside from trying to get a 3 year old and a 6 year old to conform to my military timings when really they had their own “essential task list” of a morning (usually comprising of finding an obscure toy, having a 6th bowl of cereal or writing a list of family members to name but a few), I also insisted that all beds had to be made, dishes had to be neatly stacked ready for washing, all breakfast items had to be put away, all rooms had to be tidy, cushions had to be fluffed and in place and the bathroom had to be clean. That on top of getting 3 people dressed, 4 people breakfasted, 3 lunches made and 2 bags to be ready for school/nursery all before 7.50am when we had to leave.
In my head this all made perfect sense because there was always a chance that the window cleaner might pop by unannounced – even though he always text the day before to say he was coming and invariably I forgot to unlock the back gate so he could never do most of the windows anyway!! Or (and this is a genuine thought pattern of mine) what if the queen was coming past and looked in my windows. I mean surely she has better things to do with her time than drive up and down residential streets of villages in rural Warwickshire looking in windows and casting judgment? But nevertheless this thought pattern was what drove me to run around every morning like a crazed woman tidying, cleaning and organising whilst barking instructions to small children about getting their shoes on and waiting by the front door!!
Looking back now I am veering between laughing at the ridiculousness of it and cringing from embarrassment. But if we go back to the aforementioned definition of intrusive thoughts – Intrusive thoughts can also result in compulsions, which are the things you do to help you cope with the unwanted thoughts – and as sad and pathetic as it may sound, I genuinely had intrusive thoughts about people (not just the queen) looking in my windows, seeing a mess and making a judgment about me as a person and as a mother.
See I had this obsession with looking like I had it all together, looking like the perfect working mum with the husband with the stressful job and the house that resembled something from an interiors magazine. I wanted people to be in awe of me and to be asking “how does she do it?”. I wanted to portray an image that was the complete antithesis of how I felt, because in all honesty I was drowning.
I don’t know why I did everything or how the hell I managed to do it for so long. I crammed so much in to such a small amount of time and the reality was I wasn’t doing anything to the best of my ability. I was doing whatever it took to scrape by without alerting anyone to what was really going on. And do you know what, in a perverse way I look back and I am kind of proud of what I managed to do and how I managed to hold it all together – and if the thing at work hadn’t happened I would probably be still doing it now and probably still getting away with it.
Sometimes I feel angry, really fudgin’ angry, that one person took all of that away from me. But then if you look at it from an independent, rational outsider’s perspective actually that person probably did me a favour (although I’m not ready to let go of the anger completely) because I was an accident waiting to happen. It wasn’t an if, it was definitely a when situation.
Believe me though, I have battled with this. I can’t go back to doing all that again, my body (or mind more accurately) physically won’t allow me to do it. I tried to gain back some of the extra-curricular non-work stuff that I did whilst I was off work, but I couldn’t do it. There was some kind of invisible barrier that I ran in to every time I tried. I’m sure it must be a protective thing that my mind has put up so that I can’t end up as I was, but it does make me cross sometime. Who does my mind think it is trying to protect me all the time?
As I have said before, I have changed as a person and I have struggled so much with that change. I hate that I don’t have the control over my mind anymore. I am a control freak – I’ll admit it – its possibly a contributory factor in how I have ended up like this so sometimes I cannot cope with how things are, and how I have changed.
But on a good day I can see how these changes have been a positive thing. I have managed to gain some control in areas that I didn’t previously. The majority of the time I don’t worry about the queen becoming a peeping tom and looking at my unmade beds on a work morning. My morning routine has relaxed a bit, not completely but then I would challenge anyone to hold their sh*t together when they have asked 12 times for a child to come and brush their teeth and instead they are bandaging a dolls arm because that doll NEEDS it to be done now!! I still have some way to go and I still need to work on achieving acceptance of my situation, but it is most important that I recognise the positives. It is the only way to come to terms with it all.
Intrusive thoughts can come in any shape and form, they can be deeply unpleasant or truly weird but if they are impacting on your life and your behaviours then it really is something you need to seek help for. Don’t be scared or ashamed, I’m sure that mental health professionals all over the world have heard it all before and some. Some things are worth losing control over even the queen!!