What is an intrusive thought? Well, psychologists/psychiatrists will say “it is an unwelcome involuntary thought, image, or unpleasant idea that may become an obsession, is upsetting or distressing, and can feel difficult to manage or eliminate.”
I would say that for the most part I agree, but that many of us experience them differently.
For those with OCD it can absolutely become an obsession, but for those who do not have OCD that is less of an issue, it may be recurring but that does not mean it is an obsession.
I agree that it is an unwelcome, involuntary thought, image, or unpleasant idea. I also agree that it CAN be upsetting or distressing, and CAN be difficult to manage/eliminate. I want you to know that it can ALSO be silly, stupid, funny, bizarre, glorious, weird, etc.
I also want to be very clear that this is not the same as delusional thoughts and breaks from reality… and while someone MIGHT act on their thoughts, it is much less likely because we are still very much in reality when we have them. It’s more like when you are getting bitched out by someone and you have the thought to flip them off, or punch them… typically speaking it is just a thought but you know better than to act on it. Of course some people do NOT control themselves emotionally whether they are able or not (think of road rage) but statistically it is pretty low that people with TS act out their invasive thoughts (at least from what I have learned over the years).
I am sharing information on intrusive thoughts because they are another unseen comorbid in the grab bag that can come with Tourette. I am trying to show that it is so much MORE than “just that swearing disease”, and what life with TS can really look like.
You may have guessed that I have intrusive thoughts as one of the comorbids with my Tourette Syndrome! If you did, you might be clever, or you might have been reading my posts on social media long enough to know me, but let’s go with clever, you clever cookie!
I have only ever talked about my intrusive thoughts with my wife (and not until last year), and have mentioned one of them to a friend or two in the last few months that I knew would get a giggle, so once again here I am opening myself up.
Intrusive thoughts are something I have had since I was a wee child popping my shoulder out of place in the school gymnasium while eating my little snack pack. Of course back then, I had no idea what the hell it was and luckily for me most of mine started fairly gently enough. I knew I had sort of weird thoughts but at first I thought it was normal. I cannot recall the specifics of them as a kid, other than totally random weird things that popped into my head throughout the day.
As I got older and my life got harder, the invasive thoughts got a bit darker. I never really understood what they were yet. I was in an abusive home, and struggling in school, and just sort of thought I was messed up. I had a friend who was in a similar life situation and we got close. We often talked through ideas of terrible things but of course we never acted on anything because we were just sort of letting off steam and working through brain stuff. (I do not know where he is now, the last I checked he was doing really well, married with kids, etc.)
Now in my 40’s my invasive thoughts are a mix… some of them are stupid and I laugh at them, while others are pretty scary, so I just do not talk about them.
One of my silly ones that I have had my entire life is one I am comfy sharing. Those who know me really well know that I am pretty upstanding (I talk big but when it comes down to it, I am pretty respectful lol), so when this one popped in it was just laughable. It has been with me for about 30 years. This thought almost ALWAYS hits when I am in a mall or walking down the street and there is an officer in front of me in uniform. MY BRAIN likes to say “hey, wouldn’t it be funny to just get up behind them and give them a little tap NEAR their holster and see what happens?” NOW in reality? HELL NO! I know how that ends, me or someone else HURT or DEAD, and a hell of a lot of stress for an innocent police officer who did not deserve to have their day go down the shitter due to Tourette syndrome. SO, Naturally I would never, ever do something so disrespectful, dangerous, and downright stupid. BUT for 30 years my brain has said “teehee do it, do it, c’mon do it!” To me this one is just amusing, a bit like having a bratty kid in my brain. I do NOT feel distressed by it because I would NEVER do it and its more of a trickster brain.
I also have more serious ones wherein my brain tells me I am in danger, unreasonably so. Have you ever seen the movies “Final Destination” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Final_Destination My brain likes to play that game with me. I have a LOT of thoughts as I drive over and under bridges, through tunnels, etc. They are very scary for me – but I also know they are VERY unlikely to happen and though I cannot stop the intrusive thought, I can very much work to stay calm and say “No, brain.. this is actually NOT going to happen”. I have shared some of these with my wife.
I also have invasive thoughts that are quite dark, and I will not share those, they involve more serious and scary deaths (never ever me harming or killing someone… ever). They are really hard to deal with but again, I work to stay calm, and say – “No brain, this is not a thing that is going to happen, stop it”.
Every intrusive thought does bring some emotion with it, because as your brain spins this story it feels like it could be real/true. Maybe that log WILL shoot through my windshield… but most likely? It won’t.
It sort of is like my brain telling me a story, or playing a movie… sometimes I can almost see it? I guess it is sort of like a really annoying, super creative, story telling brain glitch.
If you or your child has similar things happening, this is ok, I encourage you to find or provide a space that is safe to talk about them. Try not to be afraid… keep calm, stay open.
If you or your child’s thoughts are violent, or you have breaks from reality, loss of memory or time, thoughts or fears that you might act on them and harm yourself or someone else, if you are hearing voices, all of these things are warnings that it might not be just invasive thoughts and I urge you to see a doctor immediately. Do not ignore those, it can be a much more serious mental disorder. If you are in immediate danger I urge you to call 911.
Thanks for reading!