You Are Bigger Than Your Thoughts

by Bill Brenner on March 2, 2015

A reader once sent me a question about destructive, overpowered thinking — a hallmark of all OCD cases. She described a recurring thought about jumping out a window.

Mood music:

“I tend to get pure OCD (thoughts),” she wrote. “At the moment it is about jumping out a high window. I try to sort out in my head mentally why I am having this thought. Is it my true desire? Can I stop it from happening? But there is also an OVERWHELMING URGE/THOUGHT to give into the thoughts, or NOT FIGHT THEM – LIKE MY MIND TELLS ME NOT TO HELP MYSELF. Why is this in your view? Is it because it is what I really want?”

Here’s my attempt at an answer:

Let me start with an admission: I have no idea if it’s what you really want, as I don’t really know you. But I certainly hope that’s not what you want.

I’ve watched friends end their lives because their thoughts overpowered them, and, while I never seriously considered suicide, my thoughts took me down a dark alley. I gave in fully to my addictions and deep down probably didn’t have much interest in being around for long.

Somewhere along the way, I found my way through it. This makes those suicides all the more tragic to me, because as a man who got to the other side, I know exactly what they denied themselves by choosing to end it.

As OCD cases, we lack an ability to move beyond our obsessive thinking. It spins in our brains like a scratched record (remember those?) and as the needle hits the scratch it tears at our sanity. Imagined desires and fears become the real thing. In our minds.

When that happens, I try to remember that I am bigger than my thoughts. It took a lot of hard work and ultimately some medication to get there, but I did get there.

That doesn’t mean I no longer have obsessive thoughts. Of course I do. But they are no longer little things that are blown up and distorted into a life-or-death crisis.

I go on with life, even when my thoughts suggest I do otherwise.

People like us, when we are recovering from addiction and an underlying mental disorder, rely on a set of tools to live better, more useful lives. For me, a food plan is one of them. Twelve-step meetings are another. Some people think thinking is a tool, but it’s really just another insidious bastard that robs us of sanity.

I was reminded of this once during a 12-Step meeting. During the part where everyone can get up and share, me and two others focused on this peculiarity of our condition.

One woman shared about how she thought her brother had been badly hurt all these years over an incident where she smeared blueberries across his face when they were kids. She’s worried about it all these years, and recently told him she was sorry. He chuckled and reminded her that he smeared something on her first. She didn’t remember that.

Another woman shared that on the night of her senior prom, she was so full of insecurity that she took off without even saying goodbye to her date. Surely, she thought all these years, the incident must have devastated the poor guy. She recently contacted him to apologize, and he didn’t remember being hurt. All he remembered was that the senior prom was one of the best nights of his life.

We have a very exaggerated perception of how people look at us. But, as this woman noted, “We’re just another bozo on the bus.”

In the final analysis, we are bigger than our thoughts.

Your thoughts tell you to jump out a high window, but the voices in your head are not real. They can suggest you do things. But you always have choices.

I hope you find the way past this. I did, so you can.


{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

J.W. Cox March 4, 2015 at 9:38 am

I don’t think I’m OCD, but the sensation of being overwhelmed by thoughts that give birth to feelings like fear, anxiety, hopelessness (especially in the sixth month since being laid off) is a constant, exhausting battle. Learning to resist effectively, including sidestepping the struggle, of realizing I am “bigger than my thoughts” is practice.

jone March 4, 2015 at 6:40 pm

I’ve always wondered why our thoughts (I was talking with my sister) always beat us up instead of build us up.

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