Enduring the Dichotomy

Author’s Note: This is a repost from an earlier version of Dunebat Country.

“But truth is not the worst of it. No. What follows is. The living with it. Enduring the dichotomy. Knowing there is something perfect trapped in your flawed human shell, reminding you of both what you were and what you will never fully be.”
~ Jonathan Hickman, Powers of X #3 (21 August 2019)


I first found out that I was afflicted with intense intrusive thoughts in my late thirties. I’ve experienced them throughout my entire life, and they grew stronger and louder as I grew older. I did not know what they were — or that they had a name — until I was already a man.

Image taken from ChoosingTherapy.com.

Wikipedia’s definition of “intrusive thoughts” cuts right to the heart of the concept:

An intrusive thought 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. When such thoughts are associated with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), Tourette syndrome (TS), depression, body dysmorphic disorder (BDD), and sometimes attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), the thoughts may become paralyzing, anxiety-provoking, or persistent. Intrusive thoughts may also be associated with episodic memory, unwanted worries or memories from OCD, post-traumatic stress disorder, other anxiety disorders, eating disorders, or psychosis. Intrusive thoughts, urges, and images are of inappropriate things at inappropriate times, and generally have aggressive, sexual, or blasphemous themes.

Obsessive-compulsive disorder? Depression? Anxiety disorders? Psychoses? At some point, I’ve been diagnosed with all of the above. It’s like I won “intrusive thought bingo,” only that’s not something anyone would want to win, and I never actually wanted to play the game.

I could tell you about treatment, of course. I’ve had whatever therapy I could afford,1 and I’ve been prescribed several antidepressants and antipsychotics over the years. I could link websites and case studies aplenty, and you can find many of those pages yourself with a simple Google search.2

I won’t go into any of that here. Instead, I want to talk about the experience of suffering with the mind-numbing combination of OCD and intrusive thoughts.

For me, these thoughts began in my teenage years. Initially, these thoughts involved only violence — lashing out at those who hurt me physically or emotionally, even if that hurt was only perceived and not actual. At times, I would act on these thoughts without realizing what I was doing at the time, then I would try to rationalize what I did later. As I grew older, however, racist and sexual thoughts I had never experienced before added themselves to the mix, though the thoughts were not noticeable enough to be problematic at the time. These troublesome thoughts were vexing, but they were still relatively easy to deal with, and I learned to differentiate them from my normal thought processes enough that I stopped acting on them. I briefly stopped experiencing them for a couple of years; the depression and loneliness I was feeling at the time were far stronger and impossible to ignore.

In my late teens, I joined an extreme modalistic fundamentalist Christian sect with a strong Zionist bent. In three years’ time, the intrusive thoughts evolved in response: the violent component waned, but a new blasphemous component inserted itself into my mind. These thoughts… these thoughts were noticeable indeed. There’s no way to ignore thoughts instructing you to curse the deity you are praying to at the moment. It felt like being locked in a room with an angry, vitriolic blowhard on the radio3 demanding I do or say what he tells me to do or say (which is the exact opposite of what I want to do or say) while I’m trying to go about my business as usual, but I cannot turn off or unplug the radio, nor can I change the frequency to a different station.4 It’s being Dr. Henry Jekyll, but the voice of Edward Hyde inside you never stops screaming at you.

At first, I honestly thought demons were trying to possess me. Given my religious beliefs and what I was experiencing at the time, would that be such a difficult concept to believe? I was hearing thoughts — thoughts strong enough that they almost seemed like someone else’s voices — that didn’t feel like my thoughts, and they were telling me to hate God or to hate people of different genders, ethnicities, or cultures… in some cases, people I loved dearly.

Wouldn’t you think you were hearing demons?

The thoughts never went away. Instead, they only grew stronger and louder, to the point where they are now deafening at times. I’ll be working, reading, trying to watch a movie, eating, praying, or doing any number of other things, and out of nowhere, an inner voice is SCREAMING AT ME so loud that I can’t ignore what it’s saying, so thunderous that they overpower my normal thought processes. I’ve almost caught myself saying the thoughts before, and I’ve nearly been caught arguing with myself in public while trying to fight, banish, or pray away the thoughts.5 Many times, these thoughts stop me in my tracks; I can’t do anything but try to fight them or ignore them, then power through them and get back to my day as best I can, sometimes after having lost precious moments of time that I cannot compensate for.

I have these thoughts several times during any given hour, several hours during any given day. Sometimes, my entire day can be consumed by them. They can be non-stop, only relenting when I fall asleep.

The violent thoughts returned in late 2010, about a month after the end of a bitter yet brief divorce. Antisemitic and anti-Israeli thoughts started popping into my mind a few years later — something I find especially offending, given my personal history as a committed Zionist, a lifelong supporter of Israel, and my dedication to obey the edicts of the Torah.

I can’t really tell what triggers these thoughts, as I really don’t know for certain. Sometimes, just looking at another person, be it someone I know or some random stranger, triggers the thoughts. The blasphemous thoughts — specifically, an inner voice declaring, “I hate God!” or “I hate Adonai!” — used to be triggered by prayer, by reading scripture, or by even thinking about God or theology in general. Now, they can be triggered just by words like love or hate, whether they are directly or tangentially related to religion/theology or not: I could be watching a superhero film and spot a terribly designed costume, and I would normally think to myself, “I hate that costume!” Instead, “I hate Adonai!” screams through the hallways in my mind instead, jarring me from reality and leaving me momentarily confused and unsettled. To the converse, I could be conversing with my sister about something as innocuous as ice cream flavors and mentally discombombulating thoughts immediately trigger. I could be thinking or saying, “I love cookies and cream!” but instead the thought, “I love Lord Satan!” pops into my head, which prompts me to clamp my mouth shut, close my eyes tight, and either fight the thought with contrary thoughts or just try to power through the thought and let it pass without bothering me.6

Strangely enough, discussing these thoughts in text has managed to ward them off somewhat. I praise God for any moments of mental peace I experience.

These are the tamer thoughts and the milder triggers. I’ve had much, much worse over the years. My mind is a charnel house, and the blood never seems to stop flowing.

While the thoughts themselves are mind-numbing, the shame associated with such thoughts is equally as addling. Sometimes, I am moved to pray after fighting the thoughts or to remain silent when in conversation with others. I avert my eyes when speaking with friends and loved ones out of paranoia that someone might see the battle going on inside me if they look into my eyes too deeply. I feel like Nightcrawler from the second X-Men film: in the film, Nightcrawler etches an Enochian symbol into his skin in penance for every sin he commits, even though the sins he commits at the beginning of the film were committed under someone else’s directions via chemical-induced brainwashing. That’s how the thoughts make me feel: like someone else is committing the sin, but I bear the guilt and need to pay for it.

Sometimes, the thoughts are louder and more frequent. At other times, I could go almost an entire day without them bothering me, and when they do they’re relatively easy to manage. I have no idea why this variation in experience exists. There may be some nefarious biological component at work: I’m a Type 2 diabetic, so having more sugar in my bloodstream at any given moment may cause the thoughts to be stronger, louder, and more frequent than at other times, for all I know.

I have currently been prescribed Depakote (an anticonvulsant used as a mood stabilizer to treat Bipolar II) and Aripiprazole (an antipsychotic). When used often and used well, these medications have proven to have a positive effect on intrusive thoughts. The thoughts are still present, but they aren’t as intense or as frequent, and when they do voice themselves they are much easier to manage. Unfortunately, I often forget to take my medications, I get too busy to take them or I wake up too late, I can’t always afford them, or — thanks to the apathy inherent in bipolar disorders (like the Bipolar II I’m afflicted with) — I skip them because I think I don’t need them at the moment. Also, Depakote can cause extreme drowsiness, so I try to take all my doses late at night rather than take them throughout the day, as I would be too drowsy to work. This may affect the drug’s effectiveness, though. Then again, dealing with the thoughts throughout the day — especially when I’m trying to work — can also be mentally exhausting as well. I don’t work a physically taxing job, but I often feel like falling asleep right after work.7

I hope this has given you an insight into my mind and into the minds of others who suffer intense and frequent intrusive thoughts. Throughout this post — from the featured image and the Jonathan Hickman quote prefacing this missive to the Nightcrawler reference discussed later — you may have noticed references to Marvel’s wildly popular X-Men franchise. These references are, of course, intentional: suffering from mental health issues makes me feel like a mutant at times… but not in any positive aspects.

If you know someone afflicted by such thought processes, please have empathy and understanding for them. If they seem exhausted at times or if they have no energy for projects they may have been excited over days or hours before, maybe now you know where their energy went (especially if they also suffer from Bipolar disorder). If they aren’t getting the mental health care they need, try to help them get that help.

Above all else, please be kind to one another.

  1. I haven’t been able to afford much therapy, mind you, and never the best therapies. The American mental health care system is abysmal. Mental health care has evolved in leaps and bounds since the days of Freud and Jung, but we’re still learning so much about the human mind… and ensuring affordability for proper treatment — or that health insurance companies take mental health seriously enough to cover treatment at all — is still an uphill battle. Drugs I can afford, though; it’s easier and cheaper to medicate a problem than it is to truly solve it.[]
  2. I prefer StartPage.com over Google these days. If you are concerned about your privacy, so should you.[]
  3. For you younger folks, imagine I’d said podcast instead of radio and everything should make sense.[]
  4. In other words, imagine being a hippie Buddhist pacifist being forced to listen to Alex Jones at gunpoint, but no matter how hard you try you just can’t convince the gunman to shoot you.[]
  5. You’re not actually supposed to fight intrusive thoughts. You’re supposed to train yourself to acknowledge the thoughts, then release them. I’ve never been any good at doing that.[]
  6. If you ever meet me in person, you’ll know when this happens when you see it, if you’re observant enough. It’ll look like I’m either lost in a difficult moment of prayer or trying to pass extremely painful gas.[]
  7. When I can sleep, that is. I’ve struggled with sleeplessness since childhood.[]

About Dunebat

Sole specimen: Desmodus desertus. Judeo-Christian anchorite/scribe/scribbler. Lover of nerds, Goths, creatives, & outcasts.

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