No One Told Me Intrusive Thoughts Could Make Me Feel Unlovable

I've only recently begun to heal the scars caused by years of believing I wasn't good enough.

Written by Lily McIlwain

No One Told Me Intrusive Thoughts Could Make Me Feel Unlovable

01 Intrusive thoughts like to tell us we are lesser than, and incite intense feelings of guilt and worthlessness.

02 Spending years engaged in negative self-talk and uncontrolled rumination can be very traumatic for sufferers.

03 Many people with OCD go undiagnosed for decades due to common misconceptions about symptomology. It took Lily years to find out she had OCD, in particular, a subtype known as Pure O.

No-one told me that intrusive thoughts could make me believe I didn’t deserve to be loved.

That my mind would be able to trick itself into associating random fleeting thoughts with the most visceral feelings of guilt, self-loathing and shame. Most of all, no-one told me that the harm caused by OCD is not found in annoying habits or a predilection for cleanliness, but in how it can strip away a person’s sense of self.

Only in the last few years have I begun to heal the scars caused by so many years of believing myself to be ‘not good enough’.

There have been long periods of my life in which I have felt wholly unable to match the person I seemed to be on the outside, with the person my viciously punitive inner critic was telling me I truly was. I still squirm when I read back my diaries from my first year of university (that famous pressure cooker in which any latent anxiety can really come into its own). My heart breaks for the scared teenager who didn’t understand why nothing she did could ever make her feel good enough. 

No-one told me how powerful a mixture of shock, relief, wonder and rage I would feel when stumbling across the Pure O wikipedia page on my 20th birthday.

How, as I sat alone and sobbing in a stranger’s house as I finally read about this manifestation of anxiety that exactly matched mine, I would remember being fifteen years old, wishing I could sink through a whole in the floor as my GP responded with blank bemusement to my stumbling attempts to explain my intrusive thoughts. That all the empty exhortations from politicians and celebrities to ‘open up and talk’ about our mental health don’t do anything to fix a chronically underfunded health service where access to therapy is a pure post code lottery. 

I’m still learning how to welcome doubt, uncertainty and imperfection into a life where previously anything below perfect - whether it was my academic achievement, my social life, or my ‘goodness’ - was counted as failure. I’m learning that building up my self-esteem is hard work, and isn’t achieved in a six-week course of CBT after a six-month wait. But I’m also learning how freeing it is to feel the heavy restrictions I’ve placed upon myself slowly start to lift away. I’m learning that true goodness doesn’t lie in a spotless mind but in acceptance, openness and care. 

I’m learning that the love I have for my family is enough, that the fact that I have struggled with my mental health doesn’t make me any less competent, like-able or fun, and that treating myself with kindness can feel like a truly radical and transformational act. I never told myself that I would be able to come this far.

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