I’d like to take you into an attribute of OCD that almost all sufferers encounter at points in their lives. For some, this is a daily thing or even a throughout-the-whole-day thing. For others, it only happens in certain circumstances. However, it is with a very heavy fist that these situations are pushed through the brain—from the subconscious to the conscious, and then very close to the compulsive. And that’s where things get dangerous. I think.
I say “I think” because these things—we’ll call them “false messages” for short—almost never end up with major damage done.
To understand false messages, you should think of how the brain works at its most simplistic: stimuli come in, are processed, and actions are taken. Just that for now. That’s all we need to be concerned with in terms of the brains of normal people and those with OCD.
What happens with people with OCD often is somewhere between the stimuli coming in and the compulsion to act on the stimuli—the OCD brain interferes with its magic of applying all eventualities to the situation, categorizing according to the worst cases first, and then presenting all of this for action. The problem here is the brain is used to very quick action relative to receiving stimuli, and since the OCD brain is feeding it worst-case-first… we have a false message.
I’m starting by describing the somewhat esoteric, without examples1. So I’ll give a pretty common example, and one I’ve experienced many times.
I’ve lived near a train track. There were no guard rails for pedestrians, and I often found myself needing to walk over the tracks. If there was a train coming or passing through, I’d find myself waiting, if I chose to stand there, a few feet from the train. Or inches! Ok, that’s a bit scary for anyone and of course it made sense to step back 10 feet or so while the train passed.
At this time, false messages would seep into my conscious and very near the place in my brain where action—compulsion—is taken. Overcoming me would be this urge to jump into the train’s path. This urge would be constant, and I could not get it out of my head no matter how hard I tried. In fact, my body itself would react as if this was an action I was going to take, bracing itself for impact.
Note, here… I was not in any way suicidal at all at this point or at any point recent to this situation. Not even a little. In fact, I was often in a good mood because across the train tracks was one of my favorite restaurants, and I was often there after the stress of the day had quelled. However, my brain took the potential action—which absolutely could be something I could do and put it to the forefront as a real possibility for the near future. Jumping into the train’s path. For no reason.
These false messages can happen at any time, and as I mentioned before those with OCD almost all have them—just at varying frequencies. They can involve anything, sometimes potentially horrid actions. Really anything you can think of, I’ve thought of it. Just saying that gives me pause. A whole lot of pause! Because at this point, you could peg me for any type of evil person; any type of dangerous person; anything.
However, it is important to note that, at least for me, my brain has an unexplained stop-gap between the ideation of the compulsion and the actual compulsion. That is to say, I am near one-hundred percent sure that no matter what my mental state, I would never jump in front of that train. Or any of the other horrible thoughts that my brain becomes… and here is the important phrase which we’ll move onto… temporarily obsessed with.
That is, indeed, what this is—a temporary obsession at the level of OCD. It is fleeting. It sometimes lasts a second, it sometimes lasts—well—however long the damn train takes to get out of the way. But it is fleeting and only fleeting.
This is very different than the compulsions that the stereotypical OCD sufferer has—washing hands, cleaning things beyond a reasonable amount, organizing things irrationally. It is not in that category at all.
These false messages are beyond—or maybe better said, without—rationality. There is generally no sense to them that can be tied into anything other than the fact that the human brain is capable of thinking of the worst possible things—and those with OCD will often categorize them first. Again, that is not to say we or I would do these things, but we are attracted to them unwillingly.
I very literally feel sucked into a passing train. I am, for that time, obsessed with being hit by it. Not for the logic of my safety (one should say back from said trains) but merely for the idea of this terrible set of actions happening. Merely for this idea and nothing more.
There are many types of OCD, and many of them deal with how the compulsions end of things manifest themselves. With false messages, however, all of this happens without action. An empty compulsion—albeit often a scary one. Scary in many ways: scary in that one is finding themselves thinking of something like jumping in front of a train, and scary in that one is faced with examining the worst possible thoughts one can have.
This is what a lot of OCD boils down to—a brain that has all the right wiring parts, all the correct brain… gadgets, but for some reason, the processing of thoughts travels these gadgets in a strongly incorrect2 way. Messages traveling through the brain, false in their inclination.