Thoughts are powerful. I’m sure you already know that. What we mull over and dwell on in our thoughts can affect our mood and our outlook, our actions. Thoughts are that powerful.
If you have obsessive-compulsive disorder, you know that thoughts can seem especially powerful, and you attach more importance to them than they deserve.
The obsessions of OCD are uncontrolled thoughts about specific things that cause intense anxiety. They revolve around concerns about things such as harm, contamination and morality.
For example, I used to be consumed with thoughts about the safety of others, especially the safety of my loved ones. I worried and agonized over the possibility that harm would come to them, and that I would be the cause of that harm.
I acted out different compulsions to try to assuage the anxiety caused by the obsessions. I washed my hands incessantly to try to avoid passing germs to others and making them sick. I prayed the same words over and over, trying to create a magical safety net around my family. I checked light switches and stovetops repeatedly to make sure I had turned off electrical devices, because I believed if I left them on, a fire might start and hurt or kill others.
Another way thoughts can be troublesome for those of us with OCD is the way they seem to be so true. If I think that I left a lamp on at the office, then it must be true. If that thought comes along with a feeling of anxiety, then it must mean that I left the light on.
I’ve come a long way since the days when thoughts and compulsions like that consumed me. But this week, I’ve been revisited by scary thoughts.
My husband told me about a snippet of a dream he recently had. In the dream, he realized that he had died at a certain age. In real life, he turns that age next year.
After he told me, I was immediately caught up in anxiety, fear and depression.
What if it was a premonition? What if it were true? Why would he dream that? What did it mean that he dreamed it?
I couldn’t let it go. I kept thinking and thinking about it.
I thought about dreams that I had had that I felt were premonitions. I thought about the times that I had awakened from a dream and believed I had learned something.
What if that was the age that he would die? What could I do to stop it, to change it?
If I spoke about it to him, to anyone, would that mean that it would come true?
Some people believe all dreams mean something. Was that true? What did this dream mean?
I finally realized that my thoughts were a manifestation of my OCD. I realized that my fears about the importance of Larry’s dream were very similar to my fears about the importance of my thoughts.
My therapist taught me a lot about my thoughts. He taught me that the brain produces thoughts constantly, many without my intention or permission. Just because I have a thought doesn’t mean it’s true or will come true. It doesn’t mean that I wanted to think it.
And just because I feel anxiety doesn’t mean that there’s a logical reason for it or that I really have something to fear.
Perhaps that is the way I should view Larry’s dream. It’s a dream, produced by some combination of thoughts, emotions, memories and who knows what. I’ll never arrive at an answer for what it means.
And as Larry told me, in trying to comfort me when I expressed concern, no one knows when he or she will die except God.
My thoughts about it, my fear, will not change anything. I will have to do what I have to do with every OCD episode: live with the anxiety until it goes away, focus on other things, and recognize for yet another time that I have to live with uncertainty.
Have you ever been haunted by a dream that you or someone else had? How do you deal with fears about the future?