Wednesday, June 19, 2013

OCD and scary thoughts and dreams


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?


  1. Hi Tina, isn't it great to be able to share these things? So glad you realized that your fears were unfounded. I had a dream once when I was that dream there was a funeral, and I knew that one of my aunts died, but I was too short (in the dream and in real life!) to see who was lying in the casket. Anyway, I woke up that morning and received a phone call from a cousin...telling me that my great aunt had died.

    The thing is, though, none of us is guaranteed tomorrow! If we can live for, and cease the moment, as it were, and cherish the people and things we have every day, then we can focus on the good things and how much we have and are grateful for, which definitely helps to steer fears away. Hope this helps. Hugs to you.

    1. You did indeed help, Linda. Thank you. Your words are very wise. It is so important on focus on what we have now, because as you say, none of us is guaranteed tomorrow.

  2. Your worry about the harms coming to others reminds me of this phase I went through as a youngster. Every time my mother would drive to work or into town, I would get this eerie feeling that she was going to have a car accident. I would worry and worry until she finally came home and then I would feel such relief. This laststed for a few months and disappeared as quickly as it came.

  3. No I have not, I've had bothersome dreams but I am not affected by them.
    However from my 5 th year to my 9th I held my parents virtual
    prisoners to my fear of loosing them. Three important adults died close to each other when I was 5,at 13 maybe with the hormonal change these huge life stopping fears left me, I am grateful they did. My Father continued to teach me to live in the moment full stop, he was instrumental in my freedom from worry I think...I began mediation early in my adult life and perposeful thinking which isn't always easy I admit. Thank you for sharing this post.

  4. Oh Tina you are so wise to think the way you do now. As a child I was haunted by everyone's dreams it seems. As an adult I tend to try to focus on that it is just a dream but I understand this one. B

  5. Interesting made me pause and think about certain things -- not dreams, specifically, but certain paralyzing thoughts.

    For many years I had trouble finishing creative projects because I had a deep-seated belief that once I did so, I would be "done" and I would die. Even no, as I have been able to move beyond those crippling thoughts to complete numerous projects, I still have to wrestle with some aspect of these thoughts each time I get close to completion. It's as though I have birth and death mixed up in my brain. Once the project is done, the thoughts go away.

    Also, the night before my grandfather died, I had a feeling that something was very wrong. I cried and cried, not knowing why. When he died the next day, I believed that it was somehow my fault. Never mind the fact that he was a heavy smoker and drinker whose health had deteriorated prematurely. It took me about twelve years to heal that one. Turns out that several family members had similar struggles, but we didn't talk about them for a long, long time.

  6. I suppose it isn't any different than those end of the world type books....that have already passed. I hope you feel able to let his dream go. I can see why it would feel unsettling though.

  7. i get some scary thoughts sometimes. it is hard to stop them.

  8. Yeah, I've had dreams where something happened to someone and I worried that it would happen.

  9. I have been working on that a lot lately; realizing that a thought is just a thought and that though I cannot control my thoughts, I can control my actions. I noticed that when I perform a compulsion based on a thought, it really just strengthens and gives that thought more value than it deserves.
    I had a dream last night that was OCD-contamination related and I woke from the dream with extreme anxiety. So much so, that I wanted to high tail it for the shower, wash my bed sheets and that sort of thing. I had to lay there a bit, take some deep breaths and tell myself that it was just a dream and I could not allow myself to react to this dream as if it were real. It just sounds so silly to write this out now, but at the time it was really anxiety provoking. Just glad that I am in a place where I can refrain from taking action (doing the compulsive behavior) and let the anxiety fade because it eventually does. Not that I have beat this thing by any means but it feels good not to have it have a stronghold over me anymore. :)

  10. oh i wish there were a pill, you could take, to make you feel better. to stop the anxiety and fear....i wish it were that simple!!

    i am lucky, i have never experienced this!!

  11. Yes, i've had many bad dreams that seem to grab hold of me tightly and don't want to let go. Just last night, in fact, i dreamed that my husband came home from work and told me he wanted a divorce! Where on earth did THAT come from. I awoke in the midst of a (relatively mild) panic attack. I did a half hour of meditation this morning though, and i called hubs at work just to talk it out.. and he was totally good with me calling him there. He loves me, and i've nothing to worry about. I feel better now, but it took awhile. :)

    Your therapist gave you some excellent advice. I know how hard it is though, and i empathize with you. I really do...

  12. Your last sentence sums it all up, Tina....we all have to learn to live with uncertainty. That's what it always comes back to. Who knows what tomorrow will bring? As for dreams, I've had my share of crazy ones, but never attached any truth to them. I'm grateful for that!

  13. I remember when I was little I worried about my mom every time she left the house. You have such insight, Tina, into what it all means and that is a step toward getting better I believe.

  14. Thank you all, dear readers, for your helpful and inspiring and kind comments. I feel better about it all now, and you helped. :-)


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