Worth Living Ambassador Katie Campeau
Hi, my name is Katie, I’m 20 years old and am in my 3rd year of Sociology at Acadia University. I love writing and reading, and I’m very enthusiastic about learning. I also happen to be dealing with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Generalized Anxiety Disorder and depression. I know, just your stereotypical student…
Thoughts are a powerful force. We have them every day. They dictate our day to day actions and we go about our lives with these internal monologues. Even when we’re having conversations with other people, we can drift off in our heads. Sometimes they’re nearly impossible to turn off, so we try to find distractions like reading a book or watching a movie, something that will direct our focus away from them. Thoughts vary from being random to direct, intellectual to passive, and positive to negative. As human beings, we all share this capacity to have these day to day range of thoughts.
So, as I just told you, I share this with you. But because of my OCD, my brain processes thoughts differently. The reason I have this mental illness functions on a neurological level, specifically because a part of my brain, the basal ganglia, is overly active. Whenever I have a thought, I immediately attach a meaning to it. It’s not strange to attach meaning to thoughts, I mean a lot of us do that. What makes this abnormal is that I attach meaning to thoughts that are both completely random and intrusive.
I don’t know if you’re aware of this, but we all have intrusive thoughts. They’re thoughts that forcefully enter your brain at random and cause a great deal of discomfort. The difference between how I interpret them and how you interpret them is what differentiates us from having a mental illness or not.
As someone without OCD, you can have a random thought, like, “Let’s push that person in front of a car.” Without even knowing it, your brain looks at this random thought and discards it right away because it’s able to identify that the thought is meaningless. Your brain knows that this thought has no relevance to who you are as a person, so you’re almost not even aware of having the thought and get rid of it as soon as it comes.
Then there’s the way my OCD brain interprets the thought. Unfortunately, I am more aware of these thoughts and my brain quickly attaches a meaning to them. So when I think, “Let’s push that person in front of a car,” I immediately think I’m a bad person for having this thought. I ultimately believe that because I had this random thought that I must actually want to act on it. It’s uncontrollable and I can’t push the thought away, instead I give it my full and undivided attention for hours, days, or even weeks. I obsess over this thought and try to alleviate my anxiety by performing a ritual, like tapping a wall four times.
Like I said earlier, thoughts are a big part of our lives. They influence our existence. I’ve been influenced by my intrusive thoughts for many years, and they led me to the conclusion that I was a bad person. From a young age I decided that my intrusive thoughts made me the worst person and that it was just a matter of time before someone would notice. It wasn’t until I went into therapy and met my psychologist that I was able to acknowledge that my intrusive thoughts were a part of an illness. I remember when my psychologist told me for the very first time: “Intrusive thoughts are just thoughts.” It took me a while to actually believe this, and even now I struggle to identify what’s an “OCD thought” compared to a “normal thought.” But the difference between me pre-therapy and post-therapy is that my intrusive thoughts have a little less control over me. There are days when I can look at the thoughts more objectively and see that they are 100 per cent meaningless.
This brings me back to now, in 2017, and this tattoo. I love tattoos and as a result I told myself a while ago that one day I would get a tattoo to commemorate my mental health journey. I wanted something that would put my illness into perspective in the most simplistic way. Plus, I am a huge fan of the Semicolon Project and wanted to incorporate its importance of open discussion. Tattoos don’t have to have meanings, but this one most definitely has one. When I look at this, it shows me how far I’ve never let my illness stop me from pursuing my goals. There have been times where I’ve been in dark places, wondering what the point of living was when I had to live with these unwanted thoughts for the rest of my life. Everyone who has a mental illness has a moment of doubt, a moment where they believe that their life is unbearable and they’re unable to continue to move forward. It’s scary. But it happens.
This tattoo is a reminder of how I didn’t let my thoughts gain full control over me. I have accomplished so much and that is while living with a debilitating illness. It’s also a reminder for those days where I give the intrusive thoughts meaning, that they are just thoughts and have no power over me.