The Devil on Your Shoulder: Intrusive Thoughts
Let’s talk intrusive thoughts. You are driving down the freeway, belting out every word to “Don’t Stop Believing”. You are headed to the Outer Banks for a wonderful family beach vacation. Your beautiful wife is in the passenger seat. She is smiling and singing along. She has a really nice voice, yet you would never catch her at the Wagon Wheel singing karaoke on Friday night. Your two kids are in the back seat watching The Lego Movie for the 50th time. Watch out for the Kragle! Seriously, who glues their Legos together? Life couldn’t be better. You approach an overpass. Suddenly the idea pops into your head: I wonder how it would play out if I slammed the gas pedal down and flew over the edge?
You picture your black Town and Country, lovingly nicknamed the Death Star, flying through the guardrail, sailing through the air and crashing into a fiery mess. It looks like a scene straight out of The Fast and The Furious. Your longtime friend and her two kids are in the vehicle directly behind you. They are joining you on this beach town getaway. She gets to be the one to call your family back in Michigan and tell them that the four of you died in a blaze of glory. This whole scene plays out in your head in a matter of seconds. You continue on and do the best job you can of enjoying a vacation full of craft beer, sun, and swimming. The whole time though you can’t help but wonder what is wrong with you? Are you going crazy? Should you drive straight to the nearest psychiatric hospital and turn yourself in before you become Jack from The Shining and start chopping through bathroom doors? Cue the dramatic music. Here’s Johnny!!! Obviously, this is a scene that I have spent some time dwelling on, and this is only one example of the many scenarios that have played out in my mind over the years. For the longest time, I thought I was alone and that I needed to keep these kinds of thoughts to myself or people would really think I need to be locked up. I wouldn’t dare discuss this with anyone. Then one day as I was driving back from a weekend getaway with my wife she asked me if I ever pictured myself driving off a bridge? I thought to myself “Oh, great. We are both crazy”.
I’m not alone!
I joined her on a leap of faith and shared with her that I had indeed had that exact thought. Holy moly! It turns out I wasn’t alone! We really are two peas in a pod. It blossomed into a really good discussion about how we both have these horrible thoughts, yet we would never act on them. The truth is studies show that 4 out of 5 people have these types of intrusive thoughts. They can come in all kinds of taboo topics from self-harm to sexual deviation (I will leave the details of these stories to myself). Name the topic and I am sure someone has had intrusive thoughts about it. Just like in the cartoons there is a little devil on your shoulder whispering the most outrageous and horrible thoughts. The good news is that you also have an angel on the other shoulder that makes sure that they stay just that: thoughts, nothing more. As a naturally anxious person, I know how easily we can let these types of thoughts consume our lives. That is why I wanted to share this story with you. I wanted to help you realize that you are not crazy, and you are definitely not alone. Next time you have one of these terrible scenes play out in your head, stop and think of my ridiculous story. Don’t be embarrassed. Don’t dwell on it. Take a moment, laugh, and move on with your day.
Michael Camilleri is one of six Still I Run ambassadors for 2018. He’s been a huge advocate for this community since the very beginning, Fall of 2016. Around the time he found Still I Run, he was suffering from severe anxiety and panic attacks. He now considers the phrase “Still I Run” his battle cry and even has a tattoo of the arrow logo on his calf. Running is one of the most important tools in the arsenal he uses to maintain his mental health and manage his anxiety.