There is a voice in everyone’s head that tells us we are terrible, unworthy, useless. It says things that we don’t want to think about. Its louder in some people than others I think. Usually its called self-doubt or negative thinking or negative self thought or catastrophic thinking. My voice is very loud and I gave it a name a long time ago. Usually I just call it The Imp but sometimes I call it Asmodeus. For those that don’t know Asmodeus is a king demon mostly mentioned in the Book of Tobit.
For clarification I don’t believe a demon is talking to me in my head. Its just that the thoughts I have sometimes are so polar to view of myself that I (at the point that I named it) could not believe these were my own thoughts. The Imp started talking a long time ago. For as long as I can remember I have had these thoughts that I do not want to have. I named The Imp when I was a small child. My mom used to work overnight as a book keeper for several years. I used to worry that something terrible would happen to her because she would be out in the dark.
My worry was validated by my dad and my grandmother telling me (and my siblings) about the dangers of being outside AT NIGHT. Terrible crimes happened AT NIGHT. Children were kidnapped AT NIGHT. Robberies happened AT NIGHT. Murder happened AT NIGHT. Rape happened AT NIGHT. Doors must be locked and checked AT NIGHT to keep the bad people and things outside.
My mom should not be outside AT NIGHT. In order to keep her safe I used to make precise grids of marbles over and over again until she got home. I didn’t sleep much as a kid so I had a lot of time to make grids. I also had a lot of marbles. If the marbles were too close together or too far apart in a row or column I would have to start over again. If I could get it perfect then I could stop. At least until I started worrying again. I very rarely got the grid perfect. My gross and fine motor skills were very underdeveloped and marbles are tricky things in the glow of a flashlight. Also the number of marbles, rows, and columns needed often changed. So there I was under the bed or in the closet making row after row usually until my mom got home. I could put the marbles away after she came inside and locked the door. She would peek in on us kids but it wasn’t uncommon for me not to be in my bed. Sometimes I pretended to be asleep under the bed and other times I would give my mom a hug and welcome her home. Sometimes I would make her a sandwich so she could have a snack before going to sleep. My mom was troubled by my being bright eyed at 5 am when she got home but there was little she could do. I had never had a great need for sleep and she had learned long ago that if I were left to my own devices with a flashlight and books and my toys I would not wake anyone who needed sleep. She was glad I think sometimes that I was there to greet her when she got home. She worked a lot back then and there was little to see for it. I think she was very lonely and I know for a fact she worried.
She worried about my brother’s asthma and how to pay for his meds. She worried about the cars breaking down. She worried about the toilet that would either never stop running or would remain clogged for weeks. She worried about my grandfather (her dad) who was then a full blown alcoholic in the hellish throes of untreated PTSD. She worried about the cells in her breasts and if one would ever decide to turn against her one day, leaving her four children half orphans as her own mother’s had done. She worried about the bills. And I know she worried, worried, worried about me. I was such a strange child and why did I vomit so often? What if something were terribly wrong with me and the doctors just didn’t know what yet? And why was I so different from my siblings?
I swore in my heart that I would never, ever, ever tell her how afraid I was almost all the time. What could be done about it? I swore I would never, ever, ever tell her about the marble grids. What if she took my talismans away? I swore I would NEVER, EVER, EVER tell her about the terrible thoughts in my head. I did tell her, not very long ago in fact, about my secret nightly rituals and a little bit of how terribly often I was afraid as a child. But I have NEVER, EVER, EVER told anyone about the terrible, terrible thoughts in my head. And so the awful things The Imp would yell or whisper or chortle at me stayed right there in my head.
The Imp because much worse after puberty, not uncommon in women with any kind of disorder or illness. For about three years I was convinced I was a psychopath. I did all kinds of research about psychopaths. My parents had long since stopped monitoring what I read and I was very good at keep things secret. It was during this time that we got the Internet (alas AOL). One of the first things I learned to do was delete the history. So why was I convinced I was a psychopath? Well, I didn’t have feelings. Or at least that’s what people told me. Lots of people. Teachers even. I was cold and detached. I had no friends. I was a loner.
I knew all these things but that wasn’t why I was pretty sure I was a psychopath. It was the thoughts I named The Imp that convinced me. You see the awful, terrible thing I never told anyone was that The Imp didn’t just tell me terrible things were going to happen if I didn’t advert them. The Imp told me I wanted to do terrible things. I wanted to stab my teacher in the hand with a pencil. I wanted to push my sister out of a moving car. I wanted to force my brother to have an asthma attack and watch him suffocate. I wanted to stab my beloved dog with the sharp knives from the kitchen. I wanted to set my house on fire with my family in it and watch them all burn. I wanted to kill random people I saw in the grocery store. And I would like it. In fact I would LOVE to do these things. I would do them all and I would never be caught because, as my research told me, women were very rarely ever psychopaths. Or at least murderous ones. I would do them all and I would ENJOY it.
These days I know that the proper label for The Imp is intrusive thoughts. Intrusive thoughts are the defining characteristic of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. My particular flavor (sub-type) of OCD is Harm OCD. I have intrusive thoughts of a harming/violent nature (the obsession) and the response I engage in to alleviate the discomfort of these thoughts (the compulsion). I have thoughts of hurting the people and animals I live with. I have thoughts about hurting complete strangers. I worry that I could unknowingly do something or fail to do something that results in someone being hurt. I worry that I don’t find these thoughts disturbing enough. I worry that I enjoy what The Imp tells me.
I have told doctors and my friend R about some of my intrusive thoughts but not the worst of them. Lately my anxiety has been worse. A change in meds has helped but my depression has been worse. But worse than that my intrusive thoughts have been so much worse. I had to stop playing with my goddaughter and leave the room because I became convinced that if I remained in the room with her I would hurt or somehow “infect” her, thereby harming her. When R asked about my sudden departure, I lied saying I had a bad stomach cramps which I eventually did end up having as a result of the emotional upset my intrusive thoughts cause. I have thought about hurting our sweet, sweet dogs because they shouldn’t love me as I am a terrible person and they just don’t know it yet. But they will once I have hurt them. I have thoughts about hurting my youngest goddaughter, an infant who cannot defend herself. And I want to hurt someone so that everyone will know just how aberrant I am and they will lock me away where I can’t hurt anyone ever again. And maybe then, finally then, the thoughts will stop.
But I don’t hurt anyone. And I am not insane. I am not a psychopath. If I were these thoughts wouldn’t bother me. I wouldn’t engage in the compulsive behaviors because I would feel no distress. I had this belief, this delusion, that if I told someone they would hate me because who couldn’t hate something as vicious as me? Who wouldn’t stare at horror in the fullness of my violent thoughts and fear me?
But last night I told R and here I am now. I am not a murderer. I am not violent. I do not want to hurt anyone. The Imp talks and laughs and dances. It tells me terrible things and I perform a mental ritual to take away the distress. But The Imp is not real. The thoughts I have are not representative of me. The more I try not to have them the harder they are to ignore. If you have these thoughts tell someone. Don’t suffer alone. This terrible secret has a name and can be treated.
OCD can cause suicide. OCD also kills in small measures, taking a little piece of you with every intrusive thought. Get help. Get support. Get education. Get an advocate. The Imp is not right. The Imp is not the truth.
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