I was right with you guys and Ole, having strange and hugely violent intrusive and obsessive thoughts that I couldn't control for a lot of last year. I totally identify with the anxieties some of you guys were having about stabbing and killing, both myself and others. There came a point where I didn't even want to study because it meant holding a pen, and when I did I would continually worry about the overpowering urge to stab myself. Like some of you, these thoughts and others led to serious anxiety and some depression, and worry about my own sanity and whether or not I had some more serious illness such as schizophrenia or psychosis. The strangest part about all these thoughts was that they seemed to come on out of nowhere at the time, as in nothing in my life seemed to merit it. I look back on those months now and realize that I was incredibly stressed out and anxious about a number of factors in my life (succeeding at university, personal issues about body image and self worth, and a family which was in turmoil). I was also making use of study drugs and other substances at the time once in a while, which probably had a negative effect on my neurochemistry. I'm glad to report that, although it seemed to take forever at the time, my intrusive and violent obsessions and thoughts have gone away. I can hold a pen now and smile, remembering my fear and anxiety from a year ago. I have confidence that most of you will also get to this point. The fact is, these kind of thoughts are normal and affect a huge number of people, even though nobody likes to talk about it.
As a guy with a degree in psychology and another in biology, I see the brain in a scientific way - as a set of interconnected cells and systems which influence each other. The brain is something of a network/chain hybrid, and with obsessive thoughts, the neural firing patterns can continually recycle and regenerate themselves. If these patterns are negative and spiked with emotion (fear and anxiety), they can continue and continue unabated (ie. every time I see a sharp object I'm reminded of my memory of my "crazy" intrusive thoughts about stabbing myself and the people I love which makes me terrified and anxious, which in turn activates thoughts about my sanity, and about other kinds of crazy things which feed back into intrusive thoughts). It felt as if my brain was actively trying to see what the craziest and most disgusting thing it could think of having my body do, which would trigger a loop of these kinds of thoughts. It's just terrible, isn't it?
My personal view is that breaking these thought patterns - that is, literally changing the way your neurons are communicating with each other - through therapeutic techniques is probably the best path to healthy thinking again. While I didn't end up going to counseling or trying medication myself, I did a fair bit of research (including some medical literature and studies) and did my best to break through these thought processes on my own terms. Had I not been successful, I certainly would have gone to seek help, mind you. And I might have just been lucky, but I thought I'd share what I did with you guys on the off chance some of you might benefit.
Firstly, even though I was in the depths of it, I knew of the relationship between exercise and stress and anxiety and depression - it lowers them, for a number of reasons. So I started working out every day. I joined an intramural team at school, and went for jogs. I even did p90x for a couple months. I can't recommend exercise enough.
Secondly, I took up yoga. Two of my workouts a week became yoga classes (some of which can be an awesome workout, or more relaxing if you'd rather an easier type). I like the hard classes, because the poses are so difficult that you're entirely focused on not falling over in the person next to you, so there was little room for "pinball brain" as I liked to call it. I think that yoga had a hugely positive effect, not only on my body physically, but on my mind. At the end of an hour in a yoga class, no matter how fat, sucky, and inflexible I was, I always felt good about trying my hardest, and even felt at peace. As a holistic practice, yoga works on both the mind and body, and is designed at its core to be meditation through physical movement. I don't mean to say I might not have had an intrusive thought in the studio once in a while, or even right after leaving the door, but it helped. And it got me into meditation and a few books, which I also think helped me immensely. The books I read were these:
"Full Catastrophe Living", and "Wherever You Go, There You Are" - both by John Kabat-Zin
The Full Catastrophe Living one is for people with chronic pain, but its basically meditation instructions. If you don't feel like reading it all, download the audiobook if you're interested. What reading a bit about these Buddhist practices and philosophies did for me was essentially help me realize that this moment, here and now, is everything we've got. I could be dead in two hours for all I know, but right here, right now, I'm in this moment. It may not be perfect, it may even be terrifying, but in the end accepting it is the only thing a person can do. And, if you're in tune with it and accepting of it in all its imperfection and scariness, suddenly the negative stuff can lose its edge. You might start noticing things about the world you haven't since you were a kid, or things you'd never considered. Suddenly things aren't so bad. I can't really explain why this is the case, but the more I meditate, the more I find it to be true. So, after my daily exercise, when I was all hot and sweaty and tired, I would sit down on pillow on my floor and cross my legs and just breathe for a few minutes. Ten, fifteen, twenty even. Or sometimes only three or four. But I found that finding a comfortable (and preferably nice) spot in my house where I could privately sit quietly and breathe, realize that I am just another consciousness trying to get by in this crazy world, and that I was NOT these thoughts that I was having, helped me slowly widdle away at how often they popped into my brain. And when they did, I would take a few moments and use those same meditative techniques until I could at least pick up the pen again.
In the end, I think lowering stress levels by engaging in some of these activities (or others that might make more sense to you), as well as having the courage to deal head on with your anxieties and fears in life (and thus reducing their power over you) is going to have positive effect on your life and help reduce some of these things. At least, it did for me. Don't be afraid of counselors, and of engaging in things like cognitive behavioural therapy. These are all efforts to rewire the brain and can be successful. Also, after reading some of your posts, I wonder what I might have been diagnosed with if I'd gone to the doctor (as I was very close to doing). Likely OCD and depression as well. I wonder what kind of effect even that diagnosis has on the mind. I hope you don't think too much in terms of those labels, because that's all they really are. They shouldn't dominate your thoughts or frame the way you see yourselves in the world.
* Remember, you're not those thoughts, no matter how bad they are. Ironically, the reason why you HAVE intrusive and anxiety-induced thoughts that cause you so much stress is because you're exactly NOT that kind of person, and when you have these thoughts you become emotional and they stick in your brain, regenerated by the anxiety they inspire in you. Remember that!
And remember you're not the diagnosis you got from the doctor either. You're you, and you're an awesome person. More importantly, you're a NORMAL person (whatever the hell normal means anyway), and the anxieties and fears you feel because of your thoughts are totally normal reactions. You're not crazy, we've all been through these things, too, and we're all going to pull out the other side stronger, and better. It's great that we have things like the internet today so that we can be there for each other when it seems like the world is going bat-shit crazy.
Take care of yourselves! All the best in life and love.