Living with the Fear of “Going Crazy”

For nearly a decade, I've lived with the fear of losing control of my mind, becoming insane, and ending up in a mental institution.

Key Takeaways:
  • Julien has OCD and suffers from fears of developing another mental condition, like schizophrenia, and being institutionalized.
  • While he still struggles at times, he's developed habits that allow him to cope with his OCD on a daily basis, such as meditation, staying active and using humor to address his thoughts.
  • Julien reminds people to "Be positive. Try not to take things too seriously. Look at your life through a positive lens. Bring every good thought you have to the table. Life is too short to hand your time over to intrusive thoughts." 

I’m 29 years old. I’ve been suffering from OCD and intrusive thoughts since I was 10. For nearly a decade, I’ve lived with the fear of losing control of my mind, becoming insane, and ending up in a mental institution.

This is my story.

I’ve always been an anxious person. As a kid, I was scared of not being like everyone else, of being different. Around 10, I developed symptoms of success-related OCD. I was constantly worried about not being successful, and ending up poor or homeless. These fears turned into rituals, such as associating menial tasks (going up stairs, turning off lights, closing doors) with the belief that they’d guide me to success.

Around 19, I started to experience the intense fear of going insane, constantly questioning my minds ability to develop a severe mental illness such as schizophrenia, dementia, or borderline personality disorder. My intrusive thoughts latched onto these fears. However, the problems I was having were foreign to me. I didn’t know what I was going through, and made the common mistake of going on the internet and searching for terms like “becoming schizophrenic,” “psychosis,” and “dementia.” I read Wikipedia pages, articles and symptom checklists.

At the time, I didn’t realize that I was feeding my fears. My anxiety was worsening. While reading through pages of information, my heart rate would increase. My hands would shake. I was experiencing symptoms of “crisis anxiety.” After each search, I couldn’t stop ruminating on the possibility of losing it all.

What if I’m really losing control? What if one day I go crazy? What if that day is tomorrow? My life will be over. Nobody will care about me. I’ll be institutionalized. I’ll be all alone. It’s a one-way ticket with no possible return.

I was overcome with fear.

Today, at 29, I’ve spent 10 years living with that fear. There have been many ups and downs. Some years were great. I was in control and didn’t worry much about my obsessions. I was not paying attention to my intrusive thoughts. At other times, it was amazingly difficult, being trapped in a battle with the thoughts in my head.

Why do I have this? What did I do to deserve it? When will it stop?

In the years I’ve spent struggling with OCD, I’ve spent countless hours on websites and forums, and can attest to the fact that the prevalence of these anxieties is very real. I’ve seen increasing cries for help. And while I’m no expert, if my story can bring any level of hope to others, I find solace in that.

Living with the obsession of ending up in a mental institution is not easy to understand. I’ll try my best to explain it further. As mentioned, I’ve always been worried about what others think of me. I obsess over how people look at me, or the possibility of being pointed out or excluded. I lack self-confidence and am very emotionally fragile. My fear of being locked up in an institution is related to my lack of self-confidence. One is a physical prison, while the other is a mental prison. In both cases, I am unable to enjoy this life, I’ve lost everything, I’ve been left out of society, and I can’t find my way back.

The idea of madness is not new. It’s been around in books, movies, art and philosophy. What’s always scared me about madness, is the fact that you are no longer in control of your actions or your body. This lack of control is something I can’t fathom. On a day to day basis, I am already inundated with countless thoughts that I don’t want to have. During seemingly pleasant times, they will attack, forcing me to deal with the overwhelming pressure of “going insane” at a moment’s notice. It doesn’t take long for my mind to think “What if one day, these thoughts will force you to believe that you aren’t living in reality? What if one day, you believe that humans are not human? That any surreal belief is true?” This triggers a spiral. Soon I’m overcome with anxiety. The thoughts are speeding up. I see myself being schizophrenic. I see myself locked up. I see myself talking to myself, acting strange, and preaching irrational beliefs to people I know.

Despite all this pain, I’ve developed some tips for how to live with these thoughts. These solutions may not be for everyone, but they’ve helped me. They also aren’t a cure-all. I still deal with my obsessions, I’m just able to create some distance with them and rationalize them to myself.

  • Don’t believe them. If you’re mind is telling you that you’re crazy, say “no I’m not” and continue on.
  • Approach your thoughts with humor. Smile or laugh at them when possible. It’s a good way to help them pass.
  • Talk to people about them. Your closest friends, your family, your therapist. It’s easier said than done, and can be very difficult to open up to loved ones. But don’t be afraid of the judgement or shame. You’ll quickly find that the reactions of most people are the opposite. They’ll support you.
  • Meditate. Take time to focus of the present and relax.
  • Develop healthy habits. I play sports and eat clean. This helps me focus on objectives and goals for myself. It distracts me from my intrusive thoughts.
  • Stay away from recreational drugs. I don’t want to sound old or lame, but drugs never helped me. They put me down and made me feel extremely unhappy.
  • Try ERP Therapy. It’s taught me to stop avoiding my thoughts, and let them come over me. It’s unpleasant in the beginning, but after awhile, you adjust and your fear will lessen.
  • Try medication. I’ve found success with Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors, although I know they aren’t for everyone.
  • Tell this to yourself: I’m not my thoughts. I’m not my thoughts. I’m not my thoughts. Remind yourself that you know who you are.

I will finish my story by saying that I am not ashamed of who I am or what I have. None of us should be. Remember that you are not your thoughts or your fears. Be positive. Try not to take things too seriously. Look at your life through a positive lens. Bring every good thought you have to the table. Life is too short to hand your time over to intrusive thoughts.