Suicidal OCD and Learning to Trust Myself Again

Changing one of my core beliefs

Key Takeaways:
  • Suicidal OCD is a subtype of OCD in which a person experiences mental obsessions about suicide. They fear that they want to hurt themselves, and spend time and energy trying to decide if they are "truly suicidal."
  • In this article, Mary-Lyn discusses her experience with suicidal obsessions that began in adulthood. She eventually sought help for the condition, and uses CBT therapy and mindfulness to manage her condition.
  • You can keep up with Mary-Lyn on Instagram at: @mlkieffer22

I was a very sensitive child, always observing and judging everything as good, bad, scary or safe.  

My home was my safe place. When I was out in the world I experienced separation anxiety, developed a phobia around tornados, and had existential type intrusive thoughts. Perhaps, due to the fact that I had a busy childhood, with 4 siblings and lots of activity; I eventually grew out of this anxious phase. It wasn’t until my mid-twenties that my mental health started to challenge me again, and this time it didn’t go away. 

At first I experienced a panic attack while living overseas.  The feeling of extreme anxiety, coupled with the feeling of losing control was so foreign and scary to me that I spent a couple of  years obsessing over whether I’d have another one, trying to control any anxiety that appeared. I became a constant spectator of my every thought, emotion and feeling.  A few years later the panic morphed into OCD. It started around relationships, and then turned towards me, and my life.

I was walking past the subway station on my way into work one day and thought, “what if I just jump in front of the subway.”  This thought scared the shit out of me. I had a similar thoughts before this — I was on a balcony, and I worried that I might impulsively jump off — but this time it was different. This thought haunted me. It was with me all of the time.

I didn’t want to die, but my brain couldn’t stop thinking about it. I needed to know for certain that this wasn’t something I wanted to do. I started chasing that certainty. Up until this point, I could trust all of my thoughts, I needed to figure out what this one meant. I spent the next year of my life compulsively researching online, trying to determine if I was depressed. I would look up symptoms of people that were suicidal so that I could rule myself out as someone that would ever take their own life.

A lot of existential questions arose. What is the point of life? What are we all doing here? I thought that if I could answer this question, maybe I could put this topic to rest. But it only led me further down the hole.  I did a lot of “soul searching”, trying to dive into various passions, hoping the thoughts would stop. Shockingly, nothing seemed to work. Later I found out that these were all compulsions that were only making the intrusive suicidal thoughts worse.

After over a year of being stuck in my head 24/7, I left my corporate job in the financial district in Toronto, confessing that I needed a break. I felt extremely desperate and anxious, and I could no longer handle what I was experiencing on my own. My stomach was in a constant knot. I felt like I was living in a nightmare. I was afraid to tell my therapist what I was experiencing. If I tell her I think about suicide all the time, she is going to think I am suicidal, and then if she thinks that, maybe I am!?

But I had no choice but to be transparent with her. Luckily she was educated on OCD, and diagnosed me on the spot. It was a huge relief to finally have a name to explain what I was going through, but I still struggled with the doubt that maybe one day, something terrible in life would happen, and I would lose control and kill myself.

My experience with OCD made me question and doubt so much, I started to lose sense of who I was and what truly mattered to me. My brain was trying to “protect” me, but really it just took me farther away from reality.

After being diagnosed, I eventually attended a 12-week Cognitive Behavioral Therapy group course, learnt about Acceptance Commitment Therapy, and practiced living mindfully. One thing I uncovered along the way was that when I stripped down all the surface level anxieties, my core fear is that I am afraid I might “lose my mind” one day, and am afraid of situations that provoke suffering and strong emotions in me.

I have heard people refer to OCD as the doubting disease. I didn’t trust that I could handle suffering or challenging experiences that make me feel like I’m “losing my mind.” Slowly, I have built up the belief that I am strong, and I can handle these situations. I also rely heavily on my faith. Sometimes we have to change our core beliefs in order to move on and start accepting uncertainties. This shift has helped me face the suicidal intrusive thoughts when they come up. It gives them a little less power.

I still have days that challenge me. Sometimes I get stuck, and am pulled back into the cycle. Other days I can bring myself back to the present moment. With family and friends support, faith, meditation, and living according to my values, I am able to live a meaningful life, more meaningful then before I was diagnosed. I have learnt that I don’t need to run from my emotions or thoughts, I can sit with them, and I can handle whatever comes my way.

Mary-Lyn Kieffer is an OCD sufferer and Made of Millions / Intrusive Thoughts Inc. board member. She is an active member in the Toronto OCD community. She co-facilitates the Obsessive Compulsive Anonymous Support Group, and frequently gives presentations at the Toronto West OCD Support Group. She recently completed a Peer Support Training program at Mood Disorders Association of Ontario.