Intrusive thoughts make me think I'm a bad person

... I have to remind myself all the time that I'm not

Intrusive thoughts make me think I'm a bad person
This is a shot from my video/song "Thoughts"

When I was little I questioned my faith. I was raised Greek Orthodox and one day my family was telling me the story of Jesus walking on water to save a man from drowning. Kid me then said "well if God made everyone walk on water no one would be drowning in the first place"... which honestly was a brilliant thought for a 6 year old to have. I was then yelled at because I shouldn't question or judge God. This is when my intrusive thoughts started. Because of my new fear of appearing unchristian these thoughts would pop into my head saying things like "you worship the devil" or "you're a demon". Which was really scary for 6 year old me... I wish they were like that now because the older I got, the scarier my fears became and because of that my perception of myself got worse and worse.

Three years ago I was watching a Black Mirror episode called "Shut Up And Dance" (don't read ahead if you don't want to get spoiled) and the main character that you root for the entire time is revealed to be a pedophile at the end. Don't get me wrong I LOVE Black Mirror and I don't blame them for my emotional response to their amazing work, but this was incredibly triggering for me. The fact that I sympathized with someone who wants to hurt kids (even someone who is fictional) made me feel disgusting. My latest intrusive thought has since been "you want to hurt kids" and even more terrible things.

The intrusive thoughts that linger in my head take all my greatest fears and twist them into "what if YOU do this" or "what if YOU hurt the people you care and love the most".

In 2016, a few weeks after I watched the Black Mirror episode I finally confided in someone. I remember asking them something vague like "do you have dark thoughts sometimes? That you would never act on but they don't leave." They were so supportive and even told me to be specific. When I told them all the horrible things I have thought to my surprise they didn't look at me with fear. They told me they have had the same intrusive thoughts. I didn't know that word meant what I was experiencing... I remember hearing about intrusive thoughts in AP Psych but all the examples they gave were intrusive thoughts about self-harm. But no, the definition of intrusive thoughts that can encompass whatever kind you experience is: "Intrusive thoughts are unwanted thoughts, impulses or mental images that often cause significant anxiety, stress and impairment within an individual's ability to function." Unwanted? CHECK. Significant anxiety and stress? Does crying uncontrollably when it happens count? I guess I'll check that one too!

Figuring out that I am NORMAL was the biggest relief of my life. I had no idea I even experienced this much anxiety until I reflected on how much time I spent arguing these "demonic" thoughts thinking I was battling my "urge to be a bad person" when in reality 94% of people have these unwanted thoughts.

In 2017 I went to therapy for the first time. And my experience was overwhelmingly positive. I became way more comfortable talking about my experience in fact that I turned it into art! (my song about it AND video of me talking about it and how I cope with it)

The best thing that came out of me opening up more about my experience is I helped other people realize that they are NORMAL. What they are experiencing doesn't make them a bad person. Under my video where I talk about my experience one of my biggest supporters told me that they had no idea what intrusive thoughts were until I talked about it and they began to thank me profusely because they have had them for the longest time and it was torture. I saw a lot of my younger in them and their comment. The fear, the guilt. I am so happy I could help someone who was just as upset by these thoughts as I was/am.

Just because I identified what they were that does not mean they went away! Sometimes I STILL think that these thoughts are a reflection of who I am. But I have to ignore these thoughts, don't argue with them.... just try to ignore them. It's easier said than done, but that is one of the best ways to cope.

Athena Priftakis
Athena Priftakis
Read next: Never In the Cover of Night
Athena Priftakis

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