Don’t think of a polar bear. You don’t need to be Dostoevsky or Derren Brown to guess that a polar bear is exactly what most readers are now thinking about.
But why, when the instruction was not to think of a polar bear?
The answer goes by a few names – ironic mental process, excessive rumination and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) to name but a few.
The vast majority of people say “so what?” and move on with their lives, letting the polar bear escape into a hinterland populated by deadlines to meet, things to do and dreams to dream.
But for people like me, the bear mooches around like a bad smell. And he’s not alone.
There will likely be a few polar bears at the annual conference of OCD-UK in Glasgow tomorrow.
It’s a real honour that Scotland is playing host to this year’s event – for me, the more awareness raised the better. Too much of mental health is left in the shadows.
I have Pure OCD, which means rather than washing my hands or tidying my house compulsively (which might actually be useful), I feel compelled to think about things over and over (and over and over). Not just things – horrible things, hurtful things. The worst things.
You might say “stop thinking about them then”… to which I would refer you to our friend the polar bear. Because there’s no thinking your way out of OCD. Thinking only leads you deeper in – like struggling in mental quicksand. And after the intrusive thoughts come its disciples – guilt, fear, despair, desperation.
I thought I had outgrown my brand of brain viper, but I realise that I will always have Pure O.
Here’s the paradoxical twist though – I’m glad, because OCD has helped make me the person I am. I don’t mean it defines me – but it’s as much a part of me as my love of sherbet, phobia of stickers and addiction to puns.
And I can live with it – after all, I’ve come this far. We all have. If I walked with a limp, I wouldn’t stop walking, so I’m not going to stop getting on with my life either.
If you find yourself at a low ebb and asking yourself – as I have many times – what’s the point? How do I keep going when it hurts so much? Why can’t I heal? You hang on. Because this too shall pass.
There’s so much beauty, love and amazing stuff in our lives – but no one can appreciate that all the time. No one. So I say don’t beat yourself up.
Start small, keep yourself busy, do things that make you happier. If you need pills or medical support, get them.
And if you see that polar bear, tell him I’m asking for him.
Alan Muir lives in Cumbernauld. He tweets as @alanmuir74 and blogs at https://caobs.wordpress.com/