Tormented by Complex Scientific Concepts: OCD or Something Else?

Reader’s Question

I have a really nasty problem. I’m unable to handle complex ideas. For example: I can’t handle the fact that the Universe might be infinite, never ending. When I think about it for some reason I can’t accept it and it usually results in a panic attack. Or I will try to think of just what EXACTLY our brain is doing when we think. How can all these memories be stored in a piece a meat? Also I can’t handle the fact that the Universe even exists at all. The problems I have with that are: how can the Universe always be or how can there be nothing and suddenly be something (moment of creation). The distress and anguish I have from these thoughts are extremely intense. When I have these thoughts I lock onto them and can’t stop thinking about them. I had drunk for years and been taking St John’s Wort, then one night 4 years ago I woke up screaming with unreal feelings of horror and have been like that ever since. I’m on Wellbutrin 300 mg and Zyprexa 2.5g but it’s still really bad. My mind also creates some brutal thoughts (horrific things like people eating themselves, etc.) and I can’t take it. My doctor says I have OCD and wants me to get OCD treatment. That’s fine, but how come he isn’t taking these unreal thoughts seriously? My mind is not interpreting reality normally.

Psychologist’s Reply

Thinking about these issues is one thing — feeling about them is another. Your doctor has made an excellent interpretation of your symptoms. Intelligent folks ponder and think about the issues you describe — but it doesn’t prompt a panic attack or extreme anguish/distress. Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) produces the anguish, distress, and severe anxiety connected to these thoughts. In OCD, the brain ruminates (thinking too much with anxiety) on topics that will produce anguish. Oddly, each person receives his/her own personal “thinking hell” in OCD. In OCD, our brain selects specific topics to torment us. People who have strong religious faith become preoccupied with profanity. New mothers are tormented by thoughts of harming their newborn child (post-partum depression). Criminals may be tormented by guilt for their crimes.

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Your physician is taking your thoughts very seriously, prompting him to consider a diagnosis of OCD. He may not be discussing your thoughts because he knows those discussions would be ineffective and would not lower your anguish.

OCD torments us because it assumes 100% understanding is possible in every topic. In reality, every scientist, physician, astrophysicist, etc. operates with the acknowledgement that we only understand a portion of what we see. Physicians have prescribed medications for years but in truth, we only have “theories” about how medications work. If you check a Physician’s Desk Reference (PDR), you’re not likely to see “This medications works by…”. Rather, you’ll see “It is theorized/hypothesized/felt that this medication works by…”. The goal of all professionals is to increase the level of knowledge and understanding to approach that 100%.

Keep in mind, your thoughts are not unreal. The issues and concerns you mentioned are key topics in areas of astrophysics, astronomy, neurology, and cosmology. Those same ideas and questions generate new research every year. We were only able to measure the “speed of gravity” within the past three years — it’s the same as the speed of light. The difference? Bright minds think of ways to research these issues and complex ideas while OCD torments us and adds emotional anguish.

I would recommend considering an additional medication or a medication change. Your psychiatrist can discuss this matter with you. This is very treatable. Don’t use any herbal or natural remedies by the way.

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