If a trigger was a person, it would be my family. I know y’all can relate. From a cultural perspective, Caribbean families just don’t respect or understand boundaries. A lot of my anxiety is rooted in trauma and it was in March 2021 when my anxiety decided to act up. I had just been released from my previous therapist in October 2020 too. I knew I needed to find a new therapist to work through whatever remnant of trauma was still inside of me. I thought I was done with therapy after a past life regression and hypnotherapy session but managing mental health is a bitch.
So, I decided to search for mental health providers that accepted my health insurance. It was hard because finding a new therapist is like a blind date. You don’t know how you will connect until the first session.
I was able to narrow down my choice to Dr. Amber Fasula. I emailed her with my history and medical records via email. A few days later she responded with a recommendation to try equine-assisted therapy (EAT), or horse therapy. Horse therapy is a psychotherapy that involves interaction with horses through a range of activities. I had previously written and read about how horse therapy helps children with behavioral problems or autism. But what I didn’t know was horse therapy can help adults who are clinically diagnosed with anxiety, depression, PTSD or have experienced trauma.
I was the perfect candidate because I was struggling with all of it. I didn’t know what I was getting into but horses are my favorite animal. So, I was willing to give it a try. And the best part was that my health insurance covered each session. I was only responsible for a small copay and a fee for caring for the horses every other week.
I was ready.
How Horse Therapy Works
My treatment program encompassed a total of 10 sessions and my first appointment was set for April. On my first day, I drove 20 minutes from my house to Crossroads Corral. I didn’t know what to expect, all I knew was that I’d essentially be outdoors. I wore an oversized t-shirt, a pair of gray joggers, and some old sneakers. After I parked and got out of my car, I was greeted by Dr. Fasula and Chessie. He was the horse trainer and was there to ensure my safety. Chessie would also be the one to interpret the interactions between the horse and me.
Dr. Fasula and Chessie led me into an open pasture. I immediately fell in love with every single horse on the property. But when they explained what I had to do next, I was completely lost (for privacy purposes, I cannot disclose specific details of the activities, but just know working with a horse was like learning a foreign language). My initial response was, “Huh? You want me to do what?” Now, I’m not scared of horses, I just never interacted with a horse so up close and personal.
And the thing is horse therapy involves a level of problem-solving where you have to figure out the solution on your own. With little to no help. It was the most challenging thing I ever did besides walking away from a six-figure salary.
I left my first session completely confused because I didn’t know how to interact with the horse. I was beating myself up for something I had no knowledge or experience in. But I loved being around the horses. For me, it was therapeutic and peaceful. What people don’t know is horses can pick up on your energy. This is how you build trust with your horse. Horses gain your trust through simple interactions. Just by petting the horse, you can see if the horse trusts you or not.
I was intrigued. I was determined. And I wanted to know more.
The first session was an introduction, but the second session was the real test. By this session, Dr. Fasula could easily see I had weak boundaries just by my interaction with the horse. I couldn’t even deny it, because it was true. So many times in my life, I’ve found that people don’t respect my boundaries or push me until I snap. This is the session that almost broke me. I had to quickly learn that logic doesn’t apply here. And I learned it the hard way because I froze for the entire 45 minutes when they asked me to complete the next task.
I didn’t even try because nothing about what I was asked to do with my horse made sense in my head. I swallowed my tears as I walked back to my car. I left this session feeling completely defeated. I wanted to give up. I didn’t even want to come back. But I knew that wasn’t an option.
I had met my truest self, and she had some things to figure out.
Showing Up To Do The Work
Before my next session, I spoke with one of my closest cousins. We will call him “R.” I expressed to him how I failed my second horse therapy session. “R” said, “You have to show up to therapy the same way you did when you decided to create a new life path.” He was right. It was now May and my third horse therapy session. Dr. Fasula asked me if I was ready to try again. I said, “Well, we’re here now and there is no turning back.” I showed up ready to do the work and it was noticeable. We repeated the same task from session two. This time I succeeded. This was the turning point. We will call it the breakthrough because now I understood I had to show up as a different Camille to ascertain the desired result.
In the following sessions, more patterns were revealed. For example, my tendency to blame myself for certain outcomes even when it’s not my fault. This behavior demonstrates how I can miss out on opportunities because of the way I internalize certain situations. I also learned about obstacles, life stages, transitions, boundaries, and communication. With each task given to me – I succeeded. I had learned what the horse needed from me for us to work together. It was beautiful.
There were times I struggled, but I attempted to try without judgment. And when I didn’t have it quite right or the right knowledge to complete the task with my horse, Chessie would step in to direct me.
Horse therapy became my safe space.
It was now August and I dreaded showing up for my final session. It was graduation day. Which meant I would no longer see my horse and my heart broke. I had learned so much about myself. What I was capable of and patterns I needed to break. Overall, equine-assisted therapy was a confidence booster. Dr. Fasula knew I didn’t want to leave. She said, “There is nothing more for you to work through.” But I just wanted to be able to see my horse. You see, horses are my spirit animal and represent freedom. And I’m a free spirit.
Since completing equine-assisted therapy my life hasn’t been the same. I manage my anxiety and PTSD better. This experience has been more effective than talk therapy, journaling, hypnotherapy, and EMDR. I still have monthly check-ins with another therapist where we engage in talk therapy, but even she said, “You don’t need me anymore.”
If you struggle with overcoming trauma or struggle with anxiety, depression, or PTSD, I would recommend looking into equine-assisted therapy.
Your patterns will reveal all that you need to know about yourself.
Featured image by Getty Images
Camille is a lover of all things skin, curls, music, justice, and wanderlust; oceans and islands are her thing. Her words inspire and her power is her voice. A California native with Trinidadian roots, she has penned personal essays, interviews, and lifestyle pieces for POPSUGAR, FEMI magazine, and SelfishBabe. Camille is currently creating a life she loves through words, self-love, fitness, travel, and empowerment. You can follow her on Instagram @cam_just_living or @written_by_cam.
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What Are Intrusive Thoughts & How Do We Manage Them?
TW: some depictions of intrusive thoughts may be disturbing for readers.
Have you ever caught your mind drifting off to entertain the most disturbing scenarios imaginable? Maybe you can’t stop thinking of all the ways a loved one could pass away or worrying that you left every candle lit in your apartment to which you’d return to a home in ruins. If distressing ruminations like these have crossed your mind, you may be experiencing an intrusive thought.
What Are Intrusive Thoughts?
Intrusive thoughts are unwanted or distressing thoughts, images, or impulses that pop into your mind without your control or consent. These thoughts can be repetitive, unsettling, or even violent in nature, and can cause anxiety and frustration for those who experience them.
“Generally they're unwanted thoughts that come up in our head that interrupt what we're doing or thinking, and can feel very foreign,” says Adia Gooden, PhD, licensed clinical psychologist and host of the Unconditionally Worthy podcast. “It’s any thought that intrudes or interrupts what you are doing. They can be distressing and upsetting for us because it feels like we are not in control of them, and they're coming up out of nowhere and aren’t in line with how you normally think.”
What Causes Intrusive Thoughts?
Certain trauma or stress can contribute to the development of intrusive thoughts, so having a challenging experience from the past or current life situations may trigger them to form. “An intrusive thought could come in the form of a flashback, image, or a thought about something that's happened to you,” Dr. Gooden tells xoNecole. “When it gets to the point where you feel like you can't function or make clear decisions, that's when intrusive thoughts become really challenging.”
While some of the 1 billion videos found under the #intrusivethoughts hashtag on TikTok would lead you to believe that these thoughts are nothing more than casual displays of our imagination going untamed. Intrusive thoughts are more than sticking your hand in a soap dispenser, wanting to cut all your hair off at 3 a.m., or having a random impulse to eat fake bread in public.
The Anxiety & Depression Association of America reports that approximately six million individuals, equating to roughly two percent of the American population, encounter intrusive thoughts. Intrusive thoughts are often linked with obsessive-compulsive disorders, but they can also manifest in individuals with post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, or anxiety.
Examples of Common Intrusive Thoughts
Because of the explicit nature of intrusive thoughts, they tend to cause shame and internal conflict in those who experience them. Although these thoughts can differ from person to person, these ideation can consist of:
- Violent or aggressive thoughts towards oneself or others, such as harming or killing someone;
- Sexual thoughts that are unwanted or inappropriate;
- Repetitive thoughts, such as a song or a phrase that keeps repeating in your mind;
- Contamination or germ-related thoughts or the fear of contamination and getting sick;
- Religious or blasphemous thoughts, such as questioning one's faith or having thoughts that go against religious beliefs;
- Doubts or uncertainty about one's own actions or decisions, such as fear of making a mistake or fear of not doing something right.
Intrusive Thoughts and OCD
That’s why Dr. Gooden encourages everyone to understand the difference between our fleeting thoughts and impulses and true, intrusive thoughts. “What level of distress does it cause and is it something you would never consider,” she says. “If you're finding that these thoughts are getting in the way of you living your life and that you're controlled by the thoughts, those are some signs that it would be good to get some support in navigating it.”
She also emphasizes the importance of understanding that while we may not always have control over our thoughts, we can control our behavior. “On TikTok, people are sort of blaming intrusive thoughts on their behavior, and our behavior is always a choice,” she says. “If we are in our right mind and we're not having a psychotic episode, our behavior is our choice — we are not obligated to follow any given thought that we have.”
Are Intrusive Thoughts Normal?
With intrusive thoughts, it’s natural to question whether these thoughts are “normal” to have. However, these thoughts are not meant to define who you are as a person but simply indicate that you have a functioning human mind with automated thoughts that you, or any of us, can’t control. These thoughts may come, but they don’t have to be acted upon, nor do they define who you are.
“I've worked with clients in the past who say, ‘Why am I thinking these things? What's wrong with me?’ But if you're not acting on the thought, then it's probably not a huge issue,” Dr. Gooden says. “If you are thinking a harmful thought towards yourself or someone else and you are making plans to act on that thought, then yes, we need to do something about it.”
How To Manage Intrusive Thoughts
If you are struggling with managing unwanted thoughts, Dr. Aida suggests taking these tips to help manage your mindset when they occur:
- "Recognize that it's a thought and thoughts are just thoughts. We often put a little bit too much weight on our thoughts, and that can create a lot of distress. But remember that thoughts are not facts."
- "Having a thought that's disturbing or upsetting doesn't make you a bad person, and it doesn't mean that you are suffering from a mental illness."
- "Sometimes the best thing you can do is say, 'Huh, that was an interesting thought. I'm going to let that go. That thought is not helpful for me right now."
- "Ask yourself: is this helpful? Is it helpful for me to buy into this thought and believe this thought? Asking that question can be really helpful because we are not at the mercy of our thoughts. If it's not helpful, you can let it go."
Intrusive thoughts can feel bizarre and foreign when they come up, but they aren't inherently "bad." Our minds can sometimes be filled with random and inappropriate thoughts, but that's what our stream of consciousness does: it thinks. Fortunately, we can release those thoughts at any moment; you don't have to follow through with them.
And ultimately, not every TikTok diagnosis is one that we should label ourselves with.
"It's important for people to acknowledge what they're experiencing but not run too quickly to diagnose themselves with some mental illness or disorder," Dr. Gooden advises. "It ends with confusion, and we miss the opportunity to understand the people who really do have that mental health challenge."
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