“My Call of the Void: What Intrusive Thoughts Taught Me About ADHD”
“The guest recalled a time when he had an intrusive thought about spitting in a friend’s face. He recalled how bothered he was by this thought that appeared from nowhere, and how hard it was to tame. My god. His anecdote transported me back to the time I had to stop myself from doing the exact same thing.”
On an episode of an ADHD-related podcast I recently heard, the guest shared a familiar backstory — one of lifelong frustration and sweet relief after receiving an ADHD diagnosis in adulthood. Diagnosed with ADHD in my early 30s, I knew this story all too well.
Then, almost nonchalantly, the guest recalled a time when he had an intrusive thought about spitting in a friend’s face. He recalled how bothered he was by this thought that appeared from nowhere, and how hard it was to tame.
My god. His anecdote transported me back to the time I had to stop myself from doing the exact same thing. So troubling and unexpected was the urge, I had to leave the room for a mental reset. Why the hell would I want to spit in someone’s face, let alone my friend’s?
And why the hell did I have the same experience as the podcast guest? Did it suggest that our shared intrusive, bizarre thought was tied to ADHD?
L’appel du Vide: Exploring the Call of the Void
Like a cold case flung open by a new piece of evidence, the bothersome experience compelled me to begin some fresh digging. My first bit of research led me to l’appel du vide — “the call of the void.” It’s a term that describes the sudden thought or urge to jump from a high place. Like many others, I’ve encountered the call of the void atop certain tall buildings, quickly suppressing an unwanted urge to vault myself over the edge.
But the call of the void isn’t limited to the feeling of jumping from great heights. It has evolved into a term that captures other sudden, worrisome thoughts like: “What would happen if I twisted the steering wheel and plowed into oncoming traffic?”
These intrusive, out-of-character thoughts have long troubled us humans. (See Edgar Allan Poe’s The Imp of the Perverse, for one.) But these urges, I learned, are actually a universal feeling, and they’re not tied to a desire to harm ourselves or to die. In a 2012 study, Hames et al. gave the phenomenon a new moniker — high place phenomenon — and suggested that, far from being a desire to die, the call might actually be an affirmation of the urge to live.
OK, so I learned a whole lot about the call of the void, but I wasn’t sure if the spitting urge fell squarely under this phenomenon. I also couldn’t find anything that directly links the call of the void to ADHD.
Intrusive Thoughts and ADHD
However, I did find another eye-opening study during my investigation. It involved college students with ADHD (and a control group) who took questionnaires that measured levels of anxiety and worrisome thoughts.
In comparison to the control group, those with ADHD experienced higher ratings on all intrusive-thought scales. “Our results suggest that worrisome, intrusive thoughts are an important phenotypical expression of adults with ADHD,” the researchers wrote.
There it was. I put together a prosaic explanation for an incident that had bugged me for years: I’m more likely to have intrusive thoughts, and Spitgate, I presume, seemed to be a warped version of a phenomenon lots of people experience. It’s what happens, I suppose, when the call of the void meets ADHD.
Phew. This was comforting (and, in retrospect, not surprising). Maybe I’m not a terrible person after all! Maybe the urge to spit in my friend’s face came from a desire to maintain my friendship, which might suffer a bit of a hiccup were I to follow through on the urge. Aren’t brains weird?
Anyway, I don’t feel the call or other strange urges much these days. I attribute that change to medication, which dims my head chatter and keeps it at tolerable levels. Add in a regimen of anxiety-busting exercise, and the call almost vanishes. That said, you’re unlikely to find me striding atop the Eiffel Tower anytime soon.
Intrusive Thoughts: Next Steps
- Take This Self-Test: Symptoms of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder
- Read: ADHD and Obsessive Thoughts — How to Stop the Endless Analysis
- Read: 9 Calming Strategies for a Racing, Restless Mind
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