Talking to myself

I involuntarily repeat words and phrases. They forcefully crawl their way out of my throat. I hear my voice talking, but I didn’t chose for it to talk.

I don’t mean the things I say. They just pop out.

I’ll try to keep my jaw clenched tight to prevent them, but I can’t hold my mouth like that all day.

Lately the most common word is “Dead“. Others include “I’m gonna kill myself” and “Fucking hate you“. Sensing a pattern? There’re many more than just those few. A lot are minor variations on the same phrases.

Often they come out in the third person. In the phrase “I’m gonna kill you” the “you” refers to me. This is a little confusing, because I don’t mean these words when I say them. Why would I be able to explain the intended meaning of the words? I can’t explain why, but I with 100% certainty know that the “you” is me. In a way it makes some sense for them to come out in the 3rd person. While my mouth is involved in the process of producing the sounds my consciousness is not involved in the decision to make them.

When I was in a french immersion program they switched into french “Je veux me tuer“. If only they could have stayed in french after the program ended. That would have been nice.

I do have some levels of control over the words. Not to much with the decision to make them, but more with minimizing the way they come out.  For example: I can reduce a phrase to a shorter nonsense sound. Suppose “I’m gonna kill you” starts to come out. I can compress it into “mmmgn“.  It takes a level of concentration, but is worth it since a nonsense sound is much less socially damaging than what would otherwise happen. Unfortunately for me psychologically I know what was supposed to come out.

I also have some control over volume. Well, not consiously. The volume when I am alone at home is a normal speaking level. In public it is generally only whisper.  It happens all the time to me in public, but it’s quiet enough that no one has ever commented on it. I’m just the crazy person walking down the street muttering to herself. Problems can occur when I forget I am not alone and the words come out too loudly. Then I feel anxious worrying that I might have been heard.

It’s pretty impressive how little I have been overheard. Or at least how few times I’ve been called out on it. My brother hears me all the time, I don’t hold it back as much around him. He thinks I just get really angry at my computer and talk to it.

Being overheard is a major worry. There are times I’ll be walking somewhere with my headphones on and be struck with panic. I’ll be convinced that it might happen and I wouldn’t know it had because of the headphones blocking the sound. This has not to my knowledge ever happened. I’ll keep my jaw clenched shut preventing sounds from escaping until the fear passes.

So what triggers it? It only happens when I’m being spacey. It would never happen while in conversation with someone or while in deep focus. My mind will be off doing something and then suddenly I hear words coming out of my mouth pulling me back down to earth. If immediately after it happens I scan my brain for what I was thinking about I can locate a specific thought that triggered it. If I don’t do that the thought is gone. The thought is always something anxiety provoking. Saying the words serves the function of forcing an unpleasant thought out of my mind.

I imagine it works by taking advantage of the limited capacity of working memory. By throwing a distraction at me older items get pushed out of working memory and forgotten.

The thoughts are always more minor anxieties. It doesn’t happen for bigger stressors.

Around a month ago I decided to keep count how often it happened. Therapists kept asking the number and I had difficulty answering. Unfortunately the act of counting manipulated how it presented. Knowing I was counting made it happen less so I didn’t get an accurate number. I became better able to stop it while I was keeping count. I noticed my body often tenses in specific ways right before it happens. With that warning I could hold my jaw shut to stop the words.

My body is tricky and wouldn’t accept that. The ways my muscles tensed before the words broke free from the speech. They started happening independent of words and became more exaggerated.

One day I noticed that everything was uncomfortably quiet. And realized it was because I wasn’t talking to myself as much. I realized that the words also served an additional function. I spend most of my time alone and they break up the quietness.

I decided to stop counting and things went mostly back to normal. The muscles tensing are still happening independent of the words sometimes, but I guess this isn’t so bad. Less crazy looking than talking to myself.

Whether this is OCD or a Tic disorder all depends on who the therapist I’m talking to is. Tic disorders run in my family. Some think OCD because I can, with effort, identify a specific trigger. The words are “undoing” the thought. I don’t know. It doesn’t matter too much to me though it would be nice if for a change I could have a diagnosis that could be agreed upon. Both are obsessive compulsive spectrum disorders so combined with my trichotillomania someone should invent the diagnosis “Obsessive Compulsive Spectrum Disorder NOS” for me. It’s probably already been invented I bet. Nope. I just googled it no one has. DSM-V committee members, get on that, will you?

I wonder about the relationship this has with my ADHD. It happens at times when I’m spacey. Tic disorders have high co-morbidity with ADHD. Do other people with similar problems find attention is a factor?

If anyone can recommend a good memoir about tic disorders I’d be interested in reading it. I want to read about subjective experience. I’ve read about the outward presentation in technical literature, but I’ve been unable to find much on the experience.

16 thoughts on “Talking to myself

  1. Hey – just found your blog and I like it. I loved your descriptions of the therapists that you’ve had in your life. Depressing, but made me laugh too. Sounds kind of like my son’s experiences with therapists, I think they made him more unstable than he started. I’m sorry you had such a rough time as a teenager though, that sucks. Sounds like you’re doing pretty well now, being in school and liking it.

    Anyway, I’m looking forward to reading more of your great writing!

  2. “Knowing I was counting made it happen less so I didn’t get an accurate number.”

    That is why the shrinks asked you how many times it happened. They wanted you to count because it would distract you and make it happen less. Too bad so many of them are not as interested in why we do what we do or how we feel about it.

    When I am under a lot of stress and I have to hold everything in and ‘act normal’, I get sinus congestion and inflammation and then the facial tics start. It’s usually eyes and cheeks. I had it really bad once. The nerve under my eye on the left side of my face would start twitching and it was causing a muscle spasm that pulled my face into a grimace on that side. I was very embarrassed about it and I felt really bad. When I went in to see my therapist, I mentioned it because I would have been mortified if he had noticed it. I absolutely hate it when I can see people staring at it when it happens. I figured if I just gave it a brief mention, he might have the decency not to stare if it started happening in his office. When I mentioned it, he said, “Are you going to give me a show?” I felt ridiculed. When I finally asked him about it one day, he gave an dumb explanation about how if a person ‘tries’ to make something happen (like a twitch or a panic attack), that it will not happen. That did not work for me that day. All it did was make me smile when I felt it coming on. (Smiling controls the muscle so the the nerve can’t make it spasm.) So basically I smiled like an idiot even though I did not have the emotion that would go with a smile. I chose to be fake rather than be ridiculed for something that was not my fault.

    • Wow that’s awful.
      I’m lucky that it just would never happen to me in therapy. Not through any effort of mine, it just doesn’t happen in that type of situation because I’m too engaged in what is going on for it to. Only when I’m more spacey.

      As far as keeping count. When I count how often I self injure I tend to increase how much I do it. So it varies based on what it being counted. Once someone asked me to count every single strand of hair I pulled out for my trichotillomania. No way that’ll ever happen. I’d be counting forever.

  3. Your blog really reminds me of how my thought processes changed while I was seeing a therapist. I really started overthinking and pathologizing minor things. While the sentiment in I’m going to kill you (me) might be something to worry about, I think it’s not uncommon for people to have “outbursts” like this. I’ve found it’s happening a lot more now that I’m living totally alone, and it’s leaking into public.

    Same goes for generalized questions…I think it’s more about responding analytically than emotionally, the need to be accurate, and the arbitrariness of most questions. (What was your favorite thing yesterday–who thinks about their life like that? Who cares? What’s your favorite type of movie–the good (entertaining, though-provoking) kind. The majority fall into every category except horror, but sometimes I can tolerate minor gore too.)

    Looking for cues in the room–this seems the most natural thing in the world to me. I do it so much it’s more limiting than useful.

    Hell, I have even “heard” voices (not in the classical sense…it was more I was aware of background conversations in my mind that I was not consciously party to…that would cease as soon as I started listening) but my therapist said it was okay since I was totally aware it was all inside my head and they weren’t threatening or issuing commands. It never even bothered me until therapy started making me navel gaze and convince myself I was crazy (all it was was adjustment disorder and depression!).

  4. I read your description about repeat whispering as in talking to yourself and it felt as though it was me writing it because your symptoms are identical to mine. Thank you so much at least I know there are others like me. Maria

  5. you can have OCD -and- tourette’s you know? The difference would be if you were saying them consciously or not. Although with your eye cramping you should see an MD doctor- people that have tourette’s can often “store them up” and then let out with them later. In addition, you can be anxiety disorder NOS

  6. There is a music artist out called Jamie Grace. She has tourette’s, ADHD, OCD, anxiety. They all seem to be correlated/co-morbid (? not sure if that’s the right word). She has youtube videos explaining it.

  7. Hi,
    I get exactly the same ‘tic’ or whatever it would be called – the saying things like ‘i’m gonna kill you’ and things of a similar nature. Sometimes I even repeat ‘die’ to myself over and over until I become conscious of it. It’s incredibly odd and I also find it happens only when my mind is wandering and often find it happens when an anxious thought pops into my head e.g. a memory of an embarrassing situation. As well as this this I have physical movements which I do – these really makes me sound mad – I hold my hands up to my chest in a claw like position and make animalistic noises sometimes, I find this strangely comforting or at least helps express a pent up feeling. Of course these aren’t conscious, they just sort of happen and can make me look a little weird! I wondered if you ever did anything similar?
    I’d always thought of these habits as similar to a tic but the words for some reason seem to be incredibly violent towards myself and I don’t really understand why. I have been diagnosed with depression and know I have a negative streak to me but often these words come out without me actually meaning it, they have almost become ritual or necessity. I had OCD tendencies when I was younger however intervention prevented it from fully developing, but I imagine this could be related to it.
    Anyway, I just felt compelled to write saying, I get where you’re coming from!

  8. Your description of your symptoms here…

    “involuntary repeat words and phrases”
    “often come out in third person”
    “some level of subconscious control”
    “ability to cut word short or manipulate intended phrase”
    “changes depending on social situation”
    “only happens when not concentrating”
    “body tenses in specific ways”
    “spend a lot of time alone”
    “relationship with ADHD”

    I have the EXACT same issues and have never been able to figure it out!!! The phrases change from time to time, but they are always very simple, short sentences or sentence fragments. They are out of context and I don’t really mean them. I say my own name a lot.. like a freaking parrot. “Erin is stupid!” “Nobody likes Erin.” Sometimes I say scary things like I want to kill myself, die, stab myself… Most often though, it’s just “No!” Sometimes they come out just once, but often I’ll repeat the same phrase several times in a row. Sometimes it’s just one word from my brain’s favorite hateful phrase at the time. When I’m out in public, rather than speak I’ll suddenly notice I’m clenching my fists (and maybe destroyed the thing I was holding). It happens most at night before I go to bed, and when I’m alone doing mindless chores.

    It’s truly maddening because while I’ve tried to explain it to my boyfriend, it’s hard for him to believe it’s not purposeful on some level. I can’t blame him. He does try to be supportive, but it’s a frustrating thing. I’ve looked into OCD, bipolar, dissociate disorder, tics, asperger’s, panic attacks… but none of those talk about this specific involuntary speaking issue. We’re real, medical community! Help us please!

    I’m wondering if there is some shared link between us. For anyone else reading this with the same problems, I have a history of mental and emotional health issues. Maybe a few will sound familiar?

    Emotionally Distant Family – I come from a very emotional distant family. We don’t hug or say I love you. We barely know each other and feel awkward even around each other.

    Asperger’s – My sister was diagnosed with Asperger’s and though I was never evaluated professionally for the condition, I share many of her symptoms and score as borderline asperger’s in online tests.

    Gifted ADHDer/ ODDer- I was an unusual child with a natural ability for language (won awards for my writing, gave serveral speeches for the school…) but was diagnosed with ADHD in 3rd grade. Doctors suggested I had ODD (oppositional defiant disorder) as well.

    Depression – In 6th grade, I was diagnosed with depression after I tried to overdose on sleeping pills.

    Emotional Abuse – I had a baby when I was 15, which I kept, but caused my already troubled relationship with my parents to become worse. My father was frightening to me and my friends, would say abusive things me and would call me a variety of things that mean slut (though I stayed with the baby’s father and had only ever had sex with him). He also refused to acknowledge my daughter.

    Drug Use – I began abusing dissociative drugs the one night a week where my daughter’s father would take her overnight. I started cutting myself, starving myself, and was generally quite abusive toward myself. But at the same time, I was absolutely fearless. What’s the worse that could happen? Death? Dying wasn’t something I worried about. After one year of doing the drugs, I stopped, but because of the nature of the drugs, the effects lingered. I’d have flashback, and delusions I was being controlled or that I had actually died. I went to a psychiatrist just once about these and asked him how long he thought they would continue. He asked me how long I had been doing it and when I told him he answered “six months.”

    Abandonment Trauma – I have lost several friends since then – two that I felt I had to distance myself from, two that felt they had to distance themselves from me. I also stopped speaking to my father and his entire side of the family.

    Social Anxiety – I now have pretty severe social anxiety. I will go out of my way to avoid social contact. I will sometimes leave my desk only once during an entire work day.

  9. I sincerly feel all of your struggles. I myself have been dealing with the same bizarre symptoms for the past seven years. Ironcally they did not start until I went to therapy for help with emotional issues. I have vocal utterances. All of them are negative. All of them are abusive.”I hate you” “I’ll kill you” and they get much more graphic. All of them are involuntary. After seeng many professionals I have been diagnosed with conversion disorder which is a dissociation disorder. I am dealing with child related trauma. I do not know if any of you are, but I am told my symptoms are a result of such unresolved trauma and inner conflict. I too have involuntary movements that are very extreme. The vocalizations are less present when i am engaged. But at times have a mind of their own. If the time is not right for the vocalizations to come out then I will just have involuntary movements to make up for the lack of words.
    It is very exhausting and irritating. But I am told that there is a part or parts of me trying to communicate. Yes I hear voices in my head as well. That is also dissociation. Very confusing ,very complicated. I had to accept the childhood trauma, which is confusing and complicated.

    I felt obligated to share for I thought I was the only one dealing with such an ordeal. Stay strong.


  10. Ok….this is odd.
    I do the same thing for the past 7 to 8 years.
    Usually brought on by a thought that triggers the most mundane feeling of anxiety.
    And sometimes for no reason at all.
    My phrases are in order of most spoken involentarly:
    “Kill them all”
    “Im on fire”
    “Kill all of them”
    Now…here’s the odd thing. Im. Nonviolent.
    I rescue animals, Im kind to others and don’t watch horror films.
    I had a loving family. I don’t see a psychologist. Don’t have any disorder such as add or anything of that nature. I have no childhood trauma.
    But EVERYTHING you described is me to a T.
    What the hell?
    Its embarrasses me when I am out in public and I want to get help because I have worked from home the past 5 years because I am afraid I will blurt out some crazy nonsense and scare people when my spirit and mind couldn’t be more empathetic and caring.
    What the hell is happening to us?

    Question. ..I am an atheist and former Christian. Could this be some kind of low level form of possessmean.Not by demons per say but by…something else.

    Me and my wife saw a black triangle “Ufo” on 3 occasions over the past 4 years but the things inside were not aliens…more like animal things. I don’t know what the hell is going on but I want to stop saying involuntary things that I don’t mean.

    I will research more because I believe the medical field will just throw drugs at us and see what works and that can be dangerous taking different cocktails of pharmaceuticals every few months. I had a friend die from it so my distrust of the mental medical community is pretty high.
    I hope you find peace from this “condition” and everyone who is reading this that goes through the same thing as well…


  11. Hey. My name is Toni. I was just searching around on the internet and I tried commenting on one of your earlier posts but I’m not entirely sure it went through. When I was eight, I was diagnosed with Tourettes. At that time, I would make involuntary facial movements, I would tense my neck and turn it slightly to the side. I would grunt and make physical noises (although never words). My hands would tense up and I would make my fingers flex in different directions. And the worst of all is that I would actually put pressure in my stomach by flexing so that my breathing would stop and all the blood rushed to my head. After nearly 11 years of coping with the disorder, it has become easier; I can usually restrain the urge but there are times that I don’t realize it happens, mainly with forceful blinking (I know because if I see footage of myself, I can see that I blink often and for longer than usual). It’s hard because no matter what, I’m never able to fully control it. The worst part is is that whenever the subject comes up in class or even just a social setting, if I am exposed to or hear a specific tic, sometimes my body and mind will pick up on it and for a while I have to deal with managing the new tic, but eventually it does go away. In about 7th grade, I liked this boy, and he ended up confessing about his self harm. I was depressed and diagnosed with a multitude of different disorders all ranging from OCD to severe depression, to ADHD, to bipolar disorder, anxiety, anger, you name it. And I decided to see what was so appealing about it. I eventually got to the point that I went to look in my mom’s nurses bin and I found surgical type blades that she had, and so I stole them They were my favorite. It eventually got so bad that I would use anything from a pencil to a thumbtack to (my other favorite), a paperclip. It took nearly 4 years for me to stop, but I still slip up every now and again, and now it’s not even because I’m super depressed or any of the normal triggers, its because there is something calming about watching the body heal and seeing the changes it goes through. But even then, there are still times that I do it just because, no real reason. In about 10th grade, I ended up developing an eating disorder, dropping nearly 30 pounds in a matter of months, then after about a year and a half, it progressed to binge eating and on and off bulimia. It was never fun. I was always too afraid to talk to therapists and in the past, they never really did anything to help me anyway. Reading your story really made me feel understood and connected, in a way that I don’t normally feel with people who self harm. For the most part, I simply know that they do it. But with you, I understand more and I can see a story, and it makes me feel like I’m not alone. Everyone says that you’re not alone, but it wasn’t until this blog that I really felt it. I’m in my freshman year at college, and even managed to get a scholarship. But I’m starting to become suicidal again and I’m catching myself slowly starting to fall into the ED patterns. Your story honestly did inspire me to try to work on myself. I know people say that often, but I really mean it. Hearing your story spoke to me and I am more determined to get better, so thank you. I wish you the best of luck in life and in everything you do.

  12. Are you me? I found this from a google search because I suffer from the involuntary phrase repetition in the exact way you describe. Down to the detail of what causes them to their purpose in kind of bringing my awareness back to the present and outside of the anxiety/thought spiral I would be going down. I know this post is from 8 years ago but I’d love to talk with you and share our experiences if you’re open to it. I felt so relieved reading a post from a real person experiencing the same problem, hope you know you’re not alone.


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