One student's anonymous take on living with OCD whilst in University.
Halfway through my first year of university, I was diagnosed with OCD. I had previously been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, and had been treated with a course of CBT - cognitive behaviour therapy - but my anxiety had returned with a vengeance, and had slowly, and then very quickly, progressed into OCD.
For those who do not know, OCD, or Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, is a mental illness which affects the way you think, and subsequently, the way you behave. It starts with an obsessive thought, which is so overpowering and so real that it causes you to behave in unusual and irrational ways. For some, this manifests with an obsession with cleanliness, or fear of contamination and germs. For others, it can be a compulsion to engage in repetitive behaviours and actions.
For myself, it was characterised by horrible intrusive thoughts which I could only find relief from by indulging in irrational tasks and superstitious beliefs. If I saw a magpie, I had to salute it, or it meant my family would die. If someone said the phrase ‘touch wood’, I would immediately have to touch the nearest piece of wood or something bad would happen, no matter how trivial the comment made had been.
On bad days it even went beyond this. Sometimes I couldn’t bring myself to go to uni, and would miss lectures because I was so afraid that whilst I was out someone would break into my accommodation and rob me, or even murder my flatmates. The times that I did make it to lectures, I would often be late, having spent 20 minutes checking and re-checking that my door was locked, that the oven wasn’t left on, that a tap wasn’t still running - intrusive thoughts about a fire or flood were one of my most common obsessions. There were even times when I would shower in my underwear, huddled against the wall to hide myself from a non-existent camera which I was sure someone had installed in my bathroom whilst I wasn’t there to spy on me and film me naked. Sounds crazy, right?
The horrible part was that I knew that these thoughts were irrational, but I still couldn’t shake them. My intrusive thoughts had a hold of me, and dictated every part of my life. I guess the point in me writing this though is to say that it does get better, no matter how bleak it appears. Before I went to the GP and got diagnosed, I was at one of the lowest points in my life. But going to a professional and being told that I wasn’t crazy, that my thoughts didn’t make me a bad person, was such a huge relief. Putting a name to what was going on in my head- OCD- made it so much easier to tackle.
My intrusive thoughts had a hold of me, and dictated every part of my life.
How did things get better?
Things got even easier when I started seeking proper treatment. I was fortunate enough to only have to wait 2 months before I could start a course of CBT specifically designed for treating OCD- Exposure Response Prevention Therapy- thanks to the Organisation ‘Mind’ which is partnered with the University. It taught me how to tackle my compulsive behaviours one by one, and gave me the skills to help myself should any new ones appear. It was a great way to deal with my OCD during my studies, as it only required one hour a week for the duration of 12 weeks and so wasn’t incredibly time consuming or a huge commitment. I was able to fit it in after my lectures, and even continue into exam period and over the summer.
I also began taking medication which I was told should help me become more receptive to the therapy and minimise the symptoms of my condition. There is such a dangerous stigma around taking medication for mental health, which can seriously hinder people from getting the treatment they need. Medication does not make you weak, nor does it mean you are crazy. It just means you need a little help. Taking this did not hinder my performance in university, and whilst I am by no means an indicator of how another person will react to medication, for me, it made dealing with my condition whilst dealing with university all the more bearable.
I am aware that there is an irony in claiming that I am not ashamed of my OCD, and writing this article anonymously. In truth, it is because not many people know about it. Other than my parents, only 3 other people know- 2 of them my flatmates and the other person my coursemate. But that’s enough for me, I get all the support I need. My parents were incredibly kind when I told them about my diagnosis, and were so supportive when it came to encouraging me throughout my therapy. And my friends are understanding, and don’t make me feel crazy for having to check if the oven is off three times before going to bed.
It also got better when I came to university. My personal tutor understood how it could affect my attendance and ability to do my assignments, and by simply acknowledging that I may struggle but that I could still achieve what I wanted, I was feeling so much better.
Support is out there. Speak to your personal tutor, see a GP, attend positivity sessions like the ones held by the ‘Peace of Mind Society’, talk to your friends - realise that you will be okay. Whilst I’m not saying they’ll ‘cure’ you, they’ll definitely help. I’ve been told that I’ll probably have OCD for the rest of my life, but at least during my time at uni, I don’t have to struggle alone.
Featured Image / Unsplash - Luis Tosta
How do you combat any intrusive thoughts that come with OCD? Comment below or get in touch!