Being a student is hard enough without having to deal with the added struggles that come with poor mental health – in my case, OCD. Looking back on my experiences, I wish that I’d have done things differently when it came to taking care of myself. However, now things are on track and I thought I’d share my story of living with OCD as an undergraduate student.
From what I remember, I began to develop signs of OCD as soon as I entered my first year of college. I had no idea what OCD was at this stage and so I just trundled along, confused and anxious, somehow able to get through another three years of education.
Things became a lot harder with the prospect of starting university just around the corner. I moved away from home, away from my friends and family, and thanks to my anxiety that tags along with OCD I started to feel lonely, scared and at a total loss. It was at this stage that my symptoms became more apparent and a family friend eventually sat me down and told me that it was possible that I had OCD. After doing some research, things suddenly became clear as I found a reason for my behaviours.
However, I still struggled – a lot – during university. I tried to seek help from my GP, but unfortunately my illness wasn’t taken seriously and I completely shut myself off. I rarely talked about my problems so even my closest friends didn’t know what was going on. I confined my OCD to the tiny little room I had in halls of residence and became fixated with my rituals. Then, slowly but surely, my anxiety grew. My thoughts became scarier, and my mind continued to believe that if I kept doing the rituals (which also got worse) then everything would be fine.
Now, having all of this going on when trying to complete my weekly seminar work, meet deadlines and have somewhat of a social life was often just too much. I was exhausted. Every assignment would result in a breakdown of tears, self-loathing, and feelings of not being able to do this (the work that is). And when I say every assignment, I do mean every…single…one. You do think that it would be easier to quit at this stage, but I needed to do this. My future career depended on it and I would not let my OCD stop me.
I suppose what I want people to take away from this brief insight into my undergraduate study is this: doing a degree is hard. Doing a degree with a mental illness feels 100x times harder. However, persevering is worth it. There will be many times when you feel so exhausted that you just want to throw in the towel and walk away, yet something keeps you going. In a way, I do think my OCD was a part of this. The fear and anxiety that accompanied the thoughts of failing was so strong that completing every assignment became a ritual in itself – and to reach the goal of finishing my degree, I felt that this was ok. I dragged myself, kicking and screaming, to the end and completed my BA with the highest award I could get. And as I did this with the added struggles of OCD, I felt proud.
However, looking back now, I do wish that I had done things differently. Yes, I got through my undergraduate degree, an MA, and now I’m dragging myself through a PhD, yet I only realise now that it didn’t need to be so difficult. There have been a lot of lows, even a lot of highs, and in my future blog posts I’ll share with you some of the deeper details of my experiences and impart some of the advice I wish I had been given at the start of my journey to recovery.