Big Issues

How My OCD Almost Stopped Me From Finishing My Degree

We all get to that point in the semester where the word ‘uni’ is often associated with stress and anxiety. I can’t even begin to tell you how much these feelings are amplified when simultaneously dealing with a mental illness, especially one as debilitating as obsessive compulsive disorder.

I was diagnosed with OCD in the middle of 2017, after struggling with a lot of social-based anxiety on and off campus. More than six months onwards, I am beginning to come to terms with this disorder and ensure that it doesn’t affect my studies to the extent that it initially did. This is largely due to seeking professional help, which assisted in my understanding of the illness and the tell-tale signs that had been present for a very long time.

What Does It Mean To Have OCD?

Obsessive compulsive disorder has been described by the World Health Organisation as “an obsessive need to repeatedly do certain things” – these compulsions, of course, vary depending on what pedigree of the illness you suffer from.

I personally suffer from intrusive thoughts, which involves uncomfortable thoughts dominating your mind. These thoughts are personally taboo or distressing to the sufferer and can therefore cause an inability to stay focused and perform daily tasks without constant fear. Often with intrusive thoughts, the only way to make them stop is to engage in either a physical or mental compulsion such as tapping an object a certain number of times or repeating specific phrases in your head. This only temporarily relieves the thoughts, which often return as soon as the compulsion is carried out.

How It Changes Your Uni Experience

How My OCD Almost Stopped Me From Finishing My Degree

Before I was diagnosed, I noticed that I was really struggling to communicate with new people and experienced a drastic decrease in my self-esteem. Classes like drama, where students were expected to work together and push boundaries, shifted from something I was excited about to something I feared. Intrusive thoughts, though irrational, can build boundaries in the sense that it’s difficult to distinguish between whether your thoughts are caused by OCD or whether they are rational thoughts. Without psychological help, I felt so different from everyone else. There was no way I would ever open myself up enough to talk to my classmates and let them in.

Every morning that I attended this class I would wake up anxious, which then prompted even more intrusive thoughts. This eventually encouraged excessive binge-eating which I would engage in on campus between classes to temporarily take myself away from the consuming nature of these intrusive thoughts. What I failed to realise at the time was that I was, in fact, engaging in a compulsion which would only temporarily rid myself of the disturbing thoughts.

By the time semester two had begun, I was starting to understand that this behaviour was not normal.

Uni became the perfect way to get away with it, with an endless supply of food chains and no family on campus to regulate my behaviour. Soon it wasn’t just one class, it was all my classes that caused me anxiety. I convinced myself that I would feel better by staying home and avoiding the hustle and bustle of uni altogether. By the time semester two had begun, I was starting to understand that this behaviour was not normal. Something needed to be done.

Coming To Terms With It

My best friend knew the brief details of my daily hell and finally, after months of trying to convince me, I sought psychological help. This was not an instant fix; it was difficult and forced me to unearth the deep-seeded beliefs causing these irrational fears. But it was the best decision I have ever made.

Learning that I wasn’t crazy – that there were other people dealing with the exact same thing I was – relieved an immense burden from my subconscious. I still have days where I struggle, or where I feel too scared to talk to anyone but I attend my classes.

I push myself and I won’t stop until I’m on the other end of this degree with a graduation certificate in my hands.

If you or someone you know is struggling with a mental illness, you can find help by seeking advice from a counsellor or calling Lifeline on 13 11 14.

(Lead image: Girls/HBO)