It’s no big secret that the first year or two of college is difficult for many people.
Mental health issues often manifest – or grow worse – because of stress and a lack of stability. Leaving home for the first time can be scary, and figuring out how to live as an adult with a myriad of responsibilities is difficult.
My first semester of college started off great, and the freedom was exhilarating. I was one of those high schoolers who couldn’t wait to move out, and I was excited to be on my own. The first few months were mostly fun, as classes were easy and everything was new and fun.
Slowly, however, being far from family and not having many friends combined with all my new responsibilities made life hard. By the second semester, I started struggling with depression and OCD symptoms. I had struggled with anxiety throughout my teen years, but it wasn’t too serious up until this point.
Thanks to the media, there are many myths about OCD. I believed some of those myths, too. I imagined repetitive hand-washing and other behaviors centered around cleanliness. I also had the misconception that being very uptight about cleanliness or tidiness was equivalent to having OCD.
While for some people these kinds of behaviors do show up, for other people like me, avoidant behaviors are also common. I found myself not being able to leave the house as I wanted to avoid anything that would trigger my obsessive thoughts.
My thoughts centered around religious fears and worries that I would end up harming another person. I worried I would lose control of myself, and I spent hours studying up on my religion and hyper-focusing. This type of OCD is known as scrupulosity and is not uncommon. I thought I was losing my mind.
I worried that I was a horrible person because no matter what I did I couldn’t stop these intrusive thoughts. I thought I was defective and didn’t realize this is a mental health condition that many people experience.
I had always been a devout student, and I was dedicated to getting straight A’s. But as my mental health deteriorated, I could barely get out of bed in the morning. I skipped multiple classes a week, and my grades began to drop. This was devastating for me, but I was unable to function no matter how hard I tried.
My social life was also impacted.
I had moved to college knowing few people in the area, and, while I had started to make new friends the first semester, my depression and anxiety kept me in my tiny dorm room day in and out. I wasn’t meeting any new people, and this might me feel even more down about myself as I felt like I had no one in the area that was there for me.
Obsessive-compulsive disorder is a two-fold situation where you have obsessive thoughts combined with a compulsive behavior that you perform to try and stop those thoughts. I had always known about the behavioral part, the hand-washing thing people always think of, but never known how the intrusive thoughts played in.
Now, I was never diagnosed with OCD, but I have been diagnosed with OCD tendencies after the severity of my symptoms subsided.
The merits of being officially diagnosed can be debated, but I will just leave it there for now.
Finally, after a few months of torture and many days of feeling suicidal, I reached out for help.
I was put on an SSRI for the first time and noticed a difference in just a couple of weeks. I know I was lucky in this regard as sometimes finding a medication that works can be a much longer process, but for me, these medications saved my life and allowed me to continue on with college. I was able to focus on my classes again and salvage my grades for the most part.
Getting medical help got me back on the path I wanted to be on, and I know I couldn’t have done so without medication.
There is no shame in getting medical help.
For me, learning about the nature of OCD, helped me heal, too. If you are struggling with intrusive thoughts avoidant or compulsive behaviors, there are options available to help you. If I had known what intrusive, obsessive thoughts were and how they work, I would have been able to get help a lot sooner.