For most of my life I’ve repetitively done the same thing: go to school, constantly think about school, perpetually study for school. The problem is school makes my OCD much worse. Because of this and because I’m dedicated to academics, school takes up almost all of my time, making it hard to put much time toward recovering from OCD. After several weeks of thinking (and ruminating) I’ve finally made a decision. I’ve decided to take a semester off from school so I can go to an OCD treatment center and participate in more intensive treatment.
This was a difficult decision for me to make. Even though school is incredibly stressful I do really love learning. I love biology and the classes I get to take for my major. I plan to spend the rest of my life in academia so it’s hard to leave it for a short while. But I also know it will be worth it. OCD makes it very challenging to enjoy college, despite how much I love learning. OCD made college miserable and I had no time for sleep or fun, plus I felt too guilty if I wasn’t studying.
The way I see it there were too sides of a scale. On one hand I could push myself through another year of school. It would mean being incredibly stressed, barely socializing or having fun, and missing out on opportunities OCD stole from me, but I could probably get through it and get good grades. On the other hand I could take time off from school for treatment. Sure I will miss out on some opportunities while I’m gone, and yes exposures will be darn stressful, but the difference is this path ends in freedom. I admit it is scary to take time off and it does make me sad because I will miss being so immersed in learning and my field but it isn’t worth it to just “get through” another year of school. By taking time off, when I go back next semester I will finally be able to enjoy college. OCD will no longer be able to steal future opportunities from me. The freedom and relief I will get from focusing on treatment heavily outweigh the temporary sacrifices I have to make by taking one semester off.
Like most people with OCD, uncertainty is my arch nemesis. Even though I’ve finally made my decision, choosing to take time off is full of uncertainty and I do keep switching between being excited and terrified. But I have already tried to keep pushing myself through school, just one more paper, just one more exam. I was always able to get by and to still get good grades but as a long-term plan it didn’t work; I wore out and my mental health only got worse. Maybe the treatment center won’t work, but I might as well try something different! And anyway, I’m feeling pretty hopeful that it will work. I’m committing to working really hard on exposures while I’m there. Since I’m already taking the time off I might as well give it my all.
I’m looking forward to meeting more individuals with OCD and more wonderful professionals who treat OCD, and working together to face our fears. I love group therapy and support group settings so I think this will be a really good fit for me. Facing OCD on your own is challenging and it is important to build a network of support, either in person or online. I’m grateful for the opportunity to expand my network.
The way I’ve been feeling this week before I head to the treatment center reminds me of how I felt when I was first beginning ERP treatment last summer. I’m buzzing with a mix of fear, excitement, and confusion, but mostly hope. I’ve seen exposures work and I can do it again. I can’t wait until I have the time to socialize with a friend on a weeknight, the time to actually talk to my family when I go home rather than just studying, and the time to really focus on my field that I love, rather than just the worries. I’ll admit I definitely don’t win with OCD every day, most days even, and I know it won’t be a straight path to get better, but I’m motivated to continue fighting so the number of days I win keeps growing. The benefits that come with freedom sound so sweet.
Here’s to a new adventure!
P.S. Fall is my favorite season and I’m excited that I’ll be home for some of my favorite activities, like going to a pumpkin patch and carving pumpkins! I haven’t had time for these in years. Then, the even better thing is that thanks to treatment I’ll probably have the time to come home and do these activities in future years too. The rewards of doing exposures don’t seem to end.