OCD is usually recognized as a common adjective for organized people, and falsely so. The beast that is OCD isn’t simply a motivator to be organized or routine-based; it’s an insanely frustrating mind game that feeds off anxiety and spits out irrational behavior.
The Mayo Clinic defines OCD well: “Obsessive-compulsive disorder is characterized by unreasonable thoughts and fears (obsessions) that lead you to do repetitive behaviors (compulsions).” College is the perfect place for it to grow in predisposed students, whether or not they’ve shown previous symptoms. One in 40 adults has OCD, each with individualized symptoms; for some, unwanted thoughts may be most burdensome, for others the need to repeat certain actions and routines can override daily function. Some people experience a terrible overlap of both.
The worst part? It targets the things most important to you. Whether that’s the safety of your family, your personal health, an intimate relationship or the outcome of a test, OCD corners your mind into a high-stress, self-sabotaging spiral. For some, the motivation is simply to make something feel “just right.” Not performing a stress-relieving routine can leave your mind spinning in perceptively serious terror for hours on end, and unwanted thoughts can insert themselves at any given moment — even the most pleasant of times.
OCD traps people in their own mind, making them feel crazy and often ashamed of their deceptively real worries. The onset of living independently with an overwhelming number of new obligations at college can spur OCD in predisposed students with no prior symptoms or enhance previous sufferers’ experiences. There’s even such a monster as rOCD — relationship OCD — that festers when you know you love someone. It causes you to question yourself, your partner or the relationship for no valid reason.
The cycle of OCD is painful and it’s one that often goes undiscussed.
Personally, I’ve been dealing with OCD as long as I can remember. As a kid, I was taken to a therapist because I couldn’t stop myself from thinking horrible thoughts and visualizing painful images. I’d spend nights pinching my arm or leg because I’d told myself to. I’d have to skip certain stairs in my house and flicker the lights four times to believe my family was safe. Any violation of these routines left me nauseous, shaky and terrified that I was at fault for an impending tragedy.
As I grew older, I was able to abandon some of these routines — only because they were replaced by additional fears. I had to tie my running spikes six times before a race or I’d be sure to do poorly, I had to take seven steps from the kitchen to the stairs or else I’d suffer from bad karma, I had to make sure to avoid words with the dreaded letters ‘y’ and ‘z’ as much as possible because those letters were at the end of the alphabet and clearly must have been put at the end for a reason. Yes, these were really my thoughts. I’d spent minutes repeating or correcting my actions and my fear for the undesired outcome had faded.
Relationship OCD even found me in college. I quickly met the man of my dreams upon arriving to the University of Notre Dame, a miraculous event I thank God for every day. I knew I truly loved him right away, and I couldn’t imagine myself being happier.
After a few months of dating, I started getting irrationally worried. He would say hello to a girl friend of his and I’d analyze his tone and body language after the interaction until I was convinced he liked her and then approach him out of fear of him leaving me. I would feed off past things he had said and spin them in my mind until I had to ask him what he meant and why he said it and make sure there was no threat to the relationship. I’d become worried to the point of nausea and lost sleep over these tic-tac sized issues.
Not until a few weeks ago, after a year of dating, did I hit my wall and decide to Google ‘OCD and relationships,’ discovering that what I was putting myself through was simply an evolution of my childhood struggle. In rOCD, when you know you love someone, you begin to question things that aren’t real in order to protect you from your biggest fear — losing them. Knowing this, I could explain to my boyfriend why I’d conjured nonexistent worries and, being the most amazing man in the world, he actually understood.
After researching this puzzling disorder, speaking to other students and listening to advice from professional sources, I feel extremely relieved that I’m not alone in my struggle. I remember telling my roommate after a particularly stressful day that I was so frustrated by “the way my mind worked,” and I felt even more frustrated that I couldn’t explain myself to her without coming off insane.
But OCD isn’t insanity; it’s a neurobiological disorder influenced by genetic and environmental factors. In 2008, researchers at the University of Cambridge discovered reduced activity in regions of the brain designated to stopping habitual behavior in people with OCD and their close relatives. Several other studies have produced similar results. MRI’s and PET scans on OCD brains demonstrate hyperactivity and under-activity in regions of the brain that aren’t found in a normal scan. The proof is there — the difficulty lies in the personal recognition and acceptance of the disorder.
For those struggling or think they may be struggling with OCD, rest assured that you are not crazy and you are not alone. It’s a frustrating disorder that lies in your frontal lobes and raises irrational, emotional turmoil around you. Take a breath and don’t be afraid to contact your university health center or other local center, depending on the quality of your on-campus services. Treatment doesn’t usually require medication and significant progress or a cure can be seen within a few months of proper cognitive behavior therapy. Most importantly, remember that you aren’t crazy.
For more information, background and a source to contact: http://beyondocd.org/information-for-college-students/
Search for a therapist in your area: http://treatment.adaa.org/