As a student with OCD, this is what my university experience has been like

It’s changed my approach, but I’m still capable

Being diagnosed with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) fairly early in my time at secondary school was a blessing; one that many tend not to get. I was lucky that certain characteristics of my day-to-day life were recognised, but being labelled as “studious” and “focused” throughout my teenage years didn’t particularly help.

My OCD didn’t manifest itself as what most would assume. I didn’t spend hours upon hours cleaning every surface in my house, or straightening the pens on my desk. Intrusive thoughts were the biggest barriers in my life and, while it meant I aspired to have good grades and hand in my work on time, the repetition of these behaviours made me quite miserable.

Having OCD in university feels different than before

I always thought that I would be better suited to university-style work. Being able to control how I work often made me feel a lot better about doing it in the first place. For me, secondary school was plagued with obsessing over whether I had finished all the work I had to and whether it was good enough. I was always terrified at the thought of doing awful on a test or piece of homework, and just the idea of it filled me with anxiety. I feel a lot more at ease in university, with a supportive teaching staff and my due dates being the only expectation. I’m here to learn a new skill. It wouldn’t be worth going if I was already doing amazing. Lecturers are here to help, and I hardly ever feel myself obsessing over the way I’m working.

It sometimes feels like I’m missing out on the student lifestyle

Routine is also a massive part of my OCD. I feel an inherent discomfort whenever anything out of the ordinary happens, sending my mental state into disarray.

A long time ago, I had come to terms with the fact that I wouldn’t be moving out for uni. I’m lucky to live close to a brilliant university and I think the sacrifice of having to take a bus and train everyday is worth feeling comfortable. OCD is a big part of the reason I’m a homebody. I’m getting better at socialising, but home is what I’m used to and will probably always be the place I feel the most at peace. For a lot of students, staying out past midnight and living alone is a rite of passage for freshers. It’s hard to feel like you’re getting the true university experience when that type of thing isn’t comfortable to you. I’ve learned though that, even if this is the kind of life you expect from going to uni, it’s not necessary and doesn’t tend to make much of a difference.

My younger years were filled with ‘friends’ that didn’t understand why I never wanted to spend the night at their house, or come on the five day French trip. It was hard to explain the dread that filled me in those situations. The right people don’t take these things as a personal attack and you won’t, as I did, need a secret code with your mum so that she can get you out of such situations.

OCD has changed my work ethic over the years

For a long time, my fear of failure stopped me from doing any revision whatsoever. I’m lucky to have chosen a course that doesn’t have any timed exams, because I couldn’t tell you one valuable technique. Having my future rest on a single exam caused me to shut down when it came to my work. GCSEs and A-Levels are a bit of a bad memory for me, but I don’t feel the same way when it comes to university grades. Having the time to get feedback and build my coursework to my standards have alleviated my stress enormously. If I have a bad day, I simply step away from my work until I’m feeling better and more equipped to work on it. Mindset has a huge impact on me, and I’ve definitely felt a difference in myself at uni.

OCD is often treated as a throw-away word for wanting to be tidy or clean, but it’s important to recognise the vice-like grip it has on people who are diagnosed. It makes you feel out of control of your own brain and bringing yourself back to reality can seem like moving a mountain. I still have certain habits that are elements of my compulsive behaviour. I try my best, but it still hits hard sometimes, and that’s okay. There are times when the thought of something bad happening to a family member if they leave the house before I say “I love you” still crosses my mind, but I know how to deal with it. I’ve learned how to recognise a change in my mood and tell myself when my thoughts aren’t realistic. Having a brain that functions differently shouldn’t make you feel inferior to other people. Your comfort and happiness should be the focus. Finding a happy medium can be hard, but trusting yourself and your limits is the key.

Education doesn’t feel like a never-ending horror story for me now. I’m happy and confident that I’ll achieve what I want in a way that suits me. University has definitely seen me blossom into someone that isn’t held down by her mental health and I feel hopeful of the person I’m going to become.

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