When I started college in 2019 as a first-generation student, my OCD was undiagnosed and as untamed as a wildfire; my obsessions and compulsions were ruling my life and turning daily tasks into an invisible marathon.
A combination of shame around the content of my obsessions and a lack of health insurance kept me personally from treatment, but once I was able to access resources and get the help that I needed, I was able to enjoy life in a way that I never had before. Navigating college when you also have OCD isn’t easy, but it can be done and it is so very worth it.
If you’re struggling, here’s what I wish I’d known back then:
1. You are your own best advocate, hands down and full stop. Regardless of where you are in your journey, nothing can get better if you are not fiercely advocating for yourself at every turn. Speaking up isn’t easy, but you are worth every awkward moment and fumble, and it will get easier the more you do it. Keeping your voice matters, especially when others are added to the mix. No one knows your struggles better than you, and your perspective is valid and crucial to your wellbeing.
2. There is no shame in having OCD, regardless of the content of your thoughts and what others might say. I carried immense shame around the thoughts I was having while simultaneously knowing that I was not my thoughts. I even shied away from care for a while after I had health insurance because I was so embarrassed. OCD isn’t a reflection on who you are as a person, or even of what you’re capable of. It’s time OCD was treated like heart disease and asthma – a medical condition and not a “fault.”
3. Take advantage of school resources! Colleges have disability support offices that are there to help students thrive in school while simultaneously managing their disabilities — including psychiatric ones. Each school is different, but be prepared to provide documentation from a mental health provider and meet with a counselor to discuss the accommodations that can help you do your best. Accommodations do not mean you are less than or are getting “special treatment.” Accommodations help all students to be on equal footing with an equal opportunity to be successful, and are protected under ADA law.
4. Celebrate everything! In my opinion, college is full of victories (large and small) worthy of celebration and pride. I think this is particularly true for those of us with psychiatric disabilities, because to the outside world, we don’t look like we’re fighting a battle. We don’t look like we’re carrying an extra burden or having to work any harder. No one would guess at the invisible war we’re constantly fighting, the one that follows us from classroom to home and everywhere in between. Got an A on a paper? Celebrate! Got an A on a paper while struggling with an obsession? Celebrate even more! You deserve it.