By Thomas Duliban
This story is part of our blog series called “Stories from the OCD Community.” Stories from the community are submitted and edited by Toni Palombi. If you are interested in sharing your story you can view submission details at www.iocdf.org/ocd-stories.
Four years ago, before I started college, I spent the summer traveling around Poland to visit family and friends. While it was a great summer, I was looking forward to school. But on the night before starting college, I was engulfed with intense anxiety; I began crying. Out of nowhere, I became obsessed with my past, ruminating on all my past mistakes. Specifically, I thought about videos I had posted on the internet as a child. I became obsessed with finding any evidence that I had made those videos, as I was embarrassed by them. I began performing rituals. My brain was telling me to do ‘research’ or else. For the next few months, I spent hours each day searching the internet whenever I had access to a computer or a smartphone.
While I should have been excited about starting college, I was instead preoccupied with fighting the urge to check the internet. I wore a smile in class, trying to suppress the anxiety that was interfering with my well-being. I had no idea what I was suffering from or where to go to get help.
Eventually, I spoke to my great-aunt about my experiences. I then visited my family doctor and my college counsellor who recommended a treatment center; it was there that I was diagnosed with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) by a therapist and bipolar disorder by a psychiatrist. It took about 10 months to gain control over my symptoms; this period was very intense. A combination of therapy to treat the OCD and medication for my bipolar disorder helped me gain control over the OCD.
College was supposed to be the place for me to discover myself; it also turned out to be the place where I discovered my mental disorders.
Four years later, my obsession with my past faded. I am now a senior in college, with an associate’s degree under my belt. During my time in college, I’ve participated in two honors programs. I’ve held numerous leadership positions. I’ve become vocal about my disabilities, sharing my struggles as a student speaker. And more importantly, I’ve created a support system along the way which helps me navigate through my disorders. If you were to tell my eighteen-year old self that he would be able to succeed, he wouldn’t have believe it. If anything, he would have believed that his future would be fixated on suffering from rituals. But that is not the case. Through treatment, I have been able to move forward in my life.
While my compulsions to check the internet have faded, I am always confronted with new obsessions and compulsions. Now that I know I have OCD, I tackle my rituals through therapy, medication, and support from my family and friends.
Below are four strategies that have helped me deal with OCD as a student.
1. Finding someone to talk to. The first big step for me was telling someone what was going on. The first person I told was my great-aunt and this felt like an enormous relief. Later, I spoke with a counsellor. Despite how illogical and obscure my rituals are, I need to be honest with at least one person about them.
2. Keeping my mind occupied: being active. Keeping busy is an important way to prolong the rituals and hence reduce their intensity. I have found that prolonging rituals by engaging in positive activities, such as being involved with activities on campus, has been effective. Being active not only helps me use my time and energy more constructively, but it also reminds me that I am capable of functioning in society despite my OCD.
3. No self-medicating. In college it’s very tempting to medicate with alcohol and other drugs. But it is important to be careful. I have found that while alcohol reduces my anxiety in the short term, it always returns, and sometimes with greater intensity. It is important to seek medical advice and receive appropriate treatment. For me, the medication I use to treat my bipolar disorder helps reduce the intensity of my OCD-related anxiety.
4. Going out and living. Home is where I am most tempted to fall into performing rituals. In order to fight my urges, I go out. It is nerve-wracking to not be able to perform a ritual, but I have to break the rules: I have to resist and go out and live my life. As Charles Bukowski put it: “Your life is your life.” I cannot be a slave to my rituals; I must take control of my life and live.
While studying abroad in Japan, a young monk taught me the Japanese word for tomorrow: ashita. He explained that it translates into ‘bright day.’ On days when my checking is out of control, I always keep this word in mind to remind me that tomorrow will always be a bright day.
Thomas Duliban is 22 years old and is a senior philosophy major at Temple University.