By Paul Robert Pasalowicz
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.
College is a swimming pool of deadlines, targets, expectations, and stress for everyone that chooses to go through the process. With obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), these stressors can cause a world of suffering. College was completely and utterly overwhelming for me at first; my OCD flared up terribly. However, this flare up at the beginning of the most important stage of my life taught me to approach the situation in the exact opposite way I previously thought to, which was by letting go and embracing uncertainty. As a result, I changed the way I handled problems and managed my health, and began to excel in class.
This is what I learned about navigating the college experience:
Mental health comes first: Before all scholarly activities, you should set a strict self-care/mental health plan. While everyone’s plan will be different, you need to make sure that you come before any deadline, target, or grade. Good action plan examples could include regularly meeting with a psychologist/psychiatrist, or working out every day before class to decrease your anxiety levels. Most colleges offer student counseling which is a great resource to turn to in times of distress. If you feel like you’re suffering at all in college take a step back and redevelop your OCD action plan. When you take care of your mind first, the rest of your academic career will be much easier to manage.
Identify your passion: The topics of majors, minors, and careers are gold for the OCD monster. It is important to keep your path very simple: study and follow what attracts you; in my experience, you can never go wrong with this strategy. College is about you, not your parents, grandparents or anyone else. If you take the time to understand yourself, your passions, your values, and your goals, college can bring you great success. If we are pursuing something we are interested in, and striving to learn each day, what more can we do?
GPA/career track insights: The grade point average (GPA) you maintain can set you apart from the pack in college, and it is a very healthy target to worry about in moderation. If you’re not feeling engaged in your courses, or you’re trying but are unable to maintain a satisfactory GPA, you may want to consider a different track. When I was struggling, being proactive and talking with advisors about my interests of study right away helped me to choose a new field of study in which I could excel. Colleges offer majors and courses for people with different types of skills, talents, and interests. Once I was engaged in learning about a specific topic that interested me, obsessions about deadlines, targets, grades, and expectations fell by the wayside, because I was passionate and focused on my work. Remember: college is simply a personal learning experience about what you are interested in, so you can develop the tools to pursue those interests in the world.
Let go and dance with uncertainty: In my opinion, this is the key to excelling in college for students living with OCD. Many outcomes that occur in life are out of our control. Striving to learn what attracts you can be stressful, but it can also lead you towards discovering your passion. Enjoy the ride!
Paul Robert Prasalowicz is a student at Temple University