OCD at School
If you are away at school, you may be experiencing more stress than you did before. This is not unusual in new situations. Although your family might be used to your OC behaviors, you might find yourself hiding, or trying to hide, them from roommates and new friends, classmates, acquaintances, and teachers. Performing your OC “rituals” and trying to keep friends and others from finding out about them, can be exhausting. (Never mind that, at the same time, you also need to study, read, write papers, and take tests!)
In addition, you may feel homesickness or have difficulty getting used to new, strange surroundings and new people. If you have other pressures, such as family problems, for example, or social phobias or roommate difficulties, it should not surprise you if your stress level soars.
Ways to Cope
If you find that your OC symptoms are affecting your schoolwork — let's say, you're turning in papers late because of the amount of time you spend rechecking your work — you might want to employ a couple of strategies.
First, of course, you'll probably want to get treatment for your symptoms so that you can continue your schoolwork and, beyond that, your life, without all of these difficulties. Many, if not most, schools offer psychological counseling services. Do not hesitate to look into these.
If your school does not offer a counselor versed in CBT, or if you fear other students finding out that you are seeing a counselor, you may be able to explore other arrangements. (However, we don't think that getting the help you need should be any cause for embarrassment; colleges offer counseling for a reason.)
Depending on your family situation, it might not be a bad idea to talk with your parents and perhaps ask for their help in finding a good cognitive behavioral therapist.
Reducing your overall anxiety can help you better manage your OCD symptoms. When you're calmer to begin with, you'll be that much farther from extreme anxiety. Think of it as the difference between getting bad news after a relaxing vacation versus during your most stressful day at work.
Depending on your situation, you may be covered by insurance, either under your parents' plan, or by insurance purchased through your school. (Be sure to ask; it's possible that this information “fell through the cracks” while you were applying to and getting ready to attend college.)
Medication is another option you may wish to explore; again, see someone at your college counseling center for help with this decision. The folks there will either be able to prescribe for you, or refer you to a local psychiatrist or psycho-pharmacologist.
You might also need to talk with your teachers or administrators to let them know you are doing the work (assuming, of course, that you are). You may decide to work out some kind of arrangement — an understanding, for instance, that the teacher does not expect perfect papers. Some instructors will probably be sympathetic and informed; others undoubtedly won't be. In any case, it will be helpful to reduce your symptoms early, to keep them from holding you back from achieving your life and career goals.
Talking to Friends
If you're living on campus, you may find that friendships often form (and sometimes end) very quickly. When it comes to confiding in your new friends, you might want to keep a few basic things in mind:
Many people today know a lot — but not quite enough — about OCD. Stereotypes about the disorder persist. Try not to feel hurt if you hear joking remarks about OCD that do not involve you specifically. (“After picking up that filthy stray cat, I washed my hands like I had OCD!”) It is natural for people to joke about topics that they don't necessarily understand well.
If you explain matter-of-factly that you have OCD, a largely neurological condition that sometimes makes you worry too much or do things that can look strange to others, your friends may well understand. They might have questions for you. This is natural, too. At the back of this book is a list of resources you might want to offer those who express interest. (Learning more about the condition yourself may also help you when it comes to managing it.)
If your OCD symptoms are not a big deal but perhaps were more troubling in the past, you can talk about that. If you find, unfortunately, OCD has become a permanent unwanted misery that seems to rule every aspect of your life, you may want to talk about
that. Be honest, of course, but share only what you're comfortable sharing.
Well-meaning people might harangue you about the importance of not letting fear run your life. It might make you angry to hear such things (“Say! There's an idea! Why didn't I think of that?”), but try your best to let it go. Tell the person you appreciate that he cared enough to share his thoughts with you.
If you should find your friends unsympathetic, you might want to look into forming new friendships. Extracurricular activities are a great way to meet other people outside of class and dorm situations. Don't neglect to look for nearby or online OCD support groups, either. You could even be lucky enough to find one on campus, or you might want to consider forming your own, perhaps with assistance from the counseling center staff.