When I moved away from home, to a new city, with new people I thought I was about to start one of the most exciting periods of my life. What I didn’t expect was that after four months I would be experiencing not only the high life of university but also the anxiety of OCD.
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is a mental illness that according to OCD UK affects 12 in every 1,000 people in the UK alone. This statistic may not seem that high but when you take the UK population into account that adds up to around 740,000 people suffering with this illness in the UK at any given time. What you may not have considered is that a percentage of those are part of the student community.
Being faced with the prospect of living independently is scary enough but when you combine that with the added stress of university deadlines and obsessive-compulsive tendencies it’s hard to know where to turn. As a sufferer myself I soon realized there was little recognition of a problem that spans across universities around the globe. The launch of TV series such as ‘My Mad Fat Diary’ have raised the profile of mental illness but unfortunately this hasn’t lead to universities being any more prepared than I was when I developed a mental illness. OCD sufferers often spend some of the worse times in their life at university as heightened stress and emotional responsibility make the experience of having OCD progressively more difficult. In fact these environmental factors can bring out obsessive-compulsive tendencies in people who haven’t had them before, which is what happened to me.
My symptoms began with the simple need to keep my room ordered and at first and I just put them down to my perfectionism but they soon took over my life. My boyfriend would make jokes about my behaviour: ‘Calm down and stop being so OCD’ but as my condition worsened I felt like my actions were out of my control, something I had to do, and it stopped being funny. I was scaring myself, constantly in fear I would set the house alight or leave a door unlocked putting my flatmates in danger. When I started to fear leaving my room unattended I knew I had to do something. I was quadruple checking every plug socket in my house and doubting my own memory with what seemed to be no way out. Until I spoke to someone about my experience and got help.
Coping with OCD
So what can you do about it? How exactly can you survive student life and keep hold of your sanity?
Visiting a GP is the first step in a long line that can help sufferers on the road to controlling their compulsions. Speaking to someone is often a daunting experience especially for a new sufferer who can’t understand their own behaviour but seeing or contacting a medical professional, though NHS Direct for example, allows for understanding of thoughts and behaviours. Speaking to an expert provided me with a calming affect for the panic and anxiety OCD symptoms provide and practical steps in dealing with the condition.
Simple steps that help to control the symptoms of OCD provide encouragement to sufferers and moodgym.com is a brilliant device for this. Created at the Australian National University, MoodGYM is a step-by-step program helping users to deal with some of the more emotional symptoms that accompany OCD. Recommended by doctors, MoodGYM teaches some of the principles of cognitive behavioral therapy recommended as a course of treatment for a number of mental health conditions including OCD. The site is completely free and available for everyone making it one of the easiest and most practical steps to access.
Joining support groups and counsellors in the local area is another great way to meet understanding individuals and gather extra knowledge about a specific illness. Not only does meeting like-minded people help fight the feeling of suffering alone but it allows for opportunities to learn from others experiences and gather valuable information on other steps that are available to help control some of the symptoms associated with OCD.
These aren’t all miracle cures and they won’t instantly banish obsessive thinking or compulsive actions but they are the building blocks on which I have been able to take back control of my life and finally feel like me again. Don’t get me wrong I still have days where I insist on taking photographs of every plug socket so I know they are all off and I still run back up the street to check my front door is in fact closed but with the help of these practical and simple steps I have been able to have more good days than bad and remove some of the anxiety from my life.
For more information on Obsessive Compulsive Disorder visit www.ocduk.org
Emily House is a feature Journalism student based in Bath. Follow her on Twitter here.