OCD at College - Campus OCD Tales

"I couldn't wait to be on my own at college—and then I was miserable. I'm so lucky to have gotten OCD treatment so I can be happy again."

OCD can complicate your life. At college, it can really get in the way of classes and studying, your social life and even living with your roommates. You want to be thinking about exams and the future -- or that cute someone who sits next to you in English Lit. But you can’t stop the constant doubts and fears that OCD puts in your brain, and it can get to the point where that’s all you think about.

Maybe you can relate to the situations described here -- some examples of how OCD can affect the college experience. Fortunately, getting the right kind of treatment (Cognitive Behavior Therapy, or CBT) can make all the difference -- and give you a roadmap to relief.

At home I had my own bathroom, but at school I had to share one with three other people. I got very upset with the thought of their germs getting on my towels and all my things. I bought bleach and spent so much time washing everything that I didn’t have time to study or have a social life, or even sleep. Finally, someone at the student health center referred me to a cognitive behavior therapist. I’m so much better now.

I used to avoid places. I couldn’t take classes in certain buildings or visit friends in certain dorms because all these fears would come over me. My world was closing in. I kept associating more and more places with what I now know are obsessions or doubts and fears. I knew it didn’t make any sense, but the anxiety was just crushing. On the outside I looked fine, but my OCD was taking over inside. Thanks to CBT, those days are over.

I kept thinking a bunch of disgusting thoughts. I didn’t want to think them, but I couldn’t help it. They scared me and I was afraid to tell anyone for a long time because I thought they’d think I was crazy. I got so afraid I would do some of the things I kept thinking about that I finally broke down and confided in a therapist at the student health center. He told me I wasn’t crazy. He said it’s a common form of OCD called “intrusive thoughts” -- and he’s actually treated others with this same disorder.

When I was in high school, my parents were there to help me check the locks at night and make sure no one was breaking in. I probably asked them if the locks were OK ten times an hour. At college I couldn’t handle it all by myself. I was terrified and didn’t have anyone to help me until I went to the counseling office and they found me a clinic where CBT was offered.

"I had to write certain words over and over again until they looked RIGHT - sometimes I erased so much that I tore holes in the blue books."

Every time I had to take an exam, it triggered this intense anxiety. I kept having to write certain words over and over again until they looked right -- sometimes I erased so much that I tore holes in the blue books. It was frustrating and embarrassing and it got to the point where I almost never finished answering the questions (essay questions were the worst). My grades nose-dived. It was such a relief to find out this problem had a name and could be treated.

I’ve always been kind of religious. Then I started getting these thoughts...bad thoughts about God and sex and violence. It was horrible, but the thoughts wouldn’t go away and kept getting worse and more often. I prayed hard and started thinking if I could say the prayers in this certain way it would make up for the bad thoughts, but if I got interrupted I had to start over again to get it in the right order. I finally confided in a friend at Campus Ministry. She told me about a kind of OCD called “Scrupulosity” and urged me to talk with someone at student health. When I finally did, I was referred to a cognitive behavior therapist in town. He worked with my religious advisor to help me through the next couple of months. Now that I’m better, my faith makes me feel good again, rather than afraid.

"How can you eat in the cafeteria when you know how dirty everything is?"

I hate germs. I tried not to think about it, but over time, it got to where I was almost paralyzed with fear of germs. I couldn’t stand it when somebody sneezed near me. I think I kept the company that makes those anti-bacterial wipes in business with all the wipes I bought. Taking the bus got to be just horrible. I had to get off and get away from all the germs, especially on the seats and door handles. And showering? That could take hours. I couldn’t use the bathroom in any of the classroom buildings. I didn’t even want to go to class anymore -- the desks were so “filthy”. And how can you eat in the cafeteria when you “know” how dirty everything is? I finally looked online for some information about fear of germs because I didn’t know anybody else who was in the anguish I was in. It sure sounded like I had OCD. My parents were very supportive and have helped me get treatment. It’s not easy, but it’s working.

I wanted a single room. When I moved in, something happened. I got scared at night and checked the door lock and the window and alarm clock over and over for hours. I got no sleep after a while. I was so thankful when morning came because I wasn’t so afraid anymore. But I was too tired to pay attention in class. I thought maybe I had ADD or insomnia. But I was diagnosed with OCD. Thanks to CBT, now I can go to bed at night and sleep. I don’t have to go into hyper-security-checking mode anymore. I waited so long to be “on my own” at college, and then I was miserable. I’m so lucky to have gotten OCD treatment so I can be happy again.

I’m a biochem major. Every time I worked in the lab I was worried (no, make that terrified) about leaving traces of chemicals around that could hurt somebody. I called the risk management office to warn them -- a lot. I know they got sick of me calling. I just wanted some reassurance that nobody was going to die because of the chemicals I might have left out. Luckily...someone there suggested I visit the counseling center. The doctor diagnosed me with OCD. Once I knew what was happening to me, I was able to get the right help.

With my parents not around to stop me, my eating and exercising got way out of line. It turns out I had both OCD and an eating disorder. Now I’m getting treatment for both.

My roommate and I didn’t get along because she was such a slob. I wanted everything to be neat and she didn’t care. At first it was just me straightening up the room a lot, but it got worse second semester. I felt like I HAD to do it -- all the time. Everything in the closet had to be arranged exactly this one way. Same for my desk, and I started rearranging her stuff on her desk. We had these screaming fights over it. Once I just blurted out what I was so terrified of -- that if it wasn’t arranged exactly like I had it, the dorm would blow up. Right then she convinced me to see a counselor and dragged me there (to the campus health center). I’m not going to say CBT is easy, but I don’t want to go back to the way I was so I’m sticking with it.

If I could give you one piece of advice, it would be to not wait if you think you have OCD. I wasted nearly a year before things got so bad I almost flunked out. It was like I was majoring in OCD instead of theater. Get into cognitive behavior therapy as soon as you can. OCD can’t go away by itself.

Before I got CBT, I was obsessed with filling in those little circles perfectly every time I took an exam. It took me forever to mark each circle. Sometimes I didn’t get beyond my name and the first few questions before time was up. I knew the material, but my OCD was making me fail my classes. My parents and professors didn’t know what was happening to me, and neither did I. I was flunking, but I’m smart. It wasn’t fair. When I finally talked to a counselor, I learned about OCD and found out there really is a treatment.

I shared an apartment with two other girls and they were OK for a while. But one of them refused to throw anything away. She kept everything. She had boxes of stuff in her bedroom and stacks of papers and magazines and junk mail. Paper bags, a broken dish, every gum wrapper. And the worst? She took stuff out of the garbage can. I caught her rinsing out those little paper containers the Chinese food is delivered in and keeping them in her closet. We were going to get mice or bugs and it was disgusting. I called a friend who told me to call the health service on campus about it. That was a good call because they thought it might be OCD and urged me to get my roommate to come by. She was real insulted when I brought it up, but she eventually agreed to talk to somebody there. Now every night she has these exposure therapy exercises to do at home, and she isn’t hoarding all that stuff anymore.

My brother was a freshman and I was a junior when he started washing his hands a lot. I didn’t even notice until I ran into him at a fraternity party and his hands were all cracked and bleeding. This was not like him at all. I talked with our Dad and he flew down to campus the next weekend to see us. My brother admitted he had a problem which we’ve learned is called “fear of contamination”. We weren’t able to get help at school, but there’s a psychologist in town who offers CBT and my brother is in treatment now. It really hurt to see my little bro so scared, but it felt good to help him get over it.

The last thing I wanted to hear was someone telling me there was something wrong with me. But there was. When I found out it was OCD at least it had a name. Then I was able to get treatment.

If you’re worried about somebody finding out you have OCD, like a company you want to work for in the future, you can relax. I found out that that it’s against the law for a college to disclose your medical history. They have to keep your information private. So if that was keeping you from going to a psychologist on campus for OCD therapy, don’t worry. Get the therapy. The OCD records are sealed.

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