It has been about a year-and-a-half since I was originally diagnosed with OCD and in that time my understanding of OCD has changed and grown. I was reminded of this the other day when my therapist mentioned an interesting question. It is a question I have spent some time thinking about over the last year-and-a-half, but I didn’t realize my answer to the question had changed until my therapist brought it up. The question is: Have I been academically successful because of or in spite of OCD?
When I was first diagnosed my answer was certainly “because of.” I credited OCD with forcing me to study extra hours, making me reread textbooks to the point of memorization, and helping me pay attention to small details, all of which I though helped my grades. Even though I knew OCD was destructive to my life and happiness I still viewed it also as a helpful friend. I didn’t believe I would have been as academically successful without OCD. This answer of “because of” originally even made me question how much I wanted to treat my OCD and perfectionism. I knew I wanted to improve things somewhat, but was worried about going too far. I was convinced OCD helped me and without this friend I would fail.
Zoom forward in time and my answer to this question could not be more different. I know now that the opposite is true; I have been academically successful in spite of having OCD. Thanks to a hefty dose of ERP and CBT my OCD symptoms and perfectionism are reduced. They aren’t gone and I’m still working on it, but they are certainly better than they used to be. Reading is less stressful and I can read at a more normal pace without getting stuck. I was reading some scientific papers the other day and instead of highlighting every word I was able to take just a few notes, which is actually a much more helpful way to process and learn information. Hopefully if reading stays improved once school starts again I will continue to have more time for other activities. I am getting better at using time for taking breaks, making sure to socialize with friends, and putting sleep as a higher priority. These healthy behaviors facilitate learning and good grades, far more than spending every waking minute studying and ritualizing did.
Now that more than a year has passed and I can reflect back on how things used to be it is very clear to me that OCD was lying about being a helpful friend, but I couldn’t see this until after I took the risks and did the exposures. OCD made me doubt myself, yet I had the capability to be successful without OCD all along! All OCD did was hold me back and make it harder to get good grades. In a way, I’m proud of myself for succeeding in spite of OCD, but I don’t think I will miss OCD now that I get to try experiencing school with less and less rituals! (I start classes tomorrow. Wish me luck!)