Friday 31 May 2019

OCD Recovery

Jane shares five tips for succeeding in OCD recovery as a student. 
- Jane May Morrison 

For those of us who experience Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, our university experience can quickly start to feel downright nightmarish! However, there’s good reason to be hopeful about OCD recovery. Campus understanding of mental ill-health is improving, media depictions of OCD are raising awareness (see: Channel 4’s brilliant 'Pure'), student health services (though busy) are better-informed on OCD, and every student can access resources like OCDAction’s 'OCD at University'.

Speaking as an (ancient, decrepit, 30-year-old) postgraduate, the changes to student mental health services over just the last decade have been huge. Things have improved! If you’re experiencing OCD symptoms, your chances of getting correctly diagnosed and directed to treatments such as ERP (Exposure Response Prevention) therapy are better now than ever. There is a range of treatments for OCD but I found ERP was a treatment that really helped me. It’s often considered a subtype of CBT (Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy). It can be done alongside GP-prescribed medication. ERP trains you to gradually confront your obsessive fears, without doing your usual mental or physical compulsions. In the long term, it can re-wire the brain (for real: it’s literally visible on a brain scanner). This can drastically reduce the intensity, believability and frequency of obsessive thoughts.

If your student mental health services don’t offer ERP, and you can’t find or afford a private therapist, you can still try self-directed ERP. However, it’s best to do this with guidance from an expert workbook (e.g. David Veale and Rob Willson’s 'Overcoming OCD') or a specially-designed app like nOCD.

Here’s 5 tips for succeeding in OCD recovery as a student:

1) Ask for support at your college/university’s Disability Services. Although mental healthcare varies between institutions, you’ll never know what is available at yours if you don’t ask. As a diagnosed case of OCD is a recognized disability, your university should make reasonable adjustments for it (e.g. extra time on essays or exams, an Independent Learning Plan, the ability to leave seminars early etc).

2) Do the regular homework your therapist sets (even if you don’t want to!).

3) Go easy on yourself during the initial period of recovery. It’s emotionally draining to push through high anxiety without your usual reassurances. Keep busy, but don’t volunteer for too many stressful extracurricular commitments; relaxed events that you can come and go from are better. Practice self-care. Keep your mindset strong with recovery-focused podcasts like ‘The OCD Stories’.

4) Be selective about who you share with. Though OCD awareness is improving, flatmates and friends may still not fully understand the debilitating nature of it, nor fully acknowledge your amazing mental strength in fighting it off. They might think it’s just a harmless quirk, or crack hurtful jokes about how they’re ‘soooo OCD!’ themselves. They can even unwittingly trigger OCD anxieties with throwaway comments about your obsession topic. They’re not malicious – just misinformed. But there are good alternatives: OCD communities online, helpline support, university mental health groups, and many off-campus UK support groups.

5) Try to make lifestyle choices that help recovery, not hinder it. The newest evidence suggests brain inflammation as a factor in mental illness, and binge-drinking, insomnia and junk food are unlikely to help. Many people with OCD report symptom flare-ups after heavy drinking. Nobody’s saying you can’t occasionally have a few pints, but if you DO decide the temporary buzz of getting hammered isn’t worth the OCD panic attack tomorrow, it’s 100% ok. You do you!

You can find more OCD information, advice and experiences here 

Jane May Morrison is backcombed eco-goth, studying for a Human Geography PhD in the wonders of low-carbon energy/heat, at the University of Exeter. She also writes feminist fiction. Late-diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder and OCD, she'd like to help make life a wee bit easier for others with these conditions. Find her on Twitter @JaneMayMorrison.

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