Wednesday 14 August 2019

My Journey to Oxbridge with OCD

Lottie writes about the challenge of managing high pressure expectations with OCD and the importance of remembering and celebrating achievements. 

- Lottie Brown

College was the first time that I really began to excel academically. Following surprisingly impressive AS results, it was suggested that I consider applying for Oxbridge. I never in a million years thought that I would get an offer. Even so, I applied just so that I didn’t have to live with the disappointment of not knowing. When I received an interview I was absolutely delighted yet adamant that I wouldn’t become too attached because I didn’t want to be too upset when I got rejected. To my utter amazement, I received an offer. It was such a dream come true! 

At this time, I was also living with undiagnosed Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, so I knew that the next few months would not be easy. The more I succeeded academically, the worse my OCD would get because I felt I had more to lose. The build up to the A-Level examinations was particularly difficult for me, I carried hand-sanitiser everywhere and there were days when I would be constantly going back and forth from the bathroom washing my hands because I was fearful that if I didn’t, I would do badly on my exams and thus not get to go to Oxford. I struggled to decide which clothes to wear and would get so annoyed if any of my revision papers had been moved, because I thought that they might be contaminated and cause me to fail my exams. It was, in a word, exhausting. The problem was that I was still undiagnosed, so I had no idea how to stop the time-consuming rituals. I wish that I had sought professional help at this point, then I would have been able to use the techniques from ERP therapy to challenge my OCD. It would also have better prepared me for the psychological breakdown that I experienced in the final year of my undergraduate degree. Instead, after sitting my A Levels, I had to use the subsequent months of respite to recover from the exhaustion of OCD. 

When results day came, I was so anxious. I remember going back and forth from the bathroom to wash my hands until it felt ‘just right’; I felt that I didn’t want to negatively affect my A-Level results by having contaminated hands when I opened them up. To my absolute delight, I had fulfilled my offer. I was going to Oxford. I couldn’t stop crying as I ran into my parents’ room to tell them. They started crying as well. Hearing the commotion my sister came out of her room and joined in the crying too. Almost eight years on, this is still one of the happiest moments of my life. It’s a moment that I constantly look back at when I am feeling lost or struggling to find direction. It reminds me that, in spite of a constant and debilitating struggle with OCD, I still managed to achieve my dreams and study at Oxford. And that is something that my struggle with mental illness is never going to take away from me. For anyone who is facing a similar struggle, it is important to get help sooner rather than later. There is no substitute for professional help; it would have been so helpful to have this in place before (rather than after) beginning university. Then I would have had the necessary coping strategies for dealing with the pressures of university life.

Find out more about OCD and how to support a friend here

Lottie is a PhD student in Classics at the University of Bristol. She has been struggling with OCD and anxiety for several years, and is very passionate about raising awareness of mental illness and challenging stigmas. She regularly blogs about her own experiences with mental illness here.

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