Maheen shares her journey as a student with OCD on a gap year, describing personal experiences, and tips that helped her through daily obstacles when presented with situations she could not control completely.
– Maheen Ahsan
As a student on a gap year, I always thought this would be the perfect opportunity to travel, meet new people, and try new things. But what I didn’t expect was to be dealing with my OCD on a daily basis.
I decided to take a gap year after completing my A-levels, because the uni I wanted to go to already had their quota full for my preferred program, and that in itself was a huge blow. As someone with OCD, studying became something I found comfort in because I could control it, and it benefited me. So I wasn’t ready to lose something that felt comfortable for more than a few months.
But this meant a whole year without that.
My experience with OCD means that my mind constantly races with intrusive thoughts, and I find myself obsessing over the smallest details. Whether it’s the way I arrange my clothes or the routes I take, I can’t help but feel like everything has to be done in a certain way, or else something terrible will happen. I remember suddenly finding myself obsessed with turning the air conditioner off and constantly worrying about the ‘consequences’ of me not doing it on time.
It’s exhausting, to say the least. It feels like I’m constantly battling my own mind and, sometimes, it feels like I’m losing. Even if you take your medication, sometimes you just feel, like a human, no matter how hard you try not to.
However, I know I’m not alone. Even though sometimes it can feel like no one would ever understand. There are so many others out there who are dealing with OCD and are struggling to make sense of it all. And that’s why I’m writing this post. To let you know that it’s okay to feel the way you do and that you don’t have to go through it alone, and it is okay not to know what to do, no one is born with a roadmap.
The key is to find ways to manage your symptoms. For me, that means practising mindfulness, getting enough sleep, and talking to a therapist. But management is individual to everyone and might look very different for others.
I’ve been on this gap year for about 6 months now, and these are the key things that helped me slowly gain a little control over aimless afternoons, uncertain plans and seasonal depression:
1) Journaling. This is quite a cliche I know, but it really is the most helpful thing sometimes, especially if you’re like me and fidget with your hands when you’re anxious, it’s nice to gain a little control over a small thing, like drawing a shape. OCD anxiety for me happens usually when I can’t control a situation. So it is a nice quick tip to add a little part of the process that I CAN control.
2) An activity that makes you sweat. I’m not big on sports, I like to read instead or play video games, but I was completely missing movement in my everyday life. During my schooling, I had the excuse of not having time since I was studying so much but connecting to your body in the form of movement, whether it’s slow, fast, or minimal, really impacts your mental health. I took up pilates, and the ability to slowly learn to flex longer and move with more intention has been a phenomenal help to my mindfulness.
3) The flower method. I noticed my anxiety getting worse upon grocery store trips, and I’d sit in the car at least 20 minutes before I went in but I wanted to be able to feel in control of my actions, and not let something from the outside world have such an impact, so I came up with the flower method. Here’s how to do it. Firstly, take deep breaths, and then continue to draw imaginary petals (i.e daisies) on a preferred surface. I like to do this on my thighs. You decide how many petals your flowers have, intend to draw a certain set of them, and tell yourself, after completing these, I will do what task I’m apprehensive about. And boom! you created a part of the process that you got to control and decide. This helps me in the most pressure-inducing everyday cases.
So if you’re a student on a gap year, and you’re dealing with OCD, know that you’re not alone. It’s okay to ask for help, and it’s okay to take things one day at a time. Remember that you’re not defined by your OCD and that you have the strength to overcome it. Self-care is not selfish.
Find out more about OCD and how to support someone.
I am a 21-year-old student, just having completed A-levels after struggling with severe depression, OCD, anxiety and an eating disorder. I wanted people who may feel like they got ‘left behind’ after leaving school to know that it’s okay to take a break, it’s okay to struggle, and it’s perfectly alright to do things differently. Though this is a very small part of my journey, I want people who feel similar to know that we can be there for ourselves and love ourselves no matter what.