Part three of “My OCD Life Story, So Far”: “Grad school and mission”
For part two, click here, and for part one, click here
A university in England accepted me for graduate school starting the fall after my internship. At this point, I questioned whether or not I should go. Would I be able to handle living overseas, away from friends and family? If I had a breakdown going to Seattle on my own, how would I be able to handle going to London?
Somehow I decided to do it. Before leaving, I went to a doctor and was prescribed some medication to help. I’m pretty sure it was just a low dose of fluoxetine, but even knowing that I had something else “on my team,” as it were, helped. I made it to England and was amazingly lucky enough to meet the girls who would become my best friends there shortly after arriving.
Armed with medication, a support “system,” reading assignments, school, and the excitement and adventure of London, I managed to stay afloat. Sure, there were down times. I remember one moment where I suddenly understood how someone could overdose on meds—the rationale of “well, if one pill a day is supposed to make me happy, wouldn’t taking the whole bottle fix me?” made sense to me. That’s one of the things about mental illness. Once you are there, you can empathize with others who are also there a whole lot more.
In regards to the OCD, I worried about money. Maybe it was the fact that this was an unusual currency to me, but I would check how much money I had in my wallet and try and remember what money I had spent to make sure that I had the right amount left. Did I somehow not pay enough at a store? I didn’t really care if I had been shortchanged, as long as I wasn’t the one at fault. I still prefer to use a debit or credit card so I don’t have to worry about cash and change.
I also tried to be super vigilant about paying the proper amount for public transportation, making sure I swiped my Oyster card on the buses, etc. If a swiper machine wasn’t working on a bus, I would freak out, trying to find another one (if it was a bendy bus) or figuring out how I could “make it up” somehow over the course of the day so I wasn’t being dishonest in my payment.
At school, I was the secretary for the college radio station. Subconsciously, I bet I took that role so that I was the one in charge of making sure all the proper licenses were in place for our broadcasting. Still, sometimes I worry that maybe I forgot to apply for a license or two. You might say, oh well, who cares, what can you do now? But that’s the thing. The OCD makes you believe that you can do something now. Anything. There is always someone you could email, records you could check, money you could probably pay. “Just do your best” isn’t comforting when your brain believes your best is perfection.
Somehow I made it through grad school and loved it. I then decided to serve a mission and was called stateside. I continued to use my medication and plowed through my service, often steamrolling over some companions who maybe weren’t on the same track or even the same lane of the track as me. I felt like I was on a mission to serve and be engaged in that work, and that was what I had to do. I tried to be obedient and focused, and those things, combined with my determination and compulsion to keep working, often stymied my ability to have compassion, patience, etc.
By the end, I was tired. I remember sitting in the temple at the very end of my mission feeling relief that it was over. Frankly, I was glad to not have to follow the schedule any longer. I had put such pressure on myself to be perfect or as perfect as possible that I think I missed out on other lessons I could have learned, or simple joy I could have felt. Maybe I felt determined to “do my best” to such an extreme that I didn’t want to have to use the Atonement (or grace or mercy) any more than absolutely necessary.
It was as if not being as perfect as possible would be tantamount to failure.