OCD gave me an E in Biology…

How my studies hurt me and then healed me

If you know me or you’ve read my previous blog posts (shouts to the regulars ayyye) then you’ll at least partially be aware that I completed my A-levels a couple of years ago. I did them late due to illness. I’ve got a pretty intense/borderline unhealthy interest in human psychology, so I was 100% sure I wanted a psychology A-level. I also love writing, reading and creating, so I took English Language and Literature. I was always good at Science back when I was at school, mostly because I thoroughly enjoyed it – so I took Biology. This was a very large, fat mistake in terms of my final grade…but it actually ended up playing a very important role in my diagnosis and recovery. 

I’d always known I had some ‘OCD traits’, but I’d never researched OCD itself as a disorder. I had therefore fallen into the thought-space that many people are in – that OCD was mostly about neatness and cleanliness. I honestly once used the term “I’m a little bit OCD about my room”. FORGIVE ME, FELLOW OCD-ERS. But surely we can’t expect people to just know without being told about it? I certainly didn’t know much about OCD back then. I didn’t know enough about it to attach it to my many symptoms, or ‘quirks’ as people used to call them. I honestly had no idea it was a serious disorder that ruined lives. 

In the first year of my A-levels, everything was alright in terms of the OCD. It was present, but not so present that I was actually aware of it (if that makes sense?) Fast-forward to the last module in the course, which was based around pathogens. You probably get where this is going… I spent hundreds of hours studying and revising various viruses, how they mutate, how they spread, and what they look like under a microscope. That’s hundreds of hours spent on my own, in own head, thinking about viruses. I remember we had to know about HIV symptoms, how to test for it, and I remember being extremely bothered by the thought of it. I became obsessed (can you believe it?) with viruses such as HIV, hepatitis and herpes. I spent hours researching them out of fear rather than out studiousness. I couldn’t sleep at night because I was thinking about all of the cells in my body…whether they were working correctly…whether they were dying…whether I had caught a virus. 

One day I marched into my GP surgery and asked for blood tests to check for any type of hepatitis. The nurses seemed confused as to why I felt I definitely needed this test, and all I could say was “I just need it guys okay”. They asked if there had been an event during which I cold have been exposed to it, but there wasn’t. I just had to stand there and persuade them to test my blood for hepatitis. TAKE MY BLOOD GODDAMMIT. I was that weird, flighty woman with the shrill voice, the darting eyes, and the incredibly persuasive language (I will absolutely take this title and I will own it with pride). The nurse tested me for hepatitis and alas, I did not have it. This wasn’t enough for the OCD however. “What if the tests didn’t work?”…”What if I have a brand new undiscovered form of hepatitis?”

Side note: In moments like these; THERE IS NO REASSURING YOURSELF. STOP REASSURING YOURSELF. You’re not helping yourself, you’re not being kind to yourself, and you are FEEDING THE OCD.

Every sneeze or cough in my lessons became a reason for my blood to feel hot and my skin to prickle and redden. I would physically stop breathing for at least a minute afterwards to avoid breathing in pathogens. I didn’t really question why I was having these reactions, because I was too busy trying to focus on getting good results. Ironically, I ‘studied’ so much for Biology that I got big, massive, stinking E. My first ever E. I was confused. I had achieved A grades in my other subjects. I studied rigorously and revised mercilessly, but I realised afterwards that what I thought was ‘revising’ for Biology was actually just obsessing and worrying about absolutely everything to do with the health of my body, as well as informing my batshit self about every virus on Planet Earth. I actually remember opening my Biology paper on the day of the exam (feeling hella f***ing confident – LOL) and just sitting back in my chair like WOOOW OKAY… WOW. I don’t know how to do any of this, but I do know how many incidences of SARS there have been in each continent. Nice one, mim.

Fast-forward again to that September – my mental health was at an all-time low. It had been very traumatic to be inside my head that summer. But I was about to start a new academic year and a fresh page. I hesitantly let go of Biology and promised myself I would excel at my other subjects, however strange and unstable I was feeling. Psychology was the subject I was most passionate about. I loved everything about it. I didn’t even mind learning all of the dates and the names. I thrived when learning about human thoughts and behaviours. Our first module was about various mental illnesses, including symptoms and case studies. I had to make a fact sheet about OCD, and I can literally see the image of myself in that moment, hunching over my table, hurriedly reading through what I had written, with my eyes growing wider and wider. I felt sick when I realised. I had bloody OCD. It was the weirdest adrenaline rush. To anyone in the room I probably looked like I’d just boshed a generous line of coke. I think I might have even done a little heave. I realised that it was a very real, very painful disorder and that I had been dealing with it in full force for the majority of that year. I wasn’t weird! I wasn’t crazy. None of these weird thoughts or behaviours were my fault. 

I called my mum from college and told her my sudden realisation. I booked to see my GP right away, and when it came to the appointment, I explained (very nervously) that I thought I might have OCD. I explained my symptoms, and I was referred to see a mental health triage nurse. During that appointment, I was diagnosed with severe OCD. The nurse was extremely reassuring, and promised that the mental health team would try their best to give me back some kind of life. I’ve had various forms of treatment since, which have each helped me in terms of my recovery. I had CBT for a few months following my diagnosis, and I ended up passing Psychology and English with an A and a B. When I look back I’m not really sure how I pulled it off considering, but I feel incredibly lucky and grateful. 

Before writing this post, I was pondering about what my life might be like if I hadn’t decided to take my A-levels. Would I have had the OCD break I had that year if I hadn’t studied Biology? Would I have ever realised that I was suffering from OCD if I hadn’t taken Psychology? Nobody knows the answers to these questions my dudes, but what I do know, is that I wouldn’t change a bloody thing. Not even the hardest parts, or the darkest moments. Maybe I’m a sucker for pain, or maybe I’m just content with the person these last few years have moulded me into.

*Mim walks into the sunset whilst Take Me Home, Country Roads plays in the background. The glinting sun reflects in my eyes. A light trail of dust is kicked up in the path behind me. Roll credits*

P.s. In hindsight that last bit probably sounded a bit ominous. I was just taking the piss out of my last paragraph. I think I became Carrie Bradshaw for a hot second there. I’ll be back for another post next week!

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