School and OCD

I’m sorry that I have been such a blog-slacker lately.  This semester is in full swing which means my OCD is all kinds of amped up for destruction.  I have tons of obsessive thoughts running through my head these days that keep me from accomplishing much.  Papers, exams and class discussions provide OCD all of the potential-failure fuel it needs to make my life miserable.


It takes me a really long time to actually start a paper, because I spend a lot of time worrying whether or not I’ll have any smart, much less significant to say.  Or if I’ll fail the assignment.  Or if I’m really stupid and have just tricked everyone thus far and that when reading this paper, my professor is finally going to figure out what an idiot and what a fraud I am. I spend so much time worrying about needing to write perfectly that I can’t commit any words to paper for days.  I am usually unable to write until the deadline gets so close that I don’t have a choice and necessity takes over.  OCD continues to scream at me in the background with every word I type, though.  Every word must be perfect, must be the right choice.

Then I get to the point in writing when a normal person would print the essay and be done with it.  Not me, though.  I get to that point and I read it over and over and rearrange and reword and fret and worry some more about how the paper just doesn’t feel quite right it’s missing something and it’s not perfect.  And if it isn’t perfect, I’ll fail and my professor will figure out how stupid I am and it’ll be the end of my career.


Exams are stressful for just about everyone.  A lot of students get test anxiety.  I’m not really afraid of tests the way most people are.  I don’t study for them.  I don’t obsess about them days before they happen.  The anxiety creeps in somewhere in the middle of taking the test.  OCD starts to suggest that maybe I accidentally skipped a question or maybe I accidentally circled the wrong answer or maybe I didn’t read the question correctly, so I better go back and check every single question. Luckily with tests, I am usually able to ignore OCD’s suggestion that I check and recheck everything.  The urge is there, but I try to get up quickly upon answering the last question so that I have to just turn it in without checking anything.  This is one area that, thus far, I have remained stronger than OCD.

Class Discussions

Class discussions are problematic because they bring in a social element.  I get really anxious in some social situations, especially with strangers.  The worries are similar to my paper-related worries about being an idiot and people figuring it out.  This is especially frustrating because I’m not a quiet student.  I speak up frequently in class discussions.  This means more to worry about and over-analyze.  Every word that comes out of my mouth is met in my mind by harsh criticism.  By mid-semester, class discussions cease to cause me anxiety, because I have gotten comfortable with my professors and classmates.  It’s habituation at work.  Exposure really does reveal the scary monsters to be harmless.


It really is ridiculous how much time I spend worrying about failure.  I always get A’s on papers.  I have a 3.5 GPA.  I’m a good student.  I’m smart and my record shows that.  I see the evidence, trust me.  But OCD doesn’t care about evidence.  OCD makes you doubt yourself and your abilities and everything you know.  OCD finds all kinds of ways to make you distrust evidence.  The rational part of my brain knows that I’m crazy, but in the moment, the crazy side usually calls the shots anyway.

School is such a paradox for me.  It should be something of which I am proud.  Sometimes I am proud, but sometimes school pushes me into some serious self-loathing and self-doubt.

What fears, worries and doubts does school bring up for you?  What causes you anxiety?


7 thoughts on “School and OCD

  1. To this day I still have dreams that I forgot that I had a certain class and missed an exam worth like 40% of my grade. I graduate like 4 months ago, but I’m still freaking out over exams haha

  2. Actually, Elise, I don’t think that you are all THAT abnormal in the academic realm.

    Kyleb and I have compared notes over the years about writing papers and we aren’t much different from you in that regard. Speaking for myself, I had always done all the study and reading preparation long before I wrote the paper. Once all the ingredients were gathered and combined they stewed indefinitely, a lifetime is preferrable. I finally sat down to write at the very last possible moment before the paper was due and it just poured out of my head on to the paper fully organized and formed. I always got 4.0’s, always. Yet I was always ashamed of my work because I knew I could have done better. I can edit until the end of time so I simply wrote to the deadline then handed it in. The difference that I see between you and I is that failure was inconceivable to me. It shamed me that I had been too lazy, too indifferent to bother to make it perfect when I knew it would be a 4.0 just because they always were.

    You and I are very much alike in regard to exams also. I have never studied specially for an exam. Between the classes, the routine studying and the ancillary reading I had done in areas of particular interest I was completely at ease being tested. Like you I worried, to some degree, that I had misunderstood a question or inadvertently marked something incorrectly but I didn’t bother about it because I knew that I’d ace the test anyway even if I did goof on an answer somewhere back there. I was normally dead last to finish an exam because I spent so much time dwelling on each question in progression that backtracking was never an option available to me.

    I have come to the conclusion that I am socially retarded. I never, ever gave a single damn about what anyone thought of me therefore I was fully engaged immediately in any class. I always sat front row far left or far right. I was never shy, never hesitant. I was paying for this damn class and the professor was working for me so he/she was damn well going to produce. It was always obvious that 90 plus percent of students were cretins, that there were never more than one, maybe two, in any class who weren’t. I was not inclined to gracious patience with my money being frittered away on the obtuse average student who took up precious time and space.

    In reality I am also unsure because I have all too often misinterpreted evidence or been oblivious to contradictory evidence.

    It seems to me that you are more self aware than I was and consequently subject to more anxiety, in no small part because of your focus on OCD. There may also be underlying cultural/social differences. I am male. I am a small male in social/cultural milieu that favors size so I tend to hyperaggression where I have obvious advantage. If it requires brawn I am at disadvantage. If it requires brains I can crush the competition, and I do, with glee. I learned in high school that intellectual ferocity translated into actual physical uncertainty in the minds of male opponents. They experienced the focused, devil be damned intensity my mind could instantly bring to bear on shredding them and it unnerved them physically. They could see that I was physically tiny but…”. The Napoleon Complex.

  3. I can totally relate!! School was MY LIFE.

    Essays – I often did the same as you except I wasn’t an English major so perhaps there wasn’t quite so much pressure. But my school did make me take two semesters of writing where all we did was write essays! Essay after essay after essay! I hated it. And I thought I hated to write. But now I’m starting to realize – I only hated having to write “perfectly.”

    I can relate to the resistance to putting words on the page until the deadline is almost on you, too. I would spend days “pre-writing” searching for that perfect idea that would make my essay seem “right.” Ironically, sometimes when I did get it “right” the professor didn’t necessarily think so, and sometimes when I felt like I didn’t, the professor did. Just goes to show that searching for that “right” feeling isn’t always the most reliable thing when it comes to those with OCD.

    Oh, and even though I had good grades, I too often managed to believe that I had somehow “fooled everyone” into thinking I was smart. It seemed like the only thing that saved me was my persistence in rejecting idea after idea until I found the “right” one. But I bet, had I given myself a chance, there probably wouldn’t have been that much of a difference in my grades, in my writing classes and in other subjects, had I relented a little, but I was too afraid to let go of my terribly inefficient and highly ritualized study habits to see if other less stressful and more practical ways might work just as well or even better. Now that I know how OCD-related these tendencies were, I think I could more easily work on fixing my exhausting study routine were I to go to grad school.

    As far as exams go, I was somewhat of the opposite of you. While I did tend to feel like I had to check and re-check my exams, I also tended to study and study and study beforehand. And no matter how many hours I put in, I never ever seemed to “finish” studying and preparing for an exam. Sometimes I was late to my tests, too, because I just wanted to try to memorize one more thing, one last concept. I had a lot of problems getting through all the material in preparation for tests, and I would review and know the first half of the material in miraculous detail but never make it to the last portion of the material! I knew that I needed to work faster but I found it so hard to change. I was so afraid of letting go even though my system clearly didn’t work very well – I was always sleep deprived and never felt done! And now, well, I know why I found it so hard to change. I could usually pull off good grades with my really extensive knowledge of the first half of the material and get by on the rest with my last minute cramming, but it always had me frazzled! Who knows, I may have been able to do even better had I given other ways of studying a chance.

    In discussions I was like you in that I over-analyzed everything that came out of my mouth. But a lot of what I could have said never left my inner world of thought – I was convinced it was wrong or wasn’t good enough before it even exited my mouth. When I was brave and feeling ambitious during a semester, I would try to make sure I started speaking up early on – because if I waited too long, it would just become too anxiety provoking to raise my hand, ask questions, or simply add my opinion, depending on the setting, and I would often end up feeling like once I had set a precedent of NOT speaking up in class, I couldn’t just start in the middle of the semester or towards the end. It just became more and more difficult, the more time went on.

    I hope that you can take some of what you learned from facing your other OCD fears this summer (and succeeding wonderfully) and apply it to your school work. It’s hard when it’s something you care about so much, but looking back, now that I know that I have OCD, I would love to have a second go at it all and a chance to apply some of the things I have learned since. Yes, you have to face doubt and uncertainty when you start cutting back on perfectionistic tendencies, but until you try it, like any other exposure, it can be hard to see how another way might be possible. But if you aren’t happy with the way things are, and you can’t enjoy the accomplishments you have, wouldn’t it be nice to give yourself a chance and see if other approaches might work? You faced your fears head-on this summer, and I have no doubt you can tackle at least some of the school-related OCD stuff, as well, if you really want to change it!

  4. I don’t have OCD, but I do struggle with perfectionsim. I’ve gotten a little better at letting things go but when my stress gets high, I lose any control I had.

    Transitions are stressful. I hope things calm down for you soon and you can feel comfortable in your current life.

  5. That’s interesting that your OCD gets you for talking in class–I hardly said a word in college because by the time I got it all worked out in my head, “the perfect thing to say” the discussion had moved on, or I couldn’t get past the surge of anxiety that came with contemplating actually speaking.

  6. Please keep us posted with how you handle the checking and ‘perfect papers for school. My son spent the wknd studying for 2 tests and with all the slow reading and checking, he never finished all other HW. Today he couldn’t go to school because he didn’t have half his HW completed and spent all day trying to do. Math HW with rechecking and writing ‘perfect essays’ takes him hours and hours. He procrastinates reading for assignments because it becomes a chore not enjoyable. His grades have dropped so much. He is very frustrated because he says he tries to stop taking so long for assignments to be so perfect but he can’t help it. We always wonder how he’ll survive rest of highschool, let alone college. It is a blessing to know that you are in college and dealing with it. Does your therapist tell you how she will deal with this aspect of OCD. He used to have the contamination aspect of it, and just for you to know, with exposure ritual/prevention therapist, that area is 85% better. It is so much more tangible to treat with exposures than the school related OCD. We are frustrated right now with finding the right help with this.

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