“I am not my therapy”

To say that this year hasn’t been easy would be true but an incomplete truth. How do you describe a struggle with mental health when you’re still in it? How do you describe the struggle when in some ways it has been an utter reminder of the power of human kindness and compassion?

I’ve always found that the most puzzling part of my struggle with my mental health can be summed up in the following juxtaposition:

When you’re in it, it is so hard to see out of it and when you’re out of it, it’s like it never happened to you.

I had had friends who talked to me about good days and bad days but I never quite understood what that meant until this year, when good days became days where I could go hours without thinking about my OCD and bad days were when that stupid, stupid thing just wouldn’t quit.

I know what you may be thinking… OCD? But Claire’s room is one of the most disorganized places I’ve ever seen… she doesn’t obsessively wash her hands… and she definitely doesn’t have to count her steps because she’s tripping and goofy dancing all over the place too much to possibly be over-thinking walking.

And you’d be right. My OCD symptoms are not the more stereotypical ones. Instead of obsessive hand washing or counting, my OCD is largely focused on obsessive, intrusive and often disturbing thoughts. No matter if I’m in lecture, at a club meeting, or just walking around campus, these thoughts can pick at me until I feel completely overwhelmed and confused about what is me and what is not.

Until this past fall, I didn’t even know that I had OCD. I was always seen as the competent one, the one who got things done, who was motivated to succeed and did what had to be done to make that happen. My parents, teachers, and friends celebrated my successes to such a degree that I worried that going to therapy would seem selfish or silly. “I didn’t have real problems; I was just over stressed,” I would think to myself.

So I headed out to Princeton so ready learn and meet new people and join a zillion clubs and all of that good stuff. And I did! I met people from all over the world, created new memories and generally had a ball. Yet while all of these new beginnings were shaping up, I found myself slowly but surely picked at by these intrusive thoughts yet again. For a few months, I struggled with it on my own; desperately trying to focus well enough to pay attention in lecture or while a friend told me about her day. It was only as I began to get more and more overwhelmed by these thoughts that I decided it was time to get up the courage to dial the number for Counseling and Psychological Services at McCosh. I remember my utter fear in making that call, how I was so worried that someone would find out where I was going or what I was doing. My friend Morgan Jerkins articulated this point the other day in her passionate op-ed on mental health; Princeton students are reluctant to seek help until they feel like they are truly at their breaking “point,” whatever that may mean for them. It seems to me that we are also reluctant to take time out of our schedule to deal with our mental health until it becomes so troublesome that it actually interferes with our schedule.

The good news is, I am so so glad that I made that call that morning. The CPS center at McCosh has been an overwhelmingly supportive place for me. Not only was I able to get set up with weekly appointments with my therapist but they have also done a phenomenal job of communicating with my parents and outside therapists in order to make sure that the treatment I’m receiving makes the most sense for who I am as a person. That doesn’t mean that therapy or medication or any part of this process has been easy; it hasn’t and as my therapist reminded me just the other day, mental health issues tend to not have quick fixes which make them the ultimate bane of a Princeton student’s existence. But what I love about the people that I worked with at McCosh is that they have a great grasp on what being a Princeton student is like and the unique stressors that we feel whether that be from academics, eating clubs, or just the pervasive belief on campus about effortless perfection.

Despite not having the stereotypical, often-televised markers of OCD, I have had an extremely complex and rough time with my disorder. If what I’m describing sounds familiar to your own experience, please, please, please consider going to someone to discuss your symptoms.