As a college student I often wonder, how supportive and open is the college community I live in about disability, psychological disorders, and other struggles? Do people want to talk openly about challenges or struggles they face in their life and are simply looking for an opportunity to open up, or do people want to seem "normal" or like the "typical college student"? There is no clear cut answer and everyone probably has different feelings about the subject, but I am starting to learn more.
A major learning experience for me happened on Sunday night in the laundry room in my dorm of all places! I often feel like I want to speak openly about my Tourette's, OCD, and other disorders and often do for that matter with close friends, but to what extent do others feel that way? Well, on Sunday night I went to do some laundry and found out the opinions of two others on this subject.
I was in the laundry room doing my laundry when a girl I had met freshman year came in to do laundry as well. I had met her my freshman year in a pre-orientation college program. She asked me how I was, I asked her how she was, and we started to talk about how poorly I was treated at student health services. She immediate connected with my story and began to share her experience with student health services with me. She told me about how she was seeking psychological help from student health services and how after 40 minutes of explaining her symptoms, struggles, and the fact that she needed help, the psychologist told her that at student health they were just regular psychologists and that they didn't know how to deal with her problem. This upset me very much!! After opening up to a stranger for the first time about her mental health, the psychologist had turned her away and offered her no other options or referrals. So we started talking more and we both started opening up to each other more and found out that we both have OCD! This girl is the first person I have met on campus who has OCD like me. She was so glad to hear that I have OCD too and we started sharing experiences about what it was like having OCD as a child, how our symptoms have changed and waxed and waned over the years, and what it's been like trying to get treatment.
We were both so glad to have someone else to talk to! I also told her about my Tourette's, panic attacks, and picking and turns out she also has panic attacks and picking is one of her major OCD problems just like me! I was so glad to meet another person who understands that it is so hard to stop picking your skin no matter how much you will yourself to try to stop or how much you want to stop. This is something that not many people understand because most people have complete control over their mind and body. Not being able to stop yourself from doing something seems so foreign to so many people.
Our conversation continued on in the laundry room for about another hour! We talked about everything and one thing that we agreed on is that we do want to have opportunities to talk about our struggles and not have to hide them and pretend like everything is fine when it's really not. We also agreed that talking about our struggles does not make us OCD or in my case Tourette's. We have OCD or struggle with OCD but we are not OCD itself. She kept expressing to me how much of a relief it was to be having this conversation and how much she was enjoying it! I expressed the same to her as well.
After about an hour of our conversation, a boy walked into the laundry room to do his laundry. We continued to talk and have our conversation even though he came in because we were just so deeply into the conversation that we didn't want to stop. I would have expected the guy to come in, quickly put his clothes in the wash, and then walk out to avoid the intense conversation or to feeling awkward, but to my surprise he stayed. He stood next to his laundry while we kept talking. After about 10 minutes, when we were back on the topic of Tourette's I said "Most people think that people with Tourette's swear all the time and don't know about the other tics, but it's actually just 10% of people with Tourette's who swear". The girl responded with "Oh I've actually never heard that. I've never had that perception that people with Tourette's just swear". I've found that there are some people who really don't have that perception which always is a good thing! Anyway at this point, the guy standing next to us took the opportunity to chime in. I think that is why he stayed, because he wanted to join the conversation. He said "Sorry that I was listening in on your conversation, but yes you're right. Most people do have that perception about Tourette's, but I know it's not true." After adding that bit, he felt comfortable to join the conversation! He started sharing about his own experiences with anxiety and depression, the medication he took for them, and the therapy and struggles he has been thorough.
The conversation continued on for another hour or two, past the time when our laundry was all done, but we just wanted to stay and keep talking and sharing. It was a great bonding experience and gave me even more of a feeling that I am not alone in my struggles. In addition, the girl said to me at one point something that made me very happy! Last year in my Pre-orientation when I had told her about my Tourette's she was inspired by me. She went home and told her mom: "I met this really cool girl at college who has Tourette's and who opened up about it to me, and I just think she's a really neat person and our conversation really touched me". This made me so happy to hear! And gives me even more hope that my OCD and Tourette's is something that I have, but not something that defines me. It is a part of me, and when I open up to people about it and talk with them about what it's like to have Tourette's, it's not so much of a statement about my Tourette's but instead about my personality and who I am as a person.
I made two new great connections with people in my dorm who have similar challenges in life that I do. We all had to come to an acceptance that we may have these conditions for the rest of our lives and reach a point at which we are okay with that. We all had to seek treatment, medication, and answers. We all have to make a decision about who we choose to share our challenges with and how to do so. It is amazing how many people around you struggle with the same things that you do, even if your diagnosis is not exactly the same and even if the others you know don't have any diagnoses at all. Everyone has struggles, everyone has to make a conscious decision of if they want to hide these struggles or if they want to talk about them openly.
My ability to talk about my Tourette's and OCD openly led to me finding another girl with OCD right in my dorm who is so sweet, friendly, and is just a great person over all and also finding a guy in my dorm who struggles with Anxiety and Depression as well. It lead to a fantastic heart-to-heart conversation which left me with a great feeling and two new connections. I invited the girl from the laundry room to come study with me too and she came to study with me and three of my other friends and we had a good time. Tonight I am going to a writing club meeting because she wants me to come with her and I am excited to see her again and go to the writing club!
Opening up about yourself and the more sensitive topics that you might initially stay away from creates friendships and opportunities. When you open up you will be surprised how many people also have been waiting to open up about things in their life too. Good things come out of it! Trust me!