There’s a misconception that OCD is only about being clean and tidy. But that’s not true. OCD can look completely different for each person. For people who have OCD, going out in public can be difficult. In particular, school can be challenging if you’re struggling with OCD. But there are ways to deal with your symptoms to make going to school easier.
What is OCD?
OCD stands for Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. It is a condition that includes obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviours that people with OCD feel like that have to repeat again and again. For example, it might be washing your hands over and over again until you feel they are clean.
OCD is and anxiety disorder, and many people experience intrusive unwanted thoughts. They also complete obsessive rituals as a way of reducing their anxious feelings. An example of this is tapping a door a certain number of times because you believe it will stop something from happening. Although people often know the two things aren’t linked, the distress of these thoughts can be so overwhelming that we feel compelled to perform behaviours to prevent them.
And once you get into the cycle of doing these rituals, breaking the habit is extremely difficult. OCD often involves worries about danger, hygiene or dirt. Or for some people, their worries are about sexuality or religion. It can make people feel guilty or ashamed of their thoughts in some cases.
OCD can be embarrassing sometimes, which is why it can be hard to tell people or explain your symptoms. You might be worried that people will laugh at you for your rituals or that your classmates won’t understand your behaviour.
OCD at School
OCD symptoms can come up at various times throughout the school day. You might find they appear during classes or when you’re taking part in tests. Or it might be breaks that bring up the need to perform those compulsive behaviours. It can make performing your best at school difficult. If your OCD is particularly bad, it can even affect your grades.
Some triggers for people with OCD at school might include:
- Bathrooms, changing rooms or communal spaces like canteens
- Shared school supplies like pens or computers that other students have used
- Windows or doors that you might feel you need to check, and re-check, are closed
- Certain classes or activities that trigger your symptoms
- Classmates or teachers if you’ve had unwanted thoughts about them
If you can identify the things that trigger you, it can be easier to accommodate your symptoms when you’re at school. For example, maintain your routine even when symptoms pop up, like going into an area of the school that you know is triggering for you.
OCD symptoms differ from person to person. So, depending on what is a trigger for you, there are different aspects of school that might affect you. You might be late for classes regularly if carrying out repetitive behaviours is preventing you from getting there on time. You might feel the need to recheck your work over and over again, which could cause you to work slower than your classmates. Or you might have difficulty concentrating if intrusive thoughts are distracting you.
How to Deal with OCD
OCD is often managed through therapy, like Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, and medication. But at school, there are extra things you can do to help you manage your symptoms. The first step to managing your OCD at school is to be open with your teachers about what you’re dealing with.
It can be difficult to tell a teacher that you have OCD. But your teachers want to see you do well and if they can help you achieve that, they will. They might be able to accommodate your symptoms like giving you extra time to complete homework if you need to rewrite or recheck things. Or they can help you redirect your behaviours if you want them to.
If you can, try to maintain a regular routine during the school day. It can help to face your fears head on. Mindfulness techniques can also help you when symptoms come up. For example, deep breathing exercises and focusing on what you can see and hear at that exact moment can help keep your thoughts in the present.
How Do I Tell My Teacher About My OCD?
Talking to your family or friends about your OCD can be difficult enough. But it can be even more awkward to tell a teacher. You might feel embarrassed or worried that they won’t take you seriously. But it’s easier than you might think to let a teacher know what’s going on.
It can be helpful to have your parents with you when you talk to your teacher. They can help explain your condition. So, it can be worth arranging a meeting with them after school so you can discuss it properly and in confidence. You can explain your symptoms and anything that might help you cope better when you’re at school.
Being up front about what’s wrong and what would help you will give your teacher the opportunity to help you. And they are more likely to be accommodating if you’re honest about what you need. It can also help to have a letter from your doctor or your therapist, if you’re seeing one, that you can share with your teacher.
Rituals and repetitive behaviours are part of having OCD. They are nothing to be ashamed or embarrassed about. Talking to your teachers can help you manage your symptoms when you’re at school. It can also prevent your condition from affecting your performance.
OCD is treatable but it can take some time. It’s common for people with OCD to use a combination of talking therapies and medication to manage their behaviours and symptoms. But with an accommodating routine and the support of your teachers, it’s also possible to cope more easily at school.