I am what you would call, a naturally productive person. I only feel happy when I am being productive, learning new things and training myself. Most people are content with necessary work to keep themselves financially stable whereas I need hobbies and fulfillment to keep myself mentally alive.
Yet I have this constant fear and anxiety that I am not good enough, disciplined enough and productive enough. This fear intensifies my Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. I keep rehearsing the good side of me to prove that I am good and adequate or to escape again and again from the potential of badness. People with OCD not only discipline their behavior, they also discipline their thoughts.
I have to admit that OCD created enormous obstacles in my graduate study at Yale. First of all, my obsessive personality served as a strong hindrance and distraction in my academic study. At that time, honestly speaking, I was not very interested in what I was studying, which was international relations and Japanese literature. And I was obsessed with keeping a healthy lifestyle. Once I was obsessed with something, I have OCD about it. At the time, I had lots of obsessions about yoga positions. I perceived lots of potential danger in different positions of yoga and I would rehearse the safe yoga cautions over and over and over again to reinforce the correct details to keep a position safe. I kept rehearsing these positions mentally and physically. It was exhausting. And that was not my only OCD. I also had harm OCD and self-doubt OCD. I had this irrational fear that I am not street smart and I am not alert of my surroundings. Therefore I kept rehearsing me fighting with street attackers, rehearsing myself being alert, rehearsing fighting with burglarers and rehearsing breaking free from kidnappers. These images haunted me and people familiar with OCD would know that the more compulsions you do, the more the horrible thoughts come back. My harm OCD was that I was irrationally fearful that I would intentionally harm someone, especially those ones I am close to. I had this Harm OCD whenever I see knives and other sharp objects. I was afraid of having arguments of my loved ones because I was afraid I would harm them out of anger. All of this is irrational fear for I am never a violent person, not even an aggressive person. Yet because of the fear, I keep rehearsing scenarios of saving people that I imaginarily hurt.
I was lucky enough to have a boyfriend who has understood OCD and who has been incredibly compassionate towards my mental conditions. He told me to think about giving someone a chocolate whenever I have a false thought/false alarm/false mental image of harming him or her. It has helped a lot for multiple times. I was incredibly fortunate to have someone who did not see me as a problem but was encouraging and supportive all the time :).
My harm OCD was so significant that there was no knife, no scissors, and no other sharp objects in our apartment. Even the oven is a weapon in my eyes and my brain would conjure up the image of a dead head in the oven getting baked. Even writing down these words horrifies me and nearly triggers my compulsions to get rid of these thoughts.
Luckily I discovered some really helpful books on OCD. They are OCD Workbook, Mindfulness OCD, Brain Lock and books from on OCD survivor who owns a Youtube channel. I joined on Facebook various OCD support groups. The conditions were so dire that I had to reach out to psychological help. Luckily I found them, books and videos. I also have OCD about organizing my books. I used to throw irrelevant books away, buy new books to learn English and throw more away knowing that I cannot finish. Same goes with downloading apps and organizing text messages. Instead of letting the books work for me, I seem to have worked for them.
OCD is triggered by fear and there are many things that trigger my fear. OCD intensifies and magnifies the fear. I have become a self-victimizer. I have come to believe that many things are my fault. I apologize too easily. I cheapen my apology. I regret a lot of times where I do not stand up myself. When people blame me I apologize to them and they feel more entitled that they are right. But I am also right. I also have rights and feelings. I also have my own rights to stand up for myself. I am a good person. I make decisions for myself and for others. I might not be good at words, I might not be having high emotional intelligence, I might not be able to convey, but I should NEVER ever internalize others’ unfair blame on me. Fucking never.
How does all this influence my academic performance?
- When I have an obsession, I need to solve this obsession first before I could study. Let’s say, I found out that there is yoga position that involves potential danger, I will google this position and all similar positions. After being aware of their danger, I have to delete all the videos that I listed out that contain these positions. I need to keep a clean record, a clean record of videos, a clean record of texts and a “clean” life record, meaning nothing to regret in life (which of course is impossible). I remember spending one afternoon and one evening without studying because I was trying to figure out how unhealthy yoga is and I read article after article to prove that point. I finally had my conclusion and wrote an article to criticize yoga (and I tried to contribute it to The New York Times). Later in the same week, I spent one morning listening to videos that prove that Pilates is way healthier and more scientific than yoga. Then I calmed down to study what I was supposed to study. Yet when I was studying, since I did not have much interests and grasp of global affairs, (I chose global affairs right because I did not much about it and I wanted to learn something new, but I forgot that I did not have the relevant undergrad study to prepare me to study global affairs; and as a result, I was struggling to keep up), I often rushed some of the readings and assignments so that I can keep researching on what I was obsessed with, such as nutritional eating plans, good workout programs, martial arts/self-defense, meditation, and better psychological understanding of personalities… Patience produces good work, whereas I was extremely impatient in everything for that I needed a result with certainty.
- The OCD thoughts keep coming back when I am reading, sitting in lectures and discussions and when I am finishing my assignments. These thoughts are crime-related, harm-related, yoga related or just anything fear-triggering related. I remember myself consciously and constantly pulling my mind back from these repetitive OCD thoughts to my classes, my readings, and my assignments. Concentration was difficult. All I ever wanted to was to finish what was required so that I could have a break from “trying to pull back my brain to focus”. This turned out a bad approach. Instead of combatting OCD and not reacting to thoughts, I let the thoughts get in the way of what I am doing. I would rather still think that I produced good quality work, though, as not good enough for an A.
I felt like a failure, of course, I feel I could have done better. I would be guilty if I say to myself “it is not my fault”. I do not know if it is my fault. I could have handled OCD better. I could have known better. I could have studied better. There is many “I could have”s. .. But regret does nothing but damage.
I still remember that on the flight back from New York to home, my OCD was really bad about plane crashes, about drug-related crimes, about kidnapping and I was afraid that I might be stupid enough to take food or drinks from strangers. I had to keep reading and doing exercises on my OCD Workbook to pull myself through the flight. I can still recall the feeling of the unbearable-ness.
It is not about the location I am at. It is about my brain. You can escape a location. But you cannot escape your brain. I still have lots of OCD about strangers offering me food in here, in everywhere.
I did become very anxious about money at Yale though. For one thing, the tuition for Yale is sky-rocketed and I felt a strong sense of guilt and responsibility to do well there. I had trouble understanding people who extended their programs to an unnecessary length since I thought it was just so oh-my-lord expensive. I used to be fine in my undergrad about finance or you can call naive. Besides the ridiculous tuition fee, my rent around Yale was really high and the living cost was also a bit of surprise. It was really surprising for me to know that good money buys you safety. Before Yale, I thought money was money and safety and safety. But the truth is, especially in a country with high income inequality, living in a decent neighborhood (which is expensive) is the bottom line for personal safety. I became extremely anxious about money making in the future for I developed a strong fear of ending up in a bad neighborhood. It scares me a lot. I was very stressed academically and psychologically. And this fear of income disparity in turns pressurized me a lot to study. The reason for my hard work has almost become “to escape from unsafety” as if the academic pressure was not high enough. I tried to talk to many classmates about the high living expenses here and the worrying campus security conditions. Some of them do not think the living cost is high, some of them lived in secured student dorms, some of them are really nice to help and soothe me and some of them simply did not understand what was wrong with me. I blamed myself a lot for focusing on complaining about problems instead of thinking up solutions. I found online supermarkets where I could get food delivered, which was helpful. I did not get the Amazon Prime, rather, I complained about the low shipping. Every time I acquire a new piece of furniture (table, lamp, yoga mat, scooter, bike), I felt a sense of guilt that I should not be spending this money. When I was living in student dorms back in my undergrad study, I did not have to spend money on furniture, besides tuition and the accommodation, I mainly just spent money on food and printing (whenever I wanted to buy a book, I check the book name and borrow it from the library). I guess if the tuition at Yale is lower, I would have had a much weaker sense of guilt and pressure. The more tuition I paid, the harder I could see the investment coming back in a short term, and I had another layer of worry. I used not to see education as a way of personal investment but rather a way of personal development. Yet the high cost has forced me to see the grad studies as an investment especially one is under pressure to land a job and to figure out a life plan after graduation. There is an expiration date for the “chasing after your dream” BS, unless your dream helps other people and helps yourself to achieve a stable life. All dreams of yours can be pursued as hobbies when you have a stable life and career. Off topic now. Anyways, the point is, I was never so anxious about finance in my life because I saw what living in a bad neighborhood can cost to your life, physical health, mental health, properties, and happiness.
I do not want regard myself as a victim, yet I want to regard myself as a survivor. I have the ability to survive OCD, as has been manifested by these past few months. I still have lots of OCD, about my English, about my learning abilities, about my career, about my studies and about people that I love. But I can see that things that previously bothered me, like yoga, like crimes, do not bother me as much as before. Of course, there are new things that bother me, like visa immigration, like languages and so forth. I keep rehearsing my job interviews and my visa interviews out of fear of not being recognized by future employers or not being qualified for justifiable immigration reasons. I am working on it. I am working on not being driven by fear, though.
I have been too harsh on myself. I discipline not only my behavior but my thoughts. I keep rehearsing the good and successful side of me. I internalize people’s criticism and try to be the “good” one. But I am good and adequate myself.