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First Day of School

The first day of school is time for learning, making friends, and catching up; but for me school is going back to a cage. However, this isn’t a simple cage, it is invisible to others and slowly closing in around me. My life is controlled by grades, homework, tests, and due dates. Teachers and friends talk about how important grades are to my future college and job, making things worse. My life becomes smaller, and my Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) around school gets bigger.

Grades have been a huge deal to me since the beginning of middle school, where we first started getting letter grades. I just moved from a small private school to a large public school, which was a huge adjustment. I was overwhelmed and not really absorbing what I learned in class. On the first math quiz (I got put into advanced math) I got a D- (I think, I just know it was a bad grade). When my parents saw they talked to me; they told me that my grade on the quiz wasn’t acceptable and that I’d have to do better in the future. They meant well and were doing what any parent would, but I was already freaking out. I thought I wouldn’t make it through middle school.

I started throwing everything I had into school. I decided that since middle school is a practice for high school when grades matter more, that my practice had to be perfect so that I would be set up for success. My math grade came back up, and I ended up finishing with an A+. My parents and I were happy with my school performance and life seemed good. However, OCD managed to get in and take over.

I have always feared failure, which made school an easy target for OCD. School became more and more important to me, and every single assignment became crucial. I felt like I had to get perfect grades or else I would do bad in high school and fail at life. I remember getting an A in art class because my art wasn’t unique enough and I was freaking out and very upset. If I couldn’t manage to get an A+ in middle school art, How would I survive high school? College?

One time, late in 6th grade, I forgot to turn in a homework assignment and got a late and I freaked out. I believed that I was going to fail out of high school because I wouldn’t be responsible enough to handle everything. After the incident, every night as I got in bed I would go through my classes one by one and make sure I did the homework assignments. I’d often repeat it all again once I’d finished just to make sure, and sometimes I’d even get up to go check my homework in person. In addition, when I was at school I would frequently check to make sure I had my assignments and that I didn’t forget to turn something in.

In 8th grade I had the worst panic attack that I’ve ever had in my entire life. It was the first year I was taking a final since I was taking Spanish 1 (which is a high school class). My Spanish teacher went on and on about how important finals are, and how it would indicate if we are ready for high school or not. Needless to say, the final was life or death for me, and I studied a lot. I took the final and it didn’t seem too bad, it could have been much worse, but I was still worried.

Later on in the day people start to freak out. People had been getting F’s on the Spanish final. I didn’t have my phone with me at lunch when I found out so I used my friend’s phone to check my grade. I had gotten an F. I felt numb, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. I went through the rest of the school day in a sort of trance, reality not setting in.

When I got home I called my mom since I was obviously upset. I went to tell her and I just started sobbing, shaking, and hyperventilating. I’m impressed my mom was able to understand what I was saying because I was a total mess. She said she’s get home as soon as she could but she had to finish her work.

I sat in the guest bedroom, feeling like I’m dying. I am convinced that I am a huge failure and that I will fail out of college, not be able to hold a job, and have to live with my parents. It felt like my entire life was crumbling around me. All of my hopes and dreams for the future were gone.

When my mom got home she tried to talk some sense into me, but OCD wouldn’t listen to logic. OCD has its own logic, and that’s all I could see. I continued to fall deeper and deeper into the spiral. My parents were very frustrated with me because they knew that I didn’t deserve an F, but they couldn’t get me to see that.

Finally, my Spanish teacher send out an email that there was an error transferring grades from the computer test to the gradebook, and the worst day of my life came to an end. I was able to function again and feel like I wasn’t a complete failure. However, that fateful day continues to impact me today.

Going into high school, grades took on a whole new level of importance to me. Grades came before everything else, even my own health. Freshman year I end all but one class with an A+ (English I got an A). To many people that seems like great grades, but to me English isn’t good enough so now I’d fail all of my next English classes. Throughout the year I was getting about 6 hours of sleep during school nights, which seemed awful then. Finals were extremely stressful for me because I was convinced that I’d fail. I was slowly cutting out all of my leisurely activities and time consuming hobbies to make room for homework.

In 10th grade things spiraled out of control. My classes got harder and my obsessions about homework got worse. I rewrote notes, read the textbook chapters multiple times, did all extra work offered, checked answers multiple times, thought through answers multiple times before writing them, had many people edit any of my writing, and asked reassurance questions that I understood things and did them right. Teachers continued to stress the importance of good grades, making things worse. In addition, the beginning of the school year is marching band and Allstate, which is extremely stressful, not to mention the added drama of the medication that made me depressed and suicidal.

All too soon I was getting 4 hours of sleep (3 at worst). Homework dictated my entire life, and I was always thinking about it. I looked like a zombie (and also felt like one), but I continued to push through. Any enjoyment left in life is gone, I am just surviving. My parents are well aware at this time that things are out of control, and they try to enforce a bedtime. Like any battle with OCD of that nature, it failed horribly. When they set an 11 o’clock bedtime I just got up really early (as early as 3). They added a restriction of what time I got up at but I didn’t follow it because OCD was fighting against it. My phone would get taken away as punishment, but compared to ruining my entire life (what my OCD would tell me would happen if I didn’t spend a little more time or check one more time) losing a phone for a day isn’t a big deal.

By the end of the school year I am barely making it. On the weekends I would crash, and sleep a bunch, and not be able to start my homework until Sunday (or sometimes Saturday) because I was so exhausted. I wasn’t present with friends, my mind was always on school.

What made it worse was that teachers and friends didn’t realize what is going on. They continued to emphasize grades and feed the OCD. I had my struggles every day, and people thought I was someone with this seemingly pretty perfect life. They often told me how jealous they were of my grades and life. Little did they know that my head is a war zone.

I just started my junior year, and I can feel the OCD coming back full force. Over the summer I got a break since school is one of my biggest issues, but the vacation is over. I feel the need to do everything perfectly, to guarantee my success in life. My standards for work seems to keep going up despite my efforts to stop it. I feel like I need to duck out of things after school and on the weekends to have time for homework. I do not want to continue my downward spiral, because if things don’t change for the better I’m pretty sure I’ll end up at an in-patient clinic sometime this school year.

OCD has taken everything school related away from me. I want to be able to learn just for fun, to want to go to school, and to have some high school experiences besides homework. I want to be happy with my work, and to not always doubt it. I want to trust my knowledge and that I learned things correctly.

Normally I end with an inspiring statement, but I don’t feel very inspired about this. My life is about to be a living nightmare, and inspiration isn’t going to do much right now. I am going to be fighting every day to not have a panic attack or meltdown, while also trying to get enough sleep. Inspiration or not, I cannot just sit back and let OCD win, I at least have to fight back.

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