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School in Quarantine

Trigger warning: in this post I talk about suicide. If you are in a hard place please be careful if you choose to read it. To those of you contemplating suicide- please get help, do whatever you have to do in order to get help. I care about you and want you to live.


When the pandemic started I had been back at school for around two months. Recently out of residential treatment at Rogers Behavioral Health, I was finally getting started with my life again. I was doing all sorts of things that I didn’t think I’d ever be doing during the school year. I spent time with my friends, cooked meals, and even went to a weekly fitness class. When the announcement came during spring break that school wasn’t continuing after break, I was devastated and OCD was once again at the reigns.

Even after getting treatment, school was still my only motivator. When I struggled with exposures and the limited school time in residential, I told myself that I’m doing it to go back to school in person. After discharge, I followed through with all the exposures I didn’t like only because I wanted to stay at school. When school disappeared for an unknown amount of time, I pretty much stopped doing everything. I didn’t really eat, I stayed in bed most of the day, and I didn’t really see a point to life anymore.

I was terrified about falling behind in school, but since my “perfect” class schedule already got destroyed when I left to get treatment, it didn’t hit as hard. Another comforting factor was that everyone else who goes to school isn’t having school. While I was falling behind those in an online school, it wasn’t like I was the only one ripped from school.

My mom is a nurse, and she started working more during the pandemic, and was gone most of the time. My brother started working more as well, and I was home alone most of the time. I ended up moving to stay with my dad and his fiancé, because my dad was working from home and could make sure that I actually ate.

School eventually came back online (and I found an online class to take), and I managed to make it to the end of the school year. I lost a lot of the progress I made in treatment, but I was still doing better than I was before I got treatment. I got a job working at a pharmacy, and spend the summer counting down until I could go to college.

The college I’m at decided to be in person, with many classes being online. I was absolutely thrilled. While I knew it wouldn’t be quite the same with small class sizes in person, masks, and social distancing, I was finally back to school in person. I managed to squeeze myself into as many in-person classes as I could.

I did struggle with the transition to college, but I think I was doing a pretty good job. I did go to one class over an hour early because I was convinced I’d be late, but I was managing to balance a full load of classes while working at a nearby pharmacy. The beginning of the end started when I got a text from my boss saying that one of my coworkers I’d worked with tested positive for COVID.

While I wanted to go to my classes in person, I knew that it would be extremely selfish to jeopardize the wellbeing of others. I quarantined in my dorm room, and went to get a test. During those few days I didn’t get anything done, I was constantly worrying that I would cause someone to get sick and die. I didn’t have enough food in my room to last long, and I shared a bathroom with my two suitemates.

To my great relief, my test came back negative, and I was given the all-clear to go back to my life. I went and got dinner, enjoying being back out, but when I got back I got bad news; my suitemates friend tested positive. I’m not sure if I was required to quarantine, but my OCD dictated that quarantine was required, and I was told to not come to work for two weeks.

While quarantining, I barely ate and fell more behind in school. I spent most of the time sleeping, worrying about potentially getting others sick, and panicking about school. I ended up moving home after a week and isolated with my cats so I had some company. At this point I missed some due dates for some assignments, and my OCD went ballistic.

Up until then, I’d never missed turned in an assignment before, and now I was over a week behind with multiple missing assignments. I was trying to do the work, but my math class was in person and since I didn’t have access to the lectures I kept panicking about not being able to understand the information well enough. Whether I knew the info well enough or not, I couldn’t get myself to calm down and focus enough to get the work done, and spent hours agonizing over the same few math problems.

Since I was behind and I was at fault, I felt like I couldn’t go to my professors for help. In hindsight, they would’ve helped me, but my distorted thinking kept me from reaching out at the time. Once I missed a test, my OCD went into panic mode and told me that I had to die because I was a failure. Even after my first round of treatment, I still expected perfection from myself in school, only with spending less time on schoolwork. I never had to deal with bad grades because the classes I were in were easier than I was used to.

So, each night, I’d freak out about being a failure and having to die. Sometimes I’d be crying, and I wasn’t able to calm down until I decided to stop eating. The goal was to slowly starve to death, since I’m afraid of many death-causing actions. The next day I’d usually get convinced to eat by my mom, a friend, or at an emergency meeting with my therapist. One day it took an hour with my therapist to get me to take two bites of an apple.

Once my OCD caught on that starving probably wouldn’t work, the nightly panic wouldn’t subside with food restriction. The only way to lessen the panic was to look up suicide methods, which I’d do for however long it took to calm down. One good thing about my OCD is that I refuse to do anything big (like suicide) without being 100% sure that it would work. I didn’t want to end up in the hospital using resources that could’ve been spent helping those with COVID. So basically I’d look up a method, and decide that way wouldn’t work because it was too risky, if it didn’t work there would be permanent damage.

I ended up dropping most of my classes and picking up some half-semester classes to maintain full-time status as a student. Once there was an opening for treatment, I was able to catch back up in the one class I still had from the beginning of the school year with a lot of support.

With 6 hours of therapy a day, there wasn’t much time left for school. In my classes, I wasn’t able to reread the textbook or rewrite notes like I used to, and I ended up having to choose to either listen to the lecture OR read the textbook. It was terrifying, even though one of the classes was pretty much a repeat of a class I took in high school, and another class I didn’t realize there were recorded lectures until a few weeks in.

While COVID did negatively impact my mental health, it also gave me the opportunity to do school and treatment at the same time, which wasn’t an option before. I made a huge amount of progress scaling back on how much I put into school, and proved to myself that I can still do okay in school without working on it every single minute of the day.

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