May and June are often months of transition. Within my own family, my son Dan graduated college last week and my daughter will be graduating high school in the next few weeks. While my husband and I are very proud of both of them, Dan’s graduation was especially poignant, as during his struggle with severe obsessive-compulsive disorder, his strong desire to complete his education at his dream college was a powerful motivator to get well. I found myself overwhelmed with emotion as he walked across the stage to receive his diploma. What a wonderful reason to celebrate!
And celebrate we did. But I am also keenly aware that change, by its very nature, comes with stress, and for Dan, the changes are already huge. He is not in school anymore, living with his three best friends. His girlfriend is not nearby. In fact, none of his friends is around now. He has to make a lot of decisions; types of decisions he has never had to make before. Where would he like to live? What types of jobs does he want to pursue? How will he conduct his job search? What are his short-term goals? His long-term goals?
Dan, like other college graduates, is basically building a new life for himself, and though that can be stressful for anyone, it is often even more so for those struggling with OCD, the “doubting disease.” So much uncertainty!
While graduating college is a milestone and an obvious time of transition, any changes, even subtle ones, have the potential to exacerbate OCD. The end of a school year, going to summer camp or having an unstructured summer, marriage, divorce, friends or family moving away, moving yourself, and a job change or promotion are just some examples of the countless changes we all go through at one time or another.
So how can we help our loved ones (or ourselves) deal with the stress and heightened anxiety that come along with transitions? Here are some ideas I’ve discussed with Dan that we will try to implement as he navigates the days, weeks, and months ahead:
- Instead of trying to deal with everything at once, break the situation down into smaller parts. Perhaps make a list of what you think is most important to deal with first. In other words, take one thing at a time.
- When making decisions, make sure you are considering what you really want, and not what your OCD is steering you toward, or what you think is “right.” Of course, depending on the severity of your OCD, this might be easier said than done, which brings us to my next suggestion.
- Make sure you have a support system in place. Your therapist, family and friends should all be aware of the changes going on in your life. See your health care providers more frequently if need be. Ask for help when you need it, but if you’re a loved one of someone with OCD, remember there is often a fine line between helping and enabling.
- Take care of yourself, physically and mentally. Eat well, exercise, and even consider meditation. While you no doubt have lots to deal with and figure out, it is also important to carve out some time to do the things you enjoy, such as playing sports or going to a movie.
Dan’s OCD first became severe when he was a freshman in college. This was also a time of major transition for him. Will it happen again now that he has graduated? The answer, of course, is “I don’t know.” I do know he now has the insight, skills and tools to fight his OCD — all things he didn’t have back then. Still, the future is uncertain. But uncertainty does not have to be equated only with stress and anxiety; it is also a time of excitement and unlimited possibilities. Who among us doesn’t look back to our high school or college graduation and think of the endless opportunities we may or may not have pursued?
And so I, and hopefully Dan, will choose to embrace this uncertainty, instead of worrying about it. As he strives to plan his future, my hope is that he will live each day to the fullest and enjoy the journey as he works to create the life he wants for himself. Whether we have OCD or not, we can all try to take this positive approach toward the uncertainty that comes along with transitions.