|The building at Bowling Green State University where I took many classes and taught many classes.|
Obsessive-compulsive disorder, a debilitating anxiety disorder, can take a lot away from us. It can take time, money, peace of mind, self-esteem. And dreams.
When I was a senior in college, I began to worry about what I would do once I graduated.
I wanted to be a writer or a social worker. Those were my two interests. The desire to write had been with me since I was a child. The desire to be a social worker was ignited during one of several sociology classes I took in college.
Basically, I wanted to write, and I wanted to save the world. With a degree in English.
During my last semester, one of my professors talked with me about my future and suggested that I go to graduate school. I could teach and become a professor and write important literary papers and books.
I liked the idea, and I liked the thought of having a definite place to go after graduation from college.
So I applied and got accepted into Bowling Green State University in Ohio. They gave me a graduate assistantship, which meant they paid my tuition and gave me a stipend in exchange for teaching while I worked on my master’s degree in English.
I took classes and taught classes for two years, writing a thesis during my last semester (which is a story in itself that I will have to tell you one day). And I finished. I got my M.A. in English.
The next step, if I hoped to become a college professor, was to get a Ph.D. I chose to stay at BGSU for my doctoral work.
For the next two or so years, I took classes, put together a doctoral committee, chose a genre and time period to focus on, created a reading list for my doctoral exams, studied for my exams, took my written and oral exams, chose a dissertation topic, did preliminary research, put together a proposal for my dissertation, and gave a public presentation of that proposal.
I passed everything and ended up being in ABD status: All But Dissertation.
In other words, all I had left to do before receiving my doctorate was to write my dissertation. As my dissertation chair told me, “All you have left to do is to write a very long paper.”
One more step. One more task.
What I haven’t told you yet is how OCD was a part of those years that I worked so hard.
I had reading OCD, which grew worse as I moved into the doctoral program. There were many books on my reading list that I was never able to finish because of OCD.
I had OCD about my writing, which made me obsessed with the possibility of plagiarizing, making it difficult for me to research and to then write a coherent paper.
I had contamination OCD, which made me clean my bathroom for hours, vacuum my apartment repeatedly, wipe down my kitchen counters. I spent literally hours doing these compulsions.
I had checking OCD. For example, I could spend huge chunks of time checking the stove in my apartment, making sure it was off, even if I hadn’t used it.
I had hit-and-run OCD. I drove the streets of Bowling Green looking for bodies that I imagined could be there.
The OCD affected my performance in graduate school from the beginning, but it got worse as time went by. It became especially difficult to cope as I faced what seemed to be the monumental task of writing a dissertation in spite of not being able to properly read, research and write.
Even though I started medication treatment during my third year in my doctoral program, it didn’t help enough, or help in time, for me to finish the dissertation by the time my fellowship ran out.
I moved back to Virginia, with vague hopes of finishing my dissertation there. But the OCD, though drastically improved, still fed into my academic work.
I never finished my dissertation. I never finished my Ph.D.
It may sound strange, but I don’t wish I was a college professor. The writing I wanted to do had nothing to do with the study of contemporary fiction. I don’t miss teaching.
I don’t believe I wasted the time leading up to the dissertation because education is never wasted.
I don’t dwell on it like I used to. I don’t know that my life would have been better or more productive with a Ph.D.
What I do regret, though, is not finishing a goal after coming so close.
I regret the fact that OCD was so strong then that it affected me reaching my goal, my dream.
But with all my tools to fight OCD that I’ve gained through treatment, with all my intent to live a full life, I won’t let OCD take away any more dreams.
What ways have you protected your dreams and reached your goals?