While I can see OCD symptoms even in my childhood, now that I know what they are, my first “spike” of symptoms came my junior and senior year of high school, when academic pressures and my grandfather’s death caused some major stress in my life.
It’s been 16 years since then. I didn’t begin to understand that I might be mentally ill until about 5 years ago, and I wasn’t diagnosed until a couple of years after that. A lot of us are in that situation; OCD is misunderstood in pop culture and involves a lot of shame and guilt, so it makes sense that most of us are diagnosed years after our OCD first becomes debilitating.
But where does that leave teenagers and younger kids? Where can they go for advice on dealing with OCD?
Well, other teens, for one. NAMI is a great resource for anyone with a mental illness, and they have a section on their site with advice for teens and young adults, including navigating friendship when you or a friend has a mental illness, and dealing with things like classes.
The International OCD Foundation offers a special teen track at their annual OCD Conference. They share stories of kids like Kathy in the “For Kids” section of their site. They also have a blog, where people with OCD, including teens, talk about their experiences with mental illness and offer advice.
In one recent entry, John Steinberg offers some tips for fellow teens who feel alone with their struggles against OCD. In another, teen conference presenter Michael Levine answered questions about his own OCD as well as what it is like to visit the annual OCD Conference.
The IOCDF site is a great resource — as is Psych Central, of course! — but if you want an offline guide, you can’t go wrong with Alison Dotson’s book “Being Me with OCD.” Dotson is an adult, but she wrote her book for teens and young adults who have recently been diagnosed with OCD or think they might have it.
It gives breakdowns on treatments including medication, exposure response prevention therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, residential treatment and more. Dotson, who has “Pure O” OCD, talks about her own experiences with the mental illness and shares (with permission, of course) short stories from young people in their teens and early 20s who also struggle with OCD.
The book is great for newly diagnosed adults, too, because Dotson has a gift for reassuring through example and breaking everything down into easy-to-read nuggets of information. But it’s geared toward teens and young adults in high school and college. There are chapters on dealing with OCD while dating, during classes or at a job tucked in with the usual advice on treatment and therapy.
If you’re a kid, teen or young adult, know that you are not alone out there. There are people who get it, and there’s help out there. You can get through it, too.
Photo by Tulane Public Relations