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The Carletonian

The Carletonian

The Carletonian

There’s a bad moon rising

<nor of Mental Health Awareness Month, I want to talk about my struggles with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) during my time at Carleton. I want to mention that my OCD symptoms are different from how most people understand OCD. My room is a disaster in every sense of the word, and I am not particularly organized. The disease can take many forms and the sanitization of OCD symptoms as “being orderly” has led people, even quite a few Carls, to frustrate me to no end. When people say that “I am so OCD” or “That’s so OCD” when talking about their organizational skills, I am shocked at the trivialization of my awful disease.

To help you understand my journey with OCD, I want to start with the summer of 2014, which was between my first and second year here. During this time, the symptoms of my OCD, defined by horrifying intrusive thoughts (known as obsessions) and rituals completed to reduce the anxiety caused by said thoughts (known as compulsions) became markedly worse.

While working in Chicago, I was in the middle of a particularly bad obsessive/compulsive cycle and refused to eat anything except vitamins and coffee for two weeks. The justification I gave myself was that anything besides those items would make me sick due to “dirt” and “contamination.” Then, one day, while was walking down the stairs, my legs gave out. They had given out because I had hardly eaten for two weeks. I fortunately fell backwards and landed on my butt, literally hitting rock bottom. I sat on the step with tears running down my face in darkness, and I felt powerless to do anything. I thought to myself “For all its claims of helping students develop skills to manage themselves in the world beyond Carleton, I, a Carleton student, had no idea of how to ask for help.”

When I finally did ask for help, a month later, I was given some meds, no long-term treatment plan, and shoved out the door of a doctor’s office. So, I returned to campus, with a bottle of Lexapro in one hand and a bottle of Xanax in the other, unsure of my next steps. I was ready to start talking about my struggles and jumped into the Mental Health Awareness Collective. During my time at MHAC, I realized many things that needed (and still need) to change:

1. Conversations about mental health are dominated by white (mostly male) students. The conversation was rarely inclusive of others not fitting that description, and this made it extremely hard to feel like my voice was heard. What’s worse, my feelings of isolation about being the only Latino in a class were never discussed.

2. There is a toxic “Oppression Olympics” culture present at Carleton when it comes to mental health. Instead of students trying to genuinely understand the struggles of others with mental health, people would say “Oh, I have more work than you.” This zero-sum game is not constructive and only further stigmatizes people who had the courage to share their experiences.

3. I noticed the misplaced pride students have in staying up all night to complete assignments. This culture, promoted by instructors and students, was that turning in assignments is more important than physical and mental well-being. We need to address the aspects of Carleton and society as a whole that only value us for what we produce and not for our inherent self-worth.  

4. Students running for CSA positions would often declare their support for mental health. As a three year participant in MHAC, I saw a grand total of four candidates who discussed mental health in their platforms show up to any meetings for MHAC out of more than two dozen who promised action. If you want to discuss mental health, I will be the first person to discuss it with you, but if you want to commodify discussions about it because it is a popular thing to talk about, but then never take action, please ask why that is.

As a senior, I find myself incredibly frustrated by the attitudes towards mental health on campus. I am frustrated by the erasure of PoC experiences with mental health. By the well meaning allies who never show up. By the facades of okay-ness that people put up instead of being vulnerable. By the parts of Carleton and society that tell us we need to put up those facades. If there’s one piece of advice I can give you, it’s: I want people to listen. To be vulnerable. To support each other. At the end of the day, we are all in this together.

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