When I did realize I had OCD, it still took a while to broach the extent of my obsessions with my therapist.
When my parents found out that I had OCD, it wasn't because I told them. I was a senior in high school in February 2011 when I offered to describe my condition anonymously in a feature for my high school paper. My adviser tipped off the guidance counselor and Head of School, and the guidance counselor concluded that my obsessive thoughts were not indicative of OCD.
I was suspended from school for being a "threat to the other students" and allowed to return only with a doctor’s note.
A boy in Penzel’s care was also suspended from school for "voicing morbid thoughts," and also allowed to return only when two psychologists and a psychiatrist vouched for him.
Bill Blundell, a licensed counselor in Illinois who specializes in treating children and adolescents with OCD, said that occasionally when high-schoolers confide in their friends about their obsessions, the friends tend to "freak out, it spreads like wildfire, and the teenager becomes an outcast."
Teenagers might not be able to discern between OCD and actual homicidal tendencies, and
so it is understandably alarming to hear their friends’ confessions. But the cycle that Blundell describes should stop as soon as it reaches an adult: the school counselor, teacher, or parent.
Penzel explained his own litmus test for distinguishing between OCD and actual, dangerous impulses: "If you listen carefully, patients will agonize constantly over their obsessions, asking, 'Why am I having these thoughts; how do I know that I wouldn't do this; why would I be thinking it if I didn’t want to do it?'"
"Most violent and dangerous people don’t sit there having these inner dialogues," he added.
Blundell suggested that schools should increase awareness of these differences among their staff in order to better accommodate students with OCD. He prescribes "teaching the professionals within the school, making them more aware of the fears and of OCD in general. It’s not something that makes somebody weird, or crazy, which is a lot of what I get."
Blundell works with schools in IOCDF’s Midwest affiliate to increase understanding about "anything that falls under that umbrella [of OCD], which includes those obsessive and violent thoughts."
The students he works with can be "ostracized," and become "pariah[s] of the school."
After my suspension, I fantasized about grabbing the microphone at an all-school assembly and shouting that I had OCD, that these thoughts are not actually harmful, and that the most harm came from assuming that you were suffering alone. There is no way a middle school student can recognize the warning signs of OCD if half of the disorder—the obsessive thoughts—remain taboo. Some facets of OCD might be more digestible than others, but that doesn't mean that our understanding of it should be limited to the idea that OCD sufferers like to keep pencils in line.