This past Friday, I took the GRE (Graduate Record Examinations) as one of the few tasks remaining to finish my application to graduate school. This is a stressful exam for anyone, but for someone like me, it appears to be a much more daunting task.
Let me explain: As I’ve talked about quite a bit, one of the largest manifestations of my OCD is perfectionism. Vanilla Ice had it right: “Anything less than the best is a felony.” And that’s more or less how my brain thinks; anything less than perfection is failure. In addition, this was the first exam of any kind that I’ve taken since my diagnosis and treatment. During exams when OCD was in control, I would second-guess every answer and be concerned that I had selected too many C answers or too many B answers. Even if I was 100% sure of the answer, OCD would make me do the math again to be absolutely sure. I guess in a subconscious way, I knew this was my chance to prove to myself and everyone else that I was ready and able to take on graduate school. I needed to show myself that I’ve changed and that I can handle it now, much better than I did in undergraduate when OCD was in control.
So obviously, I’ve had many weeks/months to study and basically prep my brain for this exam. And what I mean by prep my brain is literally not psych myself out. I focused on studying in a very non-methodical, easy-going, this-is-not-that-important, kind of way. I got there early so as to not freak out over being late, and I read and reread the rules regarding testing so that I wouldn’t be surprised by anything. I was really proud of myself for taking my preparation in stride. But don’t let my calm attitude fool you, I definitely had a few moments where breakdown was imminent. And I think that’s what I’m most proud of; the ability to calm myself down, even in the face of potential failure.
On test day, I arrived early and ate my breakfast while studying in the car. I went inside early, found the restroom, took a minute to wash my hands and center myself before I went upstairs. Once I got through the security part (it makes the TSA look like sweet old ladies), I settled in my cube, with my giant noise-canceling headphones and paused. I took a deep breath, found my center and pressed start. Before I knew it, it was over. And I was thankful that I had made it through without second-guessing every single answer, without keeping track of how many times I had answered “A” or how many questions I might have missed. I even made a mistake during the exam; I didn’t allocate enough time to the first problem set and ended up not being able to answer a couple of questions and guessing on maybe 2 more. I could have very easily had a breakdown and not been able to complete the rest of the exam. But I shrugged it off, made a mental note to allocate my time better and literally made a joke about it in my head. (The GRE has an experimental section; either you take an extra Quantitative section or an extra Verbal section, and it doesn’t apply to your score. But you don’t know which section is the experimental one and trying to figure it out is pointless.) I thought to myself, “Wow, I really hope that was the experimental section because I just screwed that up!” And I moved on. I MOVED ON. This didn’t seem huge when I was taking the test, but after a few days to reflect, this was a huge deal.
Overall, my preliminary scores came out in the range I expected, and they should be good enough to get me into the program I want for graduate school. I can’t ask for much more than that. I gained some really great insight into my abilities without OCD in control and it gave me more confidence that I can live a life without OCD control. Now to finish those application essays! 🙂