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Five years ago I walked into the Carleton University health clinic with chapped hands and visible

dried blood filling the crevices within. I sat there picking at them and reassuring myself that I
hadnt been hit by the O-train while taking it there. At the time, such absurdly irrational thoughts
warranted attention from my mind. It only made sense, having walked out with an OCD
diagnosis.
Being diagnosed with a mental illness is a daunting reality. Accepting it is a slow and inevitable
fate. Living with it is surely feasible. However, the standard of living can vary greatly depending
on a multitude of factors, some of which are under the individuals control. Seeking treatment,
and choosing to reveal or hide your illness are some of those factors. While seeking treatment
was completely under my control, unfortunately public opinion dictated whether or not I should
reveal my illness to those around me.
I chose to hide it. That meant bailing on a movie with friends because of a family emergency
when in fact Id missed the bus to make sure Id locked the door for the hundredth time. Or
spending longer than usual in the washroom at Dennys washing my hands for the thirteenth
time, while friends waited, before using the crowded washroom excuse. The list goes on, and
came with a high cost of emotional distress. Not only did the lies accumulate to cover up the
shame of what I went through, but there was a toxic buildup of self loathing for doing so.
Approximately a year before my diagnosis, both my social and academic lives had taken a hit as
a result of my mysterious behaviour. As an aspiring physician, an exceptional academic
performance in my undergraduate degree was vital. However, how could I possibly study for my
exam the next day when Id contaminate everything around me and inevitably die of sickness if I
didnt wash my hands just one more time. Needless to say, that was a statement that
reiterated for an hour with everything I did. Grades took a dip, and friends took a walk.
It wasnt until I was introduced to my new best friend that came in the form of a pill that things
went from grim to pleasant. My mind was better able to label irrational thoughts and actions as
they were to a great extent. The sun started to shine again on my grades, and the clouds began
to slowly dissipate from around me. A medical school acceptance in Poland ensued.
I saw a blank page in the opportunity to study abroad. A chance to escape the events of the past
two years. I ran with it. My arrival in Poland saw me thrive socially and academically. This
triumph had me pushing my abilities to the limit. I established and set the tone for the initiative of
starting Polands first nationwide Canadian medical student association. Within a year, my small
team of four grew into a team of twelve overseeing over two hundred student members.
Interviews with organizations such as Metro News and CMAJ, association events, and different
responsibilities Id undertook helped mask and suppress my symptoms to an extent.
However I had continued my substantial effort at hiding my illness, and all sorts of actions and
lies came with that. I failed to realize that further suppression meant greater accumulation of
anxiety. I failed to realize that instead of this, I could be making a difference in the public
perception of mental illnesses. In a world where most fail to understand that mental illness, just
like physical illness, is out of ones control, I proved that I was nonetheless capable of great
accomplishments. I was able to get accepted to medical school. I was able to act as president of
an entire student organization, group leader within my university, and undertake a series of
initiatives all while battling my chronic mental illness. My OCD did not define me or my

capabilities. It did not set a guideline as to what I can or cant accomplish, and neither should
society. Society shouldnt inadvertently set a tone to interactions with or perception of those
affected by a mental illness. According to surveys conducted, OCD affects between 1% - 2% of
the Canadian population. That may not seem like a lot, but its enough to begin working at
eliminating the stigma.
Unfortunately in my case, the anxiety and stress boiled over and led to my dropping out of
medical school and resignation as president of the Canadian Medical Students in Poland
Association.
It wasnt before beginning treatment that I was able to begin putting myself back together again.
I was once again in a familiar place. A familiar beginning. Only this time I decided to take the
year off academically. Weeks into my newly acquired holiday, I found that I was unable to find
any solace in all of the free time I had. I slowly began to navigate my way into the work field. It
wasnt long before I found myself calling out lattes and mochas an average of thirty hours per
week.
I found it amusing when I found out that this years Bell Lets Talk initiative fell on my birthday.
It pushed the feeling that it was appropriate for me to finally liberate myself from hiding my
illness on my date of birth. The day that this whole journey began. A journey though which Ill
work hard in hope of helping others like myself find liberation and solace in doing so. My return
to medical school will find a great new value after this experience.
To start things off, Im here to proudly announce that my name is Omar, and I have OCD.