Senior Elias Kamal’s journey with a psychological condition
When senior Elias Kamal was five years old, he experienced the first symptoms of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder—otherwise more commonly referred to as OCD.
OCD is an anxiety disorder defined by an intense preoccupation with an urge or thought and the compulsion to perform ritualized behaviors.
“Of course, I didn’t understand it [when I was younger] and felt completely different and disconnected from others,” Kamal said. “Over the years it grew, particularly when I entered junior high and the anxiety in my life increased, since OCD is primarily spiked by stress.”
In the United States alone, approximately 3.3 million individuals aged 18-54 experience some form of OCD per year. Although Kamal faced signs of OCD for most of his life, only after receiving an official diagnosis and treatment plan did he feel more comfortable with his disorder. The diagnosis brought forward a community of individuals and stories that Kamal was finally able to relate with.
“Part of me felt relieved,” Kamal said. “For years I’ve dealt with issues internally and carried out compulsions, but just knowing that it’s a legitimate condition makes me feel better. For once I knew there was a reason I had difficulty paying attention in class, getting assignments turned in on time, and working with others.”
But the situation was still slightly more difficult for Kamal, who did not have a close friend or family member with the same or similar psychological disorder. Thus, to learn more about what he was going through, Kamal turned to books, research, and memoirs of people who also have OCD. By educating himself more, he was able to rely on treatment plans to help him throughout his daily life.
“I shared what I was going through with my doctor who referred me to talk and medication therapy,” Kamal said. “But the most difficult part of obsessive compulsive disorder is the constant uncomfortable and painstaking feeling of being trapped in your own head.”
Essentially, Kamal must perfect his “compulsions” or else he cannot continue on with his day. The immense pressure and preoccupation of a single thought in his brain cause him to develop serious headaches and nausea.
“There are countless days [when] I’ve been late to school, missed school, or left early due to [my migraines],” Kamal said. “It’s affected my grades, personal relationships, and health drastically.”
But perhaps the biggest toll OCD has taken is time. Kamal spends much of his day with the inner struggle of anxiety and irrational thoughts that he has barely any time left for school or other activities.
“A typical day for me is getting home and spending about three hours cleaning myself, my room, and creating schedules and plans that I don’t even end up following through on,” Kamal said. “It sounds ridiculous, but it’s like I’m trapped in this endless cycle of making lists, drawing plans, counting random things, organizing belongings, creating schedules, and making calendars simply to ease my mind. It’s like living in a distorted world that I’ve created to satisfy my imperfect perfectionism.”
The stigma surrounding mental health initially scared Kamal and his family, but Kamal’s friends and school teachers have helped him re-adjust to his new lifestyle.
“It was definitely very hard for my family to hear. My mother has always tried to be supportive but my siblings, on the other hand, just don’t understand. My friend Arsh has always consoled me and continues to ease my anxiety, and here at American, Mr. Creger is always open to hearing how I feel and accommodating my needs.”
Initially, sophomore Arsh Vishen, one of Kamal’s close friends, was unaware about Kamal’s OCD. However, after finding out, he started to realize that the negativity surrounding mental health was often due to misconceptions.
“I was curious at first,” Vishen said. “I wondered why he was always washing his hands or cleaning his room. But soon I learned a lot about OCD and mental health in general and I began to understand that the way society interprets them is often untrue and exaggerated—even though they are conditions that play a big role in the lives of those affected and even in the lives of some of their friends.”
Kamal, who has always used writing as a stress-reliever, was inspired to perform a piece about his mental disorder at the Writing Club and class of 2017’s first poetry slam last year. His performance awarded him first place and to him, stepping onto the stage was a “big step towards getting healthy.”
“When I heard about the poetry slam I realized it was the perfect way to be comfortably open with my condition, utilize my talent in a fun way, and create an art out of something I once hated with a passion,” Kamal said. “Of course when I went up there I was shaking with anxiety, but it felt amazing to have a crowd appreciate something I wrote and be so accepting of me. I never intended to win first place since I didn’t see it as a contest but thought of it more as a fight within me.”
Kamal continues to pursue his passions and is not deterred by his mental condition. President Barack Obama is his biggest inspiration, since he resonates with Obama’s struggles to overcome hardships.
“I think a lot of people forget [Obama] grew up in poverty, worked minimum wage jobs, and struggled to provide for his family as he worked to get educated in law,” Kamal said. “I hope to overcome what I’m struggling with in life and pursue a career in politics to help reform the government.”