First, a disclaimer: I'm not a medical professional by any means. For real professional help please consult a licensed therapist. The methods contained herein have worked for me, and are (mostly) based on methods taken from very sound resources like The OCD Workbook.
Also, I tend to personify OCD as a horrible, hysterical, dominating, needy, pathetic, life-sucking entity. I don't know if this is medically sound, but it makes sense to me.
OK, let's get started.
According to a dictionary I found online, this is the definition of logic:
Logic: “a particular way of thinking, especially one that is reasonable and based on good judgment.”
If you have or know about OCD, you know that logic is something that OCD disdains with a ferocity unmatched in the natural world. Instead of embracing logic, it embraces over-reactivity and a general "freak-the-f^%#-out-about-ridiculous-innocuous-things-as-much-as-possible" philosophy.
You can imagine how this can make traveling a bit awkward and uncomfortable if you have this particular disorder.
I won't get into all of the ways in which OCD has infiltrated my life like a homicidal thought-hammer. For a nice uncomfortable look into my life with OCD, feel free to take a look at my book on Amazon, OCD Sucks!
Anyway, enough prelude already right? The title indicated I would be providing some useful information, so let's get to it. Here are my top ways to deal with OCD while traveling.
Tip #1: Don't Mess With Your Meds
This is what I did. I started reducing my dosage with the hope that I could eliminate the need for them altogether. Don’t do this, for the love of all the furry cat videos on YouTube just don’t. I’m fairly certain this contributed to a recent mental-flurry kind of month.
Tip #2: Don't Be Surprised When It Strikes
It’s a bit of a rude awakening when all of a sudden that a$$h#le (OCD) shows up at your door at 3 in the morning completely strung out on crack cocaine and starts yelling obnoxious things while reeking of rat sweat. It happens. In fact, expect it to happen. Maybe not the rat sweat, because rats don't sweat, but don’t be surprised with anything.
When this happened to me recently, I had kind of forgotten that even though OCD is idiotic and illogical, it is still clever as hell. It’s like a conniving politician turned petty pocket thief. What OCD steals, rather, what you allow it to steal, is of much greater value than any material possession.
It tries to steal focus, attention, peace, and your valuable limited time here on earth. Anything or anybody that steals these highly valued things is unacceptable.
Tip #3: It's All About What You Do When it Strikes
Know that reacting to the OCD only gives it more power.
In fact, each super charged reaction is like giving it steak and potatoes. Even if it’s been lazy for a while, it’s always at the ready to jump back in and bulk up.
It then gets bolder, barges the hell in, and tries to live with you for a month and eat all your cereal. It’s a lot like the demon Catch in the book “Practical Demonkeeping” by Christopher Moore. Every time Catch devoured someone he would grow substantially.
OCD is a lot like Catch the demon, but not as interesting.
Sometimes it only annoys you by doing something like the equivalent of playing a lot of Kenny G on a bagpipe and smoking crack in your living room. Other times right when you wake up in the morning before you have a chance for any other thought, the OCD starts blabbering hysterically about all kinds of stupid things it thinks is important, and decides its going to spend the whole day with you.
Tip #4: Don't Attempt to Outwit It
Don't be fooled into thinking you can somehow outwit the OCD by analyzing thoughts and actions.
Or worse yet, that you can simply run from thoughts or undo things that already are.
It’s really weird when I look back and think about all the self-induced agonizing over what already is. I wonder how in the hell could this admittedly shitty emotion cause me to live with a mental reel of the past and thinking things like “I could have should have blah blah blah.” Then I realized a few very important things about dealing with OCD, after refreshing my memory about really throwing punches at it.
It’s all about not doing your compulsions.
I had forgotten (or maybe never realized), just what some of my compulsions were. We’ll look at that more closely in the next point. Before moving on, know this: analyzing your thoughts and actions is counterproductive, especially when it's OCD. You simply have to be OK with being uncertain about a few things, as well as having some crazy thoughts roaming around your mind. Everyone has crazy thoughts from time to time; we just tend to shine a spotlight on each one like an overly zealous thought-police officer.
Following are some things that OCD may be trying get you to be uncertain about, which in turn prompts you to try and analyze the junk out of it:
* Did I harm someone
* Was there a possibility that I could have harmed someone by doing that negligent thing?
* Holy shit I’m going to have strong anxiety forever and I’ll look like that skinny guy in his underwear from that movie The 6th Sense
* Am I a horrible person for this? Is my moral, nay, my overall character completely jeopardized now?
* Did I ruin my health forever?
The list goes on and on like a DNA strand.
Tip #5: Don't Give In To Compulsions
You have to remember what compulsions actually are and to avoid doing them. This can get a bit tricky because the OCD doesn't want you to realize what your compulsions actually are. It's also easy to go into panic mode when we experience the anxiety.
I'd forgotten that journaling about OCD can be a compulsion for me because I end up trying to utilize logic to free myself from the anxiety. It can be good to really look at what's going on and to write about it, but when it's totally OCD a different approach is needed.
So, instead of my old way of journaling and justification of my analyzing thoughts and actions, I realized that I needed to purposefully trigger that son of a bitch. You're essentially poking and pinching it, which in turn makes it shove bigger needles deep in the brain, and with much more vigor. It's kind of like finally facing an annoying human in your life fully, opening your arms and saying "bring it on motherf#$%r!"
The anxiety will flare and surge like an atom bomb in your core, but you've got to just accept it. Let it be there. It will abate with time.
This gives the OCD pause. It makes it a bit confused because it's suddenly lost some control. It may not feel like it at the time, but it means that you're finally throwing punches back.
Tip #6: Practice ERP, Especially if You're on a Long Holiday
Nobody wants to experience anxiety on their holiday, which is why OCD can really be a nuisance during this time. Sometimes I think just practicing mindfulness works, which I'll touch on in the next point. However, when it gets really bad, you have to get your hands a bit dirty.
ERP stands for Exposure Response Prevention. This means purposely exposing yourself to or imagining feared thoughts and situations. After doing this enough you'll find that what first appeared to be a lion is just a house cat.
Tip #7: Practice Mindfulness
There are times when I get OCD about how I’m dealing with OCD, which causes more OCD. Then there is so much OCD around I forget that there is a beautiful world to see out there.
If you’ve ever taken a good yoga class, often the instructor will do a bit of guided meditation at the end. One thing they will say is something like “when thoughts come into your mind, thank the mind, and go back to focusing on your breath.” Sometimes the best way to deal with OCD, especially when things have leveled off a bit, is to simply practice mindfulness. It’s allowing thoughts to come into the mind and letting anxiety be there, but not giving any special attention to the thoughts or the feelings. It’s all about living your life despite crazy-ass obsessions and the temptation to give in to compulsions.
As they put it in “The Mindfulness Workbook,” “All we have complete control over is our behavior. This is true 100 percent of the time.”
Tip #8: Be Social
OCD loves it when it can get you alone with your thoughts so that it can subtly intermingle with them. Even if you're feeling pretty lousy, make sure that you get out there and hang out with some cool people and have some enriching conversation.
This is especially true if you are taking a year off and traveling like myself. Staying at hostels is great for that, however I admit that I tend to book cheap private accommodation via Airbnb, Agoda, Hotels, or Booking. I know it's not a big deal, but because I'm 39 and a month away from turning 40 hostels can feel a bit too much like crashing a college party. In turn, I have to get out there and start talking with people. The wonderful thing about traveling is that it's really not hard to find genuinely cool people who are more than willing to kick it with you for a while. I've gained some lifelong friends this way.
Tip #9: Do Things Despite the Anxiety.
This is not easy. Believe me, I know and understand fully. The world darkens quite a bit. I almost feel like people can see the asshole clinging to my back, reeking of rat sweat and playing out-of-tune Kenny G bagpipe music through terrible boom box speakers.
Tip #10: Be Careful with Alcohol
Consider staying the hell away from it, or at the very least just drink in moderation (my friends would have a good laugh at this, because I'm the last person to talk to about moderation). Nonetheless, it is true. Alcohol can really have an effect on the severity of OCD.
This is not easy, especially when it can be stressful enough traveling around the world and all you want is a nice cold beer on draft. Just know yourself, and if you see a pattern of heavy OCD the day after drinking even just a bit of alcohol, it’s time to question how much you really need it. It’s okay if the people you’re with have a problem with that. It just means it's time to find new people to hang out with.
Tip #11: Know That It's All Bark and No Bite
OCD wants you to believe it’s a bonafide demon who can truly mess you up for life.
Tip #12: Don't Give Up
When the OCD symptoms become incredibly strong, it’s a temptation to just give up on certain things in life. It could be stopping you from doing things that you previously enjoyed, or maybe throwing away certain goals because OCD has made the idea of achieving them beyond mere pipe dreams and into the realm of delusion.
One day in Hong Kong I was particularly anxious. I was seriously questioning what the hell I was doing and wondered if I should just go back to the States and bury my head in an assembly-line job to get my mind focused on anything else. Then some random Hong Kongian walked by with a shirt that said: "Don't Give Up."
Now, I'm not much of a spiritual guy anymore, and I'm definitely not religious in the least, but if there's a possibility that the universe was saying something to me through that dude, I'm cool with that. It actually picked me up a bit. I would've forged on anyway, but that was like a taste of that Elvish Lemmas bread from Lothlórien in Lord of the Rings.
I have no idea why I use LOTR so much when I write about OCD. I just do.
If you or a loved one has OCD, I hope this helps. If you don't, be grateful!
And everything together, all voices, all goals, all yearning, all suffering, all pleasure, all that was good and evil, all of this together was the world. All of it together was the flow of events, was the music of life. - Herman Hesse