By Andrés Muñoz
The dictionary defines travel as: “to go from one place to another, typically over a distance of some length“. For many, this might be a natural and easy experience, while for those with mental disorders, namely obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), it might be a more challenging undertaking.
Imagine visiting a famous tourist destination. You’ve been warned by the locals that the area is a known pickpocket spot. You check your backpack. After taking some pictures, you check it one more time, just to be sure. A few minutes later, you check again. And again. After having lunch on the street, you wash your hands. When arriving at the hotel, you rewash them. And again, a while later, and again once more after that.
It isn’t like the way it is portrayed in the media, where it just seems like perfectionism or nit-pickiness. OCD forces you to think or perform a series of thoughts and/or actions to such an extent that they interfere with your daily life. While this complicates a person’s day-to-day life significantly, the stakes are raised when people are travelling. Visiting a new location can spark a long list of triggers related to cleanliness, safety, and simply a fear of the unknown.
When life’s variables are too many, the uncertainty sparks anxiety and stress. More so if you have OCD. Here are a few guidelines to help you weather uncertainty during your travels. This list is in no way meant to replace the advice of a medical professional and should be taken only as an introduction. Remember to consult with your mental healthcare professional if you have additional questions.
Do Your Research
While going to a destination knowing little about it is a challenging and thrilling experience, the unknown variables skyrocket, becoming a source of anxiety and stress for many. Jodie Randell of The Huffington Post suggests you research your destination’s customs, laws, and traditions. This will not only let you hit the ground running from a cultural perspective, but it will create a framework under which you will be able to operate at the place you’re visiting.
Others might locate the reason for their anxiety on the journey, not the destination, so be prepared to travel as comfortably and readily as possible. Chris Howard of the PulseTMS blog suggests that you list all the essential items you will need when travelling. Things such as headphones, a book, or something that will keep you away from would-be triggers are essential. And, of course, items for your personal hygiene and other things that will make you more comfortable.
Another way to prepare yourself for the journey might include going on shorter trips before embarking on longer ones. Meggie Tran, a blogger and mental health advocate, indicates that if you have a series of tested strategies and treatments for your OCD that work in your usual environment, they might be harder to apply in an environment you are unfamiliar with. You might be biting more than you can chew if your first trip will last several months and include multiple countries. It is better to start off with shorter trips so you may know what your main concerns might be when you’re on the road.
Meggie also highlights that all the uncertainty stemming from visiting a new location might trigger new types of thoughts and behaviours. These might result in new repetitive patterns that might drain you physically and emotionally. Get ready to experience these new thoughts and write them down. Keeping a journal of your mental health is a vital step in noticing patterns that your mind might be creating while on the road.
Many of those who have OCD take medication. Jennifer Sizeland of Heradventures.com recommends that you investigate the availability of your meds in the places you’ll be visiting. If you are unsure or unable to confirm their availability, it’s better to be prepared and take enough meds for the duration of the trip. For some, OCD medication is the first step to creating a healthy routine that will keep the anxiety at bay, so make sure to continue the dosage and time of administration as usual.
Remember, you have a support network. Your friends and family are always with you if you have the internet. But remember, you can’t see travel as a mental health fix. Even if you escape to the faraway corners of the world, your insecurities and doubts should be treated by a mental health professional.
Once again, these tips and guidelines are a basic introduction to travelling with OCD. Use the sources above and your mental health professional to prepare for your trip. They are experienced explorers who have been able to go on extended journeys and have not allowed their OCD to control their thoughts and feelings, despite being in new environments and situations. Do your research, plan ahead, and enjoy your travels!