August is a popular time for many of us to take vacations. That’s what summer is all about, right? Many of us look forward to this summer vacation time all year. But what if you have obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)? How does going on vacation, planning a vacation, or even thinking about a vacation, affect you and those around you?
When my son Dan’s OCD was severe, he could barely move, let alone go on a vacation. But when his obsessive-compulsive disorder improved to a moderate level, he planned a trip to Canada with a friend for his winter break. He was excited about going, and from all accounts had a great time exploring and trying out exciting new activities such as dog sledding. He wasn’t able to leave his OCD behind completely on this trip, but still managed to enjoy himself most of the time.
I, on the other hand, was worried the whole time he was gone. I was concerned about the stress of him traveling (he flew), the change in environment and routine, the absence of therapy (and his therapist), and the inevitable trials and tribulations that come along with vacations. Also, what if he needed help while away? Would he tell us? Where would he turn? Who would he call?
Indeed, the very nature of vacations is often conducive to stress for all of us, not just those with OCD. But if you have obsessive-compulsive disorder, dealing with changes in daily routines as well as sleep routines, might be particularly difficult. Perhaps you’re staying with friends or family when you are used to being alone. Or perhaps you are alone in a hotel room, when you are usually surrounded by people at home. Your food choices might be different. And if you suffer from contamination OCD, you are faced with many challenges on vacation. Public toilets in particular seem to be a trigger for a lot of people with OCD.
Still, Dan’s vacation turned out to be more stressful for me than it was for him because he was able to do what I could not: embrace the uncertainty that comes with a vacation — that same uncertainty that comes with all of life. Those who suffer from obsessive-compulsive disorder who are able and willing to go on vacation are indeed facing that uncertainty head-on. Will their OCD improve while they’re away? Maybe. Sometimes getting away from old, familiar triggers into a totally new environment will quiet OCD. Or will their OCD spike due to new triggers, or because of any of the other reasons mentioned above? Maybe. It’s certainly possible.
Of course, there is no way of knowing until you go. In my opinion, if those with OCD aren’t allowing their disorder to prevent them from actually taking their vacation, the trip, whatever the outcome, should be considered a success.
That’s the thing. We can’t let OCD call the shots. We need to continue to live our lives as fully as possible. So whether your summer involves vacations from OCD or with OCD, I hope your experiences are positive ones that create some great memories.