Travelling with OCD

Isabella Fels
My recent trip to Spain was enormously challenging. Suffering from acute OCD, it took a lot for me to make the decision to go. However the OCD was a lot more manageable than I thought it would be. By distracting myself and thinking of the positive aspects of my travel, such as being upgraded to first class, I was able to relax and enjoy myself. The joy also of spending time with family and friends who I hadn't seen for ages made me keep pushing forwards, whilst at the same time trying to beat the OCD.
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Isabella Fels on 04/07/2013
Man holding a plane ticket

Travelling with OCD is enormously challenging.

Getting on the plane

In many ways getting on the plane was like jumping into the hot seat. I was full of fears of every kind imaginable. Intrusive thoughts kept coming at me in rushing waves of anxiety. Would I lose my main suitcase on the way to Spain, or would my hand luggage injure someone trying to get it into, and later out of, an overhead locker? Would I be trapped in a toilet, or even worse, would the plane come crashing down in a war torn country or just simply drop into the ocean with me inside?!

Sitting with the anxiety

Having all these fears, the main principle of OCD cognitive behavioural therapy is to sit with them and think the worst and do nothing until the anxiety gradually fades away. Even talking about the OCD, which I really wanted to do with my mum who was also travelling with me, is thought by the experts to be giving it too much air time.

Moving out of my comfort zone

Being upgraded to first class really helped. Being looked after meant I was able to relax and leave all my worries up in the air as I listened to wonderful music, had a comfortable bed made up and was finely wined and dined. Enjoying this wonderful service, I was able to stop my mind going back in time to my apartment in Australia and to all the related worries of whether I had locked all the doors, switched off all the lights, turned off the gas and all the taps. The added comfort of flying first class stopped me repeating this constant checklist over and over like a broken record in my mind.

The stop over

Once the plane had arrived for stopover in Dubai, a lot of the fears related to the OCD came crowding back. Trying to navigate a huge airport with a different system and language was a real challenge. There were many times I felt lost and afraid. I hung on to my passport like a security blanket, checking it multiple times to make sure it wasn't lost. The high security also meant I had to open up all my hand luggage and dismantling everything I had so carefully packed was very upsetting. As mum and I went round and round in circles trying to find the hotel we were meant to be staying in, both our anxiety levels escalated. Even going on the long escalators and scary lifts was too much, making me wonder if we were ever going to make it. In the end, finding the luxurious hotel and relaxing once again was like winning a prize.

Taking off to Spain from Dubai

After our wonderful stay in the Dubai hotel, I felt a lot more comfortable about getting on a plane again. I felt much more in control. I could comfortably adjust the seat, work the entertainment system and get lost in a book or movie for long periods of time. I also stopped worrying about being trapped in a toilet or about entire meals getting dumped on my lap by the flight attendants. By learning to trust and put myself in their capable and professional hands, I felt on top of the world.

The desire to connect

Arriving in Madrid, well fed and relaxed, it was great to see friends and especially family who I hadn't seen for nearly five years. Seeing both old and new family members and being welcomed by them so readily was very warm and touching. The joy of reconnecting with loved ones and reestablishing old friendships made the trial of traveling with OCD more than worthwhile.

Readers comments (5)

Your text recounts in a clear and vivid style aspects of OCD that remained, at least for me, unknown. I love specially on this article the fact that it's all about a success history. Allow me to congratulate you for reaching the top of the world, once and again...

Isabella's comments are fascinating because she is so willing to open her life and all its aspects to anyone who reads her, friend or stranger; sign of a mature writer.
Isabella is certainly removed from her comfort zone by leaving home but she rapidly overcomes her fears, even her need to tell them to her mother, by relaxing into the new environment. The luxury of first class travel and a first class hotel would, of course, help any person relax. But this is possibly the first time Isabella has left the new home which she loves and which has become her secure base for a blossoming life.
In a wonderful way, Isabella's OCD is overcome, even if only transiently, by the loved ones she has returned to. Brava Isabella.

Isabella and myself both have O.C.D and travelling can be very stressful.I can relate tothe checking of the passport and feeling overwhelmed by airport security.However I think Isabella has made a success of her situation even when she thought the plane
might crash into the ocean.Positive thinking helps with a lot of these thoughts as does positive affirmations.

Isabella, yours is an inspiring article for any sufferer of OCD and, indeed, any sufferer of any condition that causes great anxiety and difficulty. I myself have suffered from OCD for almost 20 years now, and cannot imagine life without it. I'm also considering embarking upon a journey to Spain on my own -I've never been abroad before and never been travelling alone before, so, needless to say, I'm rather petrified. And so is my OCD. All I keep thinking about and envisioning is me carrying out my compulsions about 20 or 30 times and having the occasional extreme anxiety attack with it -and travel always aggravates it and times it by 100. But I want to travel. Your will to challenge it and go ahead with the journey, despite your difficulties, has inspired me to feel and sit with the intense pain that my OCD will inevitably inflict upon me and just go forth with the travel anyway.

Dear Rachael. I'm so glad I've inspired you to travel in particular to Spain. I hope you have a great time away and that the OCD doesn't get on top of you. Just remember if I can do it, you can do it. Bon Voyage, Isabella

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