Traveling and OCD Traps

Apologies and Excuses

I’m sorry I have been slacking off this week with posts.  I know you are all hanging on my every word (and if you aren’t, shut your mouth and leave me to my fantasy)!  My excuse is that I have been in West Texas all week visiting family.  I should have written extra stuff last weekend to post this week, but I thought Hey, I won’t be working at all this week, so I’ll have tons of time for my blog.  I’ll probably post every day and it’ll be awesome! Yeah, that clearly happened.  Instead I have been spending all of my time with my family who I hadn’t seen in a couple of months.  Weird, right?  I know, I know.  Blogging is way more important in the grand scheme of things, but I just can’t help it.

Ok, so all joking aside, this week has been a whole mess of OCD traps.  Traveling always is.  OCD likes routine and safe zones.  Travel takes all of that away.  I love traveling, but it does result in a lot of extra stress and anxiety.  This is my real reason for not having posted since Monday.  I have been avoiding writing this, because I know it’s going to be tough.

Fears Turned Obsessions

Traveling stirs up some crazy fears that OCD turns into obsessive thoughts.  I start to worry about saying goodbye to my boyfriend because what if it’s the last time I see him? I could die while I’m gone or he could die while I’m gone and I’d never see him again, so I better get the goodbye just right or something bad will happen. I continue having those kind of thoughts the whole time I’m gone.  Every time I talk to him on the phone, it starts repeating again.  I better end the call with “I love you” just in case it’s the last time I have a chance to do so. And on and on.  THEN when it comes time to go home, I start having the same thoughts pertaining to my parents: What if I never see them again because one of us could die while I’m away and I better get this goodbye right and say “I love you” because something bad could happen if it isn’t perfect. And on and on and on and on (you get the idea).

I HATE thinking about the people I love dying, but I can’t stop.  My therapist would tell me that the way to combat this is to stop thinking the obsessive thoughts.  I have had her explain this strategy twice and I still don’t get it.  I can’t stop obsessive thoughts.  I try.  And I try.  And I try, but it doesn’t stop.

I also worry that I haven’t spent enough time with each of my parents and that they’ll get their feelings hurt or think I don’t love them enough. Now I know this is totally crazy.  I know they know how much I love them.  OCD doesn’t get it, though.  OCD likes to not only make me doubt myself, but make me think that others doubt me, too.  OCD puts me through such a guilt trip for living 300 miles away from my family.  It’s totally normal to live far away from your family, I know, but I feel huge amounts of guilt on a regular basis for it.  I don’t know what can be done about that, but I would love to find out.  If I remember, I’ll ask my therapist about it on Monday.

Then there’s my cat.  I have had this cat since I was in elementary school.  He lives at my mom’s house because I couldn’t take him with me when I moved away.  He’s a bitter, angry old man.  He and my mom don’t get along that well and he is always ecstatic when I’m here visiting.  He acts like he’s neglected when I’m not here, which I know is total BS, but I spoil him anyway.  When it comes time to go home, I’m also racked with guilt over leaving him.  I know he’s a cat and he’s totally fine and has a great life, but I feel bad leaving him.  I’m his “mom” and he hates when I leave and I just feel like the worst cat mommy in the world for doing it to him.  I wish I could take him, but he’s old and an outdoor cat and I just can’t take care of him.  So I end up on a huge guilt trip for all of that, too.  I worry as I drive away that he hates me and that he doesn’t understand why I always leave him and maybe he thinks I don’t love him.  And there’s a good chance he will die before I visit again, because he’s a really old cat.

Ok I have to cut this off here.  I’m getting really worked up writing this post.  I’m heading home tomorrow, so I have already been worrying about this crap all day and writing about it is making me want to cry.  I had more to say, but I’ll have to do a follow-up post soon instead.  [Edit: You can find my follow up here.]

Can any of you relate to these traveling fears/obsessions?  What other fears does traveling bring up for you?  What other OCD traps do you face when you visit family?


13 thoughts on “Traveling and OCD Traps

  1. I’m sorry you have had these worries on your trip. I hope you’ve been able to have some enjoyment in spite of it.

    I could feel your anxiety growing as the post went on. I’m not surprised you chose to end it when you did.

    I hope your departure and trip home are wonderful, but uneventful. Good luck.

    1. I did enjoy my trip overall, even with all of the anxiety. I love my family and love spending time with them. I just wish doing so didn’t stir up so much anxiety. I had anxiety for a couple of days after returning home, but I’m mostly back to normal now. Thanks!!

  2. i don’t have OCD… but i do have a lot of the same travel worries that you are describing.

    i worry about not seeing my family again or my husband… and i make a point to tell them all the time how much i love them. my fear is that i will not have another chance to tell them… i know that they know i love them.. but it’s so important to reinforce it to me…

    my dog… i had to send my dog to live with my daughter. i cried and cried for months over this. she had been with me for 12 years and circumstances changed so i couldn’t have her with me. she was my best friend… i lived alone so it was just me and maggie (dog)… i was guilt ridden when i dropped her off..but my kiddo knew how to take care of her, all the special things about her and what she likes/dislikes.

    each time i would visit, maggie would ignore me..that went on for about 3 months… eventually she became my friend again… then one day she was gone… my daughter had to call and tell me that they couldn’t find maggie…. it was heartbreaking for all of us… after a full day of searching, they found her on the side of a road…she’d been hit by a car. god how awful! i keep thinking about what maggie must’ve thought and felt at that last moment of her life… i still cry about it months later… my daughter, her husband, and kids made a lovely casket and resting place for maggie….she is under a huge oak tree and has a beautiful garden like grave site…

    bottom line – i think some of your thoughts are perfectly normal… i think we all have them. the trick is to be comfortable that those you love, know. they know how you feel and they also understand how important it is for you to tell them…. i hope you’ve enjoyed your vacation!!

    1. Thank you for sharing! I can only imagine what it’s going to be like when my mom has to put my cat down someday. I am going to feel so much guilt for so long. I really don’t look forward to it, but I know it’s coming. Losing a pet is so difficult. Sometimes I don’t know why I have them when their deaths are inevitable. But then they’re worth the pain. They bring so much more joy. My cats never think I’m crazy and I love them for it.

  3. Elly, I know I’ve told you this before, but I have most every anxiety disorder except OCD (I’m hoping my psychiatrist doesn’t get any ideas) and I have the same sorts of obsessive thoughts. It’s my understanding (I’m asking you here) that the difference between my GAD and OCD is that if you have OCD, you’re compelled to perform some sort of ritualistic action to relieve the stress. I’ll tell you what often happens to me. I go to bed and pull the covers over my head. I can’t sleep, but I will lie there all day…and in the worse periods, I’ve stayed in bed literally for days and refused to get up. Trying to squash the thoughts does not work. I’ve tried all my life, and I’m 36 and pretty determined. It’s one of those try not to think about a pink elephant things. You can’t do it. I’m curious as to what your coping mechanisms are.

    1. Yes, usually OCD means performing a ritual to relieve anxiety. Sometimes there is no physical ritual, though. Sometimes OCD is purely obsessive thoughts. Some people with OCD actually never perform any rituals. They only suffer from obsessive thoughts. They’re referred to as having Pure O. My therapist says that the compulsion itself is thinking about these thoughts. I don’t really see how that works, but she knows more than I do, so I listen to her.

      I don’t really have any good coping mechanisms. In situations like the one I wrote about in this post, I pretty much just try to distract myself online or read a book until exhaustion finally overcomes my anxiety and I pass out.

  4. I had grand plans for blogging this week as well with a trip to South Texas, but I was not very productive either. I can see where the fears about dying or other passing while a person is away would be enhanced during this time. I think by sharing your insights you are greatly helping others who are experiencing similar feelings.

    I hope you had a safe trip back.

    1. Thank you so much! I did have a safe trip. My hope is that sharing does help others. I know these things are easier for me to deal with when I know I’m not alone.

  5. wow, it sounds really tough. I don’t have OCD or know anybody who has OCD, but I have similar obssessive toughts about art. I am an artist (or wanna be artist-mostly depressed man) I think about art so much everywhere. I look for inspiration from whatever I see. And the obsessive thinking process is so crazy and it brings me a lot of anxiety. My therapist told me it’s important to stop that snowballing thinking process too. And she told me to actually say the word “stop” out loud (when noone else is around) (when there is people, say it in your head), and if the thought keeps popping back to the head, keep saying it and try to distract yourself with something else. So I am trying this technique this week. She said this is really hard to do, and it takes a lot of practice to be able to do this but it works after lot of practice. She said some people imagine the red stop sign and that seems work too. So I am trying this method this week. It worked couple of times already.

    I know how it feels to like routines, though. In high school, I used to get the same food everyday and sit in the same place everday. I didn’t really like that food or the people but that was just my routine. I always wanted to walk the same route in between the same tables to go get the food and go sit with my friends.

    1. I’m glad to hear that method worked a couple of times for you. Let me know if it continues to work as you keep trying it. I’ve also heard of people clapping or wearing a rubber band and popping it to stop obsessive thoughts. I’ve never tried any of those, though.

  6. Travelling brings up for me the fear that I will forget something in a hotel room (or wherever I happen to stay). So, upon the departure I check the room completely and I am still afraid that I lost/overlooked some valuable possesion (I have OCD too, btw). This makes travelling quite a struggle and full of anxiety. I used to like to travel, but I have to tackle my OCD first, in order to enjoy it again.

    As for your problem:

    “I HATE thinking about the people I love dying, but I can’t stop. My therapist would tell me that the way to combat this is to stop thinking the obsessive thoughts.”

    The authors of the book on OCD (that you have read a review of, on my blog) would probably say that you change your therapist. Remember: what you resist, persists.
    According to this book, the way to handle this problem is to THINK MORE OF THIS THOUGHTS, DELIBERATELY. It is a basic exposure treatment. Once you see, that thoughts are just thoughts, and have no real power, you will stop obssesing about them.

    1. Yes, hotel rooms bring up even more issues for me, too. I get major anxiety about forgetting something in the hotel room. I check every drawer a gazillion times. I worry the whole way home that I left something in the room. SO frustrating!

      I think my therapist wanted me to stop thinking about those thoughts because they caused too much anxiety for me to sit with them long enough to habituate. Those thoughts put me at a 10. (We use a scale from 0-10). She says you should only do exposures where you have a manageable level of anxiety (like 4-6). If anxiety is too high, the exposure can be detrimental to treatment. With my other obsessive thoughts (about school, for instance) I am supposed to spend 45 minutes each day on these thoughts in order to habituate.

  7. YES! I most certainly relate. I used to have the same thoughts when saying goodbye to my ex-boyfriend or my parents, and I suppose those thoughts are normal – it’s how we deal with them that isn’t. I would repeat hugs if I had the “wrong” thoughts while giving them. I had to make sure to do them right and block out all the bad thoughts as I hugged each of my parents, for example, for fear that somehow thinking those thoughts while hugging them would somehow make them come true. I still have the thoughts. And I still have the OCD saying, “Hey, you did that wrong! You need to do it again or something bad will happen!” But this has been one of the things that I have been able to overcome more so than others. Now when that thought pops up I can recognize it for what it is – the need to redo and repeat just has that OCD pull too it, which I’m sure you can relate to. Just yesterday, I hugged my parents and said goodbye to them (and of course, had to tell them that I loved them, too…) before we flew our separate ways. But I did it once, and only once! Still had that urge to do it again and to do it “right” but for some reason I can resist that compulsion better than I can others.

    On that note, looking back I used to have a LOT of anxiety when leaving home. Not because I didn’t want to leave home so much as I dreaded the compulsive behaviors that went along with it. I had to say goodbye to various rooms in my house (I know, sounds a little like crazy talk…), and I couldn’t have the “wrong” thoughts as I took my last glance at them, or else, I’d have to step back into the room, do a visual sweep of it, stand there for a second or two taking it all in, and then turn around and walk out before I had the “wrong” thoughts again. It could sometimes take me several times to get this right, and it was very frustrating! When I managed to complete this set of rituals “right,” I walked out the door as soon as possible to avoid getting pulled back in by OCD and having to start over!

    The last couple times I have been home though, since learning about OCD, it has been so nice to recognize this as part of the disorder and to use what I have learned to see it for what it is and resist performing the compulsions. It makes the whole leaving process a lot less anxiety-provoking in the end!

    As for the thought-stopping your therapist recommends, I don’t blame you for not understanding. Thought-stopping, whatever that means and however it is supposed to work, has not been shown to successfully help with obsessive thoughts…and actually, the opposite, writing down your fears in a script or listening to them over and over again on a loop tape is supposed to work well for stubborn intrusive thoughts. I’m sure you know this already. Just agreeing with you that trying to “stop” obsessive thoughts is not a helpful technique. I even have a whole book written on why suppressing thoughts doesn’t work (White Bears and Other Unwanted Thoughts by Daniel Wegner) and can’t be done – at least not with much success or without the thoughts coming back even stronger as soon as the attempt to suppress ends.

    Anyways, thanks for writing about this! It is definitely something that my OCD likes to dig its claws into!

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