With the holiday season fast approaching, many of us are firmly entrenched in the excitement, anticipation, and busyness of this time of year. Maybe we will visit friends or relatives. Perhaps a small army of loved ones will descend upon us in our own homes, or maybe we will be part of smaller, more intimate gatherings.
Whatever our holiday plans involve, there are bound to be changes in our routines. While this can be unsettling for many people, those suffering from obsessive compulsive disorder might have a particularly tough time, especially when dealing with vacationing and traveling. It’s not hard to see why these situations might trigger all kinds of concerns for OCD sufferers. No matter what type of OCD they suffer from, there’s always lots to worry about when stepping out of their comfort zone. Some more common concerns might be:
- “Will I be able to use the public or hotel restroom?”
- “What if I catch an illness or contaminate someone else while traveling?”
- “What if I hit someone while driving on the highway?”
- “Will I be able to eat the food?”
- “If I do eat the food, will I get sick?”
- “What if I have a panic attack while I’m away and don’t have access to my therapist?”
The questions are endless and will be different for each person with the disorder. As you can see, however, all these concerns revolve around one thing: the uncertainty of what will be. Those with obsessive-compulsive disorder have the need to know, for sure, that all will be okay. Not surprisingly, it is often referred to as the “doubting disease.”
Friends and family also are affected when traveling and vacationing with their loved one with OCD. Having to alter plans, not being able to be spontaneous, and dealing with high levels of anxiety are just some of the many examples of how OCD can impinge upon a vacation. Before actually leaving home, anticipatory anxiety with all of its “what ifs” and doubt can be particularly distressing. Interestingly, anticipatory anxiety is often worse than the actual event being agonized over. So what should OCD sufferers do when faced with all these holiday events fraught with doubt and uncertainty?
The answer is clear. They should push through their anxiety and embrace the doubt and uncertainty that is holding them hostage. Yes, there is uncertainty that comes with traveling or vacationing or entertaining. Indeed, there is uncertainty in every aspect of our lives, and we all need to learn to accept, not fear, it. I know it’s not easy. My son Dan suffered from OCD so severe he could not even eat. He was barely functioning. I have seen firsthand how OCD can destroy lives. But I have also seen how it can be overcome.
I have written before about Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP) Therapy, the frontline treatment for OCD, and in a nutshell, this therapy is about facing one’s fears as well as accepting the uncertainty of life. Giving in to what OCD demands only fuels it; standing up to OCD takes away its power. And while ERP therapy is difficult, it’s in no way as hard as living a life dictated by the disorder. Therapists who are properly trained in ERP therapy can help those who are suffering from OCD regain their lives.
If you have obsessive-compulsive disorder, I propose that you give yourself a gift this holiday season and make the commitment to stand up to your OCD. Reclaim your life. You deserve to enjoy the holidays, and every day, with your family and friends instead of being controlled by obsessions and compulsions. It will not only be a gift to yourself, but just might possibly be the best gift you could ever give to those who care about you.
By Janet Singer