Posted: November 18, 2020
Since childhood, I’ve downplayed my OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder). I assumed its symptoms were weird adolescent phases, nothing more. As I got older, the obsessive thoughts and compulsions made my life more and more difficult.
OCD creates lies — fake obsessive thoughts that are weird, illogical, scary, and worrisome. Although they are fake, I worry about them to the point that I experience intense anxiety. Then, I waste time trying to get rid of the thoughts by performing compulsive behaviors. As a result, when I could’ve been more present in my life, I wasted my time, attention, and focus for OCD’s lies.
I was roughly 10 years old when one of my first OCD symptoms bombarded into my life. I had just finished cooking in the kitchen when I suddenly experienced intense anxiety about the house catching on fire if I had accidentally left the stove on. As a result, for several minutes, I stood close to the stove, repeatedly checking each burner knob to ensure that all of them were switched to OFF, even though I logically knew they were all off. I never felt certain about the burners being off, hence my intense anxiety and concern.
The kitchen stove OCD was just one of countless obsessions/compulsions in my life. My mental illness also made me worry about writing bad words on the classroom whiteboard, pouring bleach into food, having someone rape me, etc.!
I never reached out to loved ones about my obsessive thoughts for fear of rejection. I didn’t want them to think that I was some insane, helpless weirdo of a child. I just wanted to be a kid without any problems.
As measures to prevent people from noticing my compulsive behaviors and suspecting something was wrong with me, I took difficult efforts to carry them out behind people’s backs. For example, if I wanted to approach the kitchen burners to repeatedly check that that they were off, I did it while my parents were somewhere else. My attempts to hide or make my behavior subtle must have worked because nobody around me, including my parents, doctors, or school faculty, ever noticed.
My symptoms exacerbated the more I tried bearing them alone. After nearly a decade of severe, untreated OCD symptoms, the 18-year-old me still believed that 2018 would be no different from any other year.
Little did I know that everything would change that summer.
In June and July 2018, several events during my British Columbia and Alberta trip led to my OCD’s breaking point. Canada’s outdoor scenery so stunning, its locals so likeable, yet I couldn’t enjoy them to their fullest potential because my unnamed, untamed mental illness forced me to pay attention to its stupid, fake lies.
As soon as my dad and I had picked up our rental car in Vancouver, the fact that we borrowed somebody else’s property triggered my OCD. It overwhelmed me with unreasonable responsibility and anxiety about my morals.
OCD told me in my head, Meggie, you’d better not use a Sharpie marker to write bad words or violent statements on the interior cabin’s roof! Otherwise, after you return the car, the rental car company will report the writings to the police, who would detain you abroad!
As my dad drove our rental car from Vancouver to Calgary, I would occasionally lean back and stare at the roof for several minutes, scanning my line of sight back and forth for any writing in a similar fashion with the kitchen burners at home.
As a result, my OCD stole me away from prime sightseeing opportunities right outside my car window! Now and then, I had missed the unmissable grandeur of Western Canada’s endless mountain ranges and everything in between — turquoise lakes, glacial-scarred valleys, and dense pine forests. On top of that, I experienced another onslaught of anxiety when I could’ve instead been taking advantage of my limited time to enjoy Canada’s beauty!
As my dad and I arrived in Calgary, we would stay with friends of the family. Over the next few days, we had done several outings around town together.
In Studio Bell’s National Music Centre in downtown Calgary, I wanted to tell my new friends about an awesome Canadian band called the Guess Who.
But then, the OCD thoughts intruded my consciousness, telling me, Make sure to repeat all that you’ll say! You wouldn’t want your comments to be left unheard by your friends.
And so, I reiterated my statements subtly, as I usually do. “Oh, I know that band! The Guess Who’s one of my favorites!” A few seconds later, I said it again.
My reiteration confused Val, my new friend who’d I barely known at the time. “Uhhh, you already said that…?” she said.
Hours later, at Dairy Queen, I learned that even my most subtle OCD behaviors couldn’t escape Val’s attentiveness. This time, my OCD made me worry about losing my money wallet. It told me, Meggie, make sure your wallet is inside your backpack. You don’t want to have accidentally dropped it and left your cash behind! After paying the entire bill on my family’s behalf, I kept staring at the money wallet inside my backpack, checking to make sure it was in there, in a manner similar to checking the kitchen burners switched to OFF.
This OCD-induced behavior that I had kept undercover for the longest time failed to avoid Val. She had observed my weird staring with a confused glance. “Ummmm, okay…?” she said.
Apparently, my behavior wasn’t that discreet. I was embarrassed! All my life, I had successfully (and painfully!) hid my symptoms from others. But this brand-new friend whom I’d barely known swooped in and disproved that on at least two occasions.
Val’s observations and honest remarks finalized my epiphany of this Western Canada trip: What was the point of keeping my symptoms a secret any longer if someone had noticed strange behaviors out of me?
After coming home from Canada, I gathered my courage, took a deep breath, and finally told my parents all about my weird worries. We agreed that I needed professional help, and I soon found myself in an office where the psychiatrist diagnosed me with the most severe level of OCD. Since then, I’ve learned how to cope with the symptoms using OCD books and therapist visits.
Over the next few months, more family members and doctors knew about my OCD, thanks to my initial diagnosis and me being open about it. Frankly, being open has been rewarding and relieving because I’m no longer bound to anxious secrets about myself.
I wanted to try reaching out to somebody in my circle of friends, the first one being Val.
Although I had only been around her in person for a few short days that summer, my gut told me to trust her. So, more than a thousand miles away and across a country border, a long letter revealing my OCD reached Val’s email inbox.
I couldn’t believe how she responded with the utmost support and kindness! By then, I knew in my heart that I had befriended this Canadian girl as a lifelong ally. It’s gotten to the point that she’s used her artistic talent to create my Mindful Meggie cloud logo!
It’s been over two years since that fateful summer trip in Western Canada. The unmissable scenery that I just so happened to miss and my new friend observing even my subtle OCD symptoms gave me that final urging push to open up and get treatment. That way, I wouldn’t miss out so much during my travels ever again. And who knows, maybe I’ll meet even more allies on the road in surprising ways!
I hope you’ll be one of them.
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Thanks for sharing this post. I think a lot of travellers unknowingly suffer from mental health, I know I used to travel to escape it. It’s important to remember that it can follow you around and just because you are somewhere beautiful doesn’t mean that you’ve got rid of it. I think your worksheets are a great idea because even when we’re on the road, we need to look after our minds. So thanks for this!
Hey Sherbsworld, I’m glad you found this story helpful and realistic! I totally agree that travel can’t solve stuff automatically like that. We have to take matters into our own hands and deal with them accordingly. Also, I hope the worksheets will be awesome companions during your travels!