Monday, 10 July 2017

Mental Health and Travel: Breaking Free from OCD

Today we have a guest post from Phil at, and he has written about mental health. This is something close to my own heart and something I struggle with. Please pop over and read his blog and give him some support on Twitter

There are many misconceptions about mental health issues. The one I’m most familiar with is OCD. What do you think of when you read the letters OCD? I imagine many of you instantly thought about people who wash their hands, like to clean things, or like things in a certain order. I don’t blame you. That’s what the media has told you OCD is. But it’s not.

Let’s rewind a little. For four years, I spent every waking second thinking about how I was a bad person. It all started at an ice hockey game. I was sat in the crowd in the middle of an intermission and was staring out in front of me at nothing in particular. As my vision focused, I noticed a little girl sat in front of me. “Oh, no!”, I thought. A cold dread ran through my veins and I felt like I might pass out at any second. Did staring in that direction mean that I had looked at this child inappropriately? Of course, it didn’t. But this is the exact moment that OCD was triggered within me.

What I didn’t know at the time was that I’d developed a form of OCD known as Pure O (Pure Obsessional). When someone has OCD, something causes extreme anxiety and the person then develops compulsions or rituals that they perform to temporarily cause the anxiety to fade. As a common example, if someone with OCD is obsessed with the thought of being contaminated by germs, they may develop the compulsion to excessively wash their hands.

Pure O is slightly different. My obsessions were purely thought based. For example, I developed an obsession that I might hurt a child, and my compulsion was to avoid all places with children. If I wasn’t near any children, I couldn’t hurt them.

As I tumbled down a rabbit hole of depression, more and more obsessions came to light. I started to worry that I’d hurt my cats, so I’d avoid being near them other than to feed them. I was also obsessed with the idea that I may hurt people I care about or myself, so started to hide sharp objects, avoided boiling water in case I intentionally threw it on myself, refused to walk near canals in case I threw myself in. The list goes on and on.

What does this have to do with travel? Well, as you can imagine, my life became increasingly restrictive. I felt that to keep myself and others safe, I needed to stay in my apartment as much as possible. Consider it a self-induced solitary confinement. Travel was well and truly out of the question, no matter how much I yearned to explore the world. What if I saw children on my journey, or hurt someone along the way, or threw myself off a hotel balcony? There are the thoughts that spiralled around in my brain throughout every single day.

At this point in time, I didn’t know about Pure O. I just thought I was an evil person, no better than the twisted people you hear about in the news. This went on for four years, and I can honestly say that I’d considered an exit strategy. I told myself that if I ever discovered that these thoughts and worries were desires, I’d take drastic measures to make sure others were safe.

Then I stumbled upon an article about Pure O. I can’t express how I felt at the time. I was shaking with emotion. This article told me that I was suffering from OCD and that I wasn’t a bad person after all! OCD was taking my deepest fears and trying to convince me that I was the type of person to commit such horrible acts. Some of the things my mind has thrown at me would horrify even those with the strongest stomachs.

I took this information and went to a private cognitive behavioural specialist who told me that to defeat OCD, I need to expose myself to the things it was telling me I should avoid. That meant that I could no longer avoid going outside because there would be children, that I could no longer hide knives and refuse to boil kettles, that I could no longer avoid travelling.

I am happy to say that I have conquered OCD. It’s still there, but it doesn’t control me. I recently went on a trip to Disney World. That’s right, to the place that’s filled with thousands of children, and loads of high building and all sorts of things my mind had told me were dangerous.

I loved every second of it. Travel made me feel completely free again and allowed me to see that the world really is an amazing place. There are two things I hope to get across in this post. If you’re struggling with mental health issues then please do speak out. There is no need to suffer in silence.
Travel really does heal the mind. If you’ve got anxiety issues then face your fears head on. Get out there and explore the world!

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