Beyond the Perfect Summer: Thriving with OCD in Unstructured Times

“I’m So OCD.”

“That is so OCD”

Ah, The blatant (mis)appropriation of OCD, perhaps one of the most complex and misunderstood mental afflictions as an adjective in the age of information overload! If you frequent social media platforms like TikTok and Instagram, you have likely encountered posts where someone with a flair for perfectionism, routine, and cleanliness mistakenly self-labels themselves as having "OCD." In today’s age of self-diagnosis and the plethora of information freely available with no means of sifting out authentic evidence-based data from the rest of the ‘noise’ on the internet, such casual mislabels can be problematic. All it takes is speaking to those who have lived experience with OCD, or their caregivers and loved ones to understand that the disorder is a far cry from what the simplified and for the lack of a better term ‘quirky’ social media posts would have you believe.

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is a pervasive and debilitating condition, causing significant distress due to its ego-dystonic nature. Ego-dystonic here refers to behaviors, attitudes, and intrusive thoughts that one (involuntarily) engages in even though they are inconsistent with their self-perception, personality, and core fundamental beliefs, leading to the person dealing with the affliction feeling overwhelmed, and uncomfortable. While Lady Macbeth from Shakespeare’s works is often cited as a literary example of OCD due to her obsessive hand-washing, Hamlet perhaps from the author’s corpus of work provides a more poignant representation. Hamlet's entanglement in mental ruminations and overwhelming intrusive thoughts that consume and impair his basic daily functioning serve as a compelling illustration of the disorder's complexity. This complexity is especially prevalent among young adults today.

Although OCD does not discriminate, it often exacerbates during certain times, such as during vacations, making this discourse a prudent and timely one for the upcoming/ongoing summer break. Many individuals with OCD experience anticipatory dread as summer vacations approach. Some even report the emergence of new obsessions, with or without subsequent compulsions, which can be particularly distressing when these unfamiliar thoughts surface. Just because you are on vacation doesn’t mean your OCD takes a break. It can be an unwelcome traveling companion, but strategies and support are available to help make unfamiliar situations more manageable.

The discomfort often stems from stepping out of your comfort zone and the pressure to meet societal expectations of trying new activities. As discussed in our previous blog posts, the loss of routine and the associated sense of security contribute to this discomfort. The unpredictability of planning, packing, making itineraries, and the actual travel can be overwhelming and can often surface new obsessive and intrusive thoughts or aggravate previous ones, often with subsequent compulsive behaviors to counter them.

In preparation, consider creating an anticipatory toolkit with the help of a mental health professional. This can help manage some of the anxiety associated with managing your OCD in an unfamiliar environment by helping you take back some of the control that is lost in the unpredictability of vacation planning.

Researching mental health resources at your travel destination can also be beneficial. Taking back the rightful control of your condition can be assisted by several proactive measures whether it be constant communication with your support network, opting out of overwhelming travel plans if necessary, or engaging in mini-exposures, such as small, manageable trips, which can help build confidence and ease your discomfort about traveling.

Finally, always carry sources of comfort—whether that means favoring familiar places over unexplored terrains, traveling with trusted companions, or investing in and carrying items that help alleviate anxiety. These can provide security and make navigating new experiences more manageable.

Remember, your 'perfect' summer is whatever feels right, safe, and fulfilling to you at this moment in time. We hope the upcoming summer and the year ahead are gentle on you, and that you treat yourself with kindness throughout.

Should you need professional support, know that help is always just a message, phone call, or appointment away.

Happy Holidays!

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