October 29, 2010

OCD on Vacation

I just got back from a holiday in Hawaii, Kauai to be exact.  I went with my boyfriend, another couple, and their daughter.  I’ve never been there before, and it was absolutely heavenly.  Our weather was (mostly) great – warm and sunny.  The beaches were unbelievable, and the people and small towns throughout the Island were quaint and down-to-earth. 
I was very anxious before leaving on vacation.  I never know if my OCD will ramp up or not.  I’ve had several vacations where I was so anxious from OCD that I thought I would have to go home.  This was before I had any sort of treatment for this horrible disorder and my “goal” was to not have any obsessive thoughts anymore.    
This time, as you know – I’m in treatment and doing ERP.  I had a session with my therapist before I left and she reminded me that it was important for me to be doing exposure all the time – even while on vacation in heaven (AKA Hawaii).  I found this challenging for three reasons:
1.       I still like to “get away” from my OCD, and if I notice that the thoughts are gone, I’m happy, and don’t want to do anything to bring them back.  Plus, I was on vacation and really was thankful for the break from all sorts of reality.
2.       We were with friends who don’t know a lot about my OCD and it was awkward to find an appropriate time to leave the group for an hour.
3.       We were so busy!
I am sure that I am going to pay for this little break.  It’s not that I didn’t do any exposure.  I definitely worked on allowing the thoughts to be there, and when I was inadvertently exposed to some triggers, I think I handled it really well.  But – I only did true, purposeful exposure once.  I actually find exposure hard.  Not for the obvious reasons, that it creates a high amount of anxiety.  But also because I find it really hard to purposely bring these thoughts to my mind.  I’m sure that has something to do with the fact that one of my rituals is to “thought stop”.  I definitely tried to so small exposures, and bring some thoughts on while I was sitting on the beach amongst my friends, but it definitely didn’t do the trick for me.  I really have to separate myself from distractions for at least an hour and focus heavily on bringing about my horrible thoughts. 
Another thing I realized though, is the fact that I was thankful for some respite from my horrible OCD thoughts.  This probably isn’t great from a "therapeutic progress" perspective.  From what I understand, the goal of therapy is to not care about the thoughts that pass through my head.  To have, essentially done enough exposure, and purposely brought the thoughts on myself, that the thoughts no longer give me any distress, and I don’t feel the need to do any rituals.  Clearly, I’m not there yet, which is discouraging, given how much I feel I have exposed myself to. 
Today I read Jonathan Grayson’s latest blog  - “Obsessing about Obsessing”.  Some things I read in his post really hit home for me, mostly the wishing ritual.  I think this ritual applies to me and was playing out while I was on vacation.  I still wish that someday these thoughts will go away completely and I will no longer have to deal with this horrible disorder.  Clearly, I am still working on accepting the reality of having OCD.....through good times AND bad. 


  1. Welcome back! Hawaii is definitely gorgeous and relaxing - I went several years ago with my family, and it was really nice, despite the fact that I now realize I was struggling with OCD and anorexia at the time. If Hawaii can cut through the misery of all that stuff than it really must be heavenly! :)

    It sounds like you did great with vacation. I know you feel a little defeated because you aren't at the point where you can have the thoughts and not care yet, but the fact that you didn't notice them as much is a sign of progress I think. I mean, yes the ultimate goal is to be able to tolerate the thoughts without feeling a need to ritualize, but at the same time, as you get more comfortable you'll probably stop having the thoughts so frequently in addition to noticing them less when you do. I know from a contamination standpoint, the less I ritualize, the fewer thoughts I have about how the world is "dirty." The less I wash, the cleaner the world seems...strange how that works out, isn't it?

    I think Jonathon Grayson's post on Obsessing about Obsessing is pretty interesting, too. I think it's exactly the same as an article by Dr. Grayson with the same title that my therapist gave me towards the beginning of treatment. It's been a while since I read it, but there were things that hit home for me, too. A lot of my fear of feeling "dirty" in the future if I don't ritualize now is basically obsessing about obsessing. Oh OCD...

  2. I think you did really well on your vacation! I know I am quick to dismiss any progress I make. I'm getting better at tolerating trial and error, rather than my wishing for instant knowledge and perfection(and feeling like a failure if I don't change all at once). Vacations can be really hard for me, with my ocd mind spinning about "am I enjoying this enough? Oh, no, will I keep obsessing about this?" but it truly is possible to learn to let the thoughts be there and still enjoy vacation--in fact, I enjoy them more now, even though I am allowing my hated intrusive thoughts to coexist. It's exhausting trying to keep things "perfect." It's a relief to let go of that.

  3. Thanks to both of you for the encouragement! I am definitely quick to dismiss progress and obsessively (?) focus on the goal at hand. I am very "all or nothing" - nothing is "good" until I've made it to the "end goal". But who knows what the end goal looks like? Though I know that logically - I haven't quite figured out how to LIVE it. Still struggling with letting the hated intrusive thoughts be there.....