The Mighty Logo

Taking a Cruise Through Central America With Contamination OCD

The most helpful emails in health
Browse our free newsletters

Editor’s note: If you struggle with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741. To find help visit International OCD Foundation’s website.

When I finally went into intensive treatment for obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), my world had shrunk to just within my house. After months of staying up all night performing rituals, sleeping until late in the afternoon and hardly ever leaving the house, the idea of being able to live any other way seemed so distant and out of reach.

Treatment was life-changing for me. It helped me realize I didn’t have to be confined to my house forever. And from there my world expanded. Travel once again became possible for me. But it didn’t come without its challenges.

All my fears about the world are amplified when I travel. My main OCD subtypes are contamination and intrusive thoughts, and the way they affect me makes even my own home seem less than comfortable. But being away from home is terrifying for me. I obsess over all the things that could possibly happen to my home when I’m gone. Fires, earthquakes, floods, tsunamis; the list goes on. I obsess over all the things that could happen to me while I’m away, mainly illness. In foreign places, I constantly fear getting sick, no matter the environment. I become convinced it will happen when I’m already feeling the most vulnerable. I then spend more time on compulsions than on sleep, and suddenly the trip I had been hoping to enjoy becomes a nightmare.

I just got back from the trip of a lifetime: a cruise through Central America. I knew I wanted to enjoy it, and I was more determined than ever to fight the obsessions and compulsions that were holding me back. If there is anything I’ve learned, it’s that the world constantly provides exposures. Long after you leave the therapist’s office, exposures are around every corner. This trip provided more than I could count.

I ate at buffets. I went parasailing on a boat that looked like it was about to tip over any minute (but thankfully stayed afloat the whole time). I went on bus rides. I visited a horse ranch and actually managed to pet the horses. I went on a boat ride through a jungle full of mosquitoes. There were germs everywhere.

None of these things would have seemed possible to me a year ago, and they certainly still brought on a lot of fear. But I’m finally at the point where that fear no longer controls me. The process of recovery is as turbulent as a ship caught in a storm. It’s a long voyage, with plenty of setbacks along the way. But it is worth everything.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Getty Images photo via littlehenrabi

Originally published: February 16, 2018
Want more of The Mighty?
You can find even more stories on our Home page. There, you’ll also find thoughts and questions by our community.
Take Me Home