Friday, September 14, 2012

OCD and a trip to New England

A view of Walden Pond in 1986.

It was October 1986, and I was taking a class at Bowling Green State University that included the works of Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson.
Our professor set up a trip for the class to visit sites around Salem and Concord, Massachusetts, including Walden Pond.
About a dozen of us, making up a variety of ages and backgrounds, piled into a van and drove for hours from Ohio to New England. We were greeted by the cold but also by beautiful autumn leaves.

Another view of Walden Pond in 1986.
We visited a replica of the cabin that Thoreau stayed in during his time at Walden Pond, we visited the homes of Ralph Waldo Emerson and Bronson Alcott; visited other historical sites; and spent an evening in Boston.

A replica of the cabin Henry David Thoreau stayed in on Walden Pond.
But what I remember most about our trip was how uncomfortable I felt.
I was in the midst of the really bad OCD years, when I was consumed with contamination fears.
We stayed in a student hostel, and it was cold and damp. I worried about using quilts that others probably had used.
I had to use a shared bathroom. While the bathrooms were divided for men and women, there were four other women on the trip.
I tried to follow all my usual rituals in grooming, including brushing my teeth, showering, drying my hair, and putting in my contacts. The rituals took a long time when I was home.
Putting in my contacts was an ordeal, because they had to go in without any scratchiness in my eye or I had to take them out and redo them. I also had a set way of brushing my teeth and showering.
At the hostel, I had all the rituals I usually had in getting ready for anything plus the added rituals of trying to keep myself clean and avoid contamination in a strange environment.
I probably took at least an hour in the bathroom every morning.
I remember the irritation if not anger of one woman in particular because I took up so much of the available time for getting ready in the morning. I can’t blame her.
But I also couldn’t tell her or the others why I was taking so long. My OCD was my secret.
Another reason I felt uncomfortable was because I had started having bouts of diarrhea, what I euphemistically called “stomach problems.”
I was terrified about going on a long road trip and being unable to get to a bathroom, and having to use public bathrooms.
So before the trip, I visited student health and was given a prescription for medication to help me.
Despite my worry that the medication wouldn’t work and I would end up in an embarrassing bathroom situation, it did work.
But the medication made me incredibly sleepy and dopey. I fell asleep during one lecture at a museum we went to.
It was the first trip with others that I took when the OCD was so bad, and I felt isolated. Maybe that’s why the worries and rituals are what I remember the most about my New England trip.

Have you ever felt like your OCD or anxiety caused you to do things that inconvenienced and/or irritated others? Has your OCD or other mental illness caused you to feel isolated?

24 comments:

  1. I suffer with IBS so I can totally understand the fear of a long road trip, location of toilets but also would you want to use a public toilet. Recently well this week actually I have been feeling very isolated due to my past trauma experiences. This highlighted itself when I was on the rare occasion it happens asked out to lunch and kindly would be picked up in the car and taken home in the car-which is the only way I can get out if more than ten mins away. Anyhow the place we were going for lunch I just could not go to, my PTSD symptoms would have went through the roof. How to say to others when they have no idea I suffer from PTSD or about past trauma. I managed to make some lame excuse and probably appeared unreasonable so that we would go somewhere else. It made me feel very alone, isolated as you say Tina and not "normal".

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    1. I'm sorry you had that experience with the lunch outing. I've made some lame excuses, too, for why I didn't want to do something when the real reason was OCD or anxiety of some other kind.

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  2. The pictures are lovely. I could imagine how difficult it must have been dealing with your OCD during your trip. I have experienced symptoms of my MI during functions and outings to the point where I have had to leave, leaving others to question my behavior. That in itself is very difficult to deal with, so I can imagine being on a trip where you probably were not able to just get up and go home. I do however, commend you for appreciating the good parts of the trip, such as the landmarks and history.

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    1. Thank you, Madison, I did enjoy parts of the trip. The landscape was beautiful and the historical aspects were interesting. It's just that when I think about that trip now, it's the OCD and the discomfort that overshadows the enjoyment.

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  3. Oh, Tina, I'm so sorry those are your memories of your trip to Walden Pond. But you've come so far, right? Come visit again (I live 35 minutes from there)...you'll love it!

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    1. How wonderful that you live so close by such a lovely place! I remember we had to be at Walden Pond very early in the morning for a tour, and it was sooooo cold and I hadn't brought a proper coat. But I still enjoyed the beautiful views and learning more about Thoreau.

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  4. I know I have irritated my family many times through the years with OCD.

    I have to say, OCD has stopped me from doing so much. I would have made up an excuse and not even gone on that trip if I were in your place, Tina.

    I also have to say Ralph Waldo Emerson is one of my favorite people of all time!

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    1. Elizabeth, I was torn between my fears and my desire to visit these places, so I guess my desire won out that time. I love the writings of Emerson, too, and Thoreau.

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  5. Ugh, does that whole scenario sound familiar to me. I avoided trips like that for a long time because of my OCD. To me, there is no worse feeling in the whole world than when someone gets really angry with you because of an OCD ritual, but you can't explain that you are in terrible pain and that you're not trying to be difficult. So awful. And it is incredibly isolating. I retreated to my house for years because I just couldn't stand going through these types of episodes.

    I agree with Janet - come back to visit again if you get a chance and maybe Janet and I could meet up with you and you would have a MUCH better time this visit - promise!

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    1. I would have a much better time in that case--wouldn't that be fun! And I would probably learn things I missed the first time around.

      It is awful to "have" to do an OCD ritual and yet not be able to explain it to anyone.

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  6. Six grade, music contest. I said I was sick so we had to cancel at the last minute, when really I was just scared to death. Lather, rinse, repeat...so many examples like that, where anxiety kept me from trying things and developing my talents.

    I love visiting Massachusetts, and last year we took what I called the "literary tour" that took us right into Alcott/Emerson/Thoreau country. It's so wonderful there! I'm sorry you had such a tough experience there. I'm with Janet and Sunny -- time to go back! It's a great way to heal that wound.

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    1. Nadine, Yep, anxiety has kept me from doing and trying things, too. I'm getting much better with not letting it stop me, though, the older I get.

      I have a wonderful photo of our class at the Bronson Alcott house beside a sign that says "School of Philosophy." It looks like we could be some of Alcott's students.

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  7. That sounds like a really hard trip. I'm sorry you didn't get to enjoy it more!

    Guess what? I think we are adopting a new kitty :-) I hope it works out!

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    1. Lisa, that's so exciting! I hope it works out, too!

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  8. I think about my teenage years and early twenties and it makes me sad. I spent most of my time isolated. The depression and extreme self hatred was my jailer. I have since changed but I still feel the pull to be alone but it is not good for me.

    I have lived in the Boston area all of my life and I have never been to Walden Pond (hides head in shame).

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    1. Jen, my teenage and early 20s were like that too, and it is sad. But both of us are doing better, and that's a good thing!

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  9. OCD hasn't only stopped me from doing things, I also had to do certain things that included leaving my husband and kids behind, just to go checking on someone. At the time I hadn't ever heard of OCD yet and felt so torn and crazy and lonely. I didn't understand myself and no one else did either. It caused stress, fights and a whole lot of disappointment. I am great full that at least I understand now and have a husband who understands too.
    It's quite incredible how strong the OCD can get, I simply could not resist the rituals, no matter how much mess they caused in my life and in the life of my family.

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    1. Klaaske, you make a great point, how strong OCD can get. That must have been so difficult, to feel the pull of OCD but not know about OCD. I'm glad things are better for you now.

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  10. Having someone angry at me increases my anxiety ten-fold, even if I think someone is angry with me I am a mess and it actually prolongs my compulsive activity. That would have been very difficult for me.
    I think it is safe to say I avoid many situations which would put me in an OCD dilemma..I won't stay as a guest with anyone over night if I think OCD will be a problem. I feel way more relaxed if I have my own space. I do stay with my kids now that they have their own homes but they know about my OCD. I am in a place now where my OCD rituals are minimal and I have no checking issues when I am visiting them. I do have some contamination issues and if I help with dishes or housework I am sure they note it takes me longer but I think they are glad I am helping, and also my kids know and have remarked to me on how much better I am now than I used to be.
    This post had a very tender component to it, it tugged at my heart as I read it because I know it had to be very painful experience for you.

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    1. Thank you for your kind words, Krystal Lynn. I have a hard time when I think someone is angry at me, too. That's great how supportive your kids are when you visit them.

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  11. I'm sorry the OCD is what stands out in your mind. You could be proud of yourself just for going though. I struggle sometimes with doing things because if I don't feel good, I know I won't enjoy them. But then I'll miss out on doing them if I don't go. For instance, I met up with a friend I haven't seen in five years and I wanted to make sure I'd feel good or I wouldn't enjoy meeting up with her even though I haven't seen her in so long.

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    1. Kristina, I am glad I went on the trip, and looking at the photos helps me remember some of the good things from the trip. I will try to focus more on those instead of the OCD.

      I hope you had a good time with your friend. That's wonderful that you were able to spend time with her after a long time apart.

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  12. I just think that it was great you went -fears, rituals and all! Going again is a fantastic idea. Salem in October is one of my dreams.

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    1. Karin, thank you! I would like to go again. It was really beautiful up there.

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