Over New Year my boyfriend and I went to Hamburg in Germany. We ate lots of pretzels and bratwurst, walked for miles exploring the city and utilised our basic German learnt years ago at high school. And when I say “basic German” I’m talking about using the phrase “the weather is very cold” over and over (das wetter ist sehr kalt if anyone is interested in learning the important stuff before your own visit). I enjoyed our break and being able to spend so much time together but wherever I go, my mental illness does too.
In some sense, I am lucky because my OCD doesn’t restrict me so much so that I can’t fly to another country but that doesn’t mean it won’t invade my thinking space every day I’m there. Your mental illness doesn’t just disappear when you’re on holiday and it’s important to remember that that’s perfectly normal. But there are ways that I manage my own anxiety and OCD when faced with the hurdles of travelling, particularly abroad, which I am going to share with you in this post!
1. How to fly as calmly as possible
I never used to be that scared of flying but as I’ve got older and my OCD has worsened, my anxiety around this has risen drastically! I find myself doing rituals days before boarding the plane, shuffling around the airport and then even in the air to ensure that I don’t let us passengers down by allowing the plane to crash or fall out the sky. Because everyone knows that tying your laces 4 times stops that from happening, right?
In order to try and distract myself from the weight of the responsibility I feel for the plane’s safe flight, I have found a few useful tactics:
- Update your iPod/MP3 player before your journey so that you can then listen to hours of music you haven’t yet listened to hundreds of times. I find sometimes that I haven’t had chance to listen to a whole new playlist before it’s time to land!
- Reading a good book is always nice on a flight, particularly if it’s quite a long journey. I can get completely lost in a story and the characters that I don’t pay as much attention to my surroundings.
- One word: SNACKS. If you’re a massive foodie like me then make sure you have some treats to look forward to on the journey. Set yourself a time to crack into them, say when the flight is well and truly on its way and the seat belt sign is off. My personal favourite is crisps. The bag can also inflate because you’re so high up which is always amusing.
- If you own a tablet, download a film or several TV programmes you can watch. I have only recently discovered this and it’s ace at making the time go quickly! You can watch a whole episode of your fave programme and before you know it, you’ve arrived at your destination!
2. Holidaying with a fear of germs
The fear of germs and contamination is quite a prevalent symptom of my OCD which can get particularly worse when I’m somewhere I don’t know. This is especially the case in regards to public toilets and forms of transport like trains or buses. I will admit that this fear has made me an absolute anti-bac queen which, although calms my anxieties that I have caught something life threatening from a handrail, can understandably cause harm too. By this I mean that it dries my skin out to the point where it cracks and even bleeds. I’m currently paying the price for this since arriving home from Hamburg relying on copious amounts of cream to nurse my poor hands back to health.
My advice would be to others who share this same fear is to be mindful of how much you use anti-bac on holiday because you will pay the price later. If you find it far too difficult to control this habit, make sure you take a good hand cream with you! You don’t want the pain and discomfort to get in the way of your sightseeing. It would be a right shame if we missed one of the Wonders of the World because we were tending to our hands.
3. Going on holiday with someone you feel completely comfortable with
Now that might sound like an obvious thing but those who suffer in silence with anxiety may put themselves in positions where they’re on holiday with people they are just not comfortable around. This can really impact your happiness on holiday which is what it’s all about! I am very grateful that my boyfriend is someone who I can completely be myself around. He will listen to me when I have to share an OCD thought that takes over my brain just so that I can get it out there in the open. He doesn’t judge me or make me feel like a burden. There’s no pressure and it’s ok if I’m not feeling so well even if it’s on holiday where the expectation is for everything to be PERFECT. That makes my anxiety so much more manageable when I’m travelling somewhere I’ve never been before.
4. Taking it slow
When we are back to reality plodding through everyday life, everything moves so quickly. We get up at God awful hours, rush from place to place and forget to look after ourselves. The beauty of a holiday is that it doesn’t have to be this way! We can move at a pace of our choice, sleep in until midday and not feel guilty about only thinking of ourselves. It’s important that we allow ourselves this because if we don’t do it on holiday, when else are we going to realistically give ourselves the kindness and consideration we need?
These are just a few of the things that I have found to be helpful when holidaying but I think the most important thing is not to push yourself. Do what you feel comfortable with, not what you THINK you should be doing because that’s what we’ve seen on social media and holiday advertisements. Managing a mental illness and finding the courage to leave your familiar surroundings is one of the bravest things you can do. Don’t let anyone tell you differently.