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How I went across the world with OCD, and how you can, too

by Mack Carmack

Hi, I’m Mack, and I have OCD. I don’t really know how else to start this without just getting straight to the point, right? Anyways, I have OCD. Not in a “wow! I’m so quirky, I love organizing and color-coding my school supplies” way, but rather, I have obsessive thoughts that control my daily decisions, and in order for the thoughts to go away, I have to act upon them – kinda OCD. One of the symptoms I experience with this mental disorder is agoraphobia, which often prevents me from traveling or starting new experiences out of fear that I will get contaminated or dirty in the process. If you don’t have OCD, I’m sure you’re thinking that I could wash my hands and shower, and suddenly the anxiety will go away. It’s kinda like that actually – I have to do a specific task to make the panic attack go away. Now, I’ve been working on improving myself for years, and every day I get better, but there are so many days that hold me back.

Me outside of the Louvre pyramid entrance (Paris, France).

If you’ve read this far, you’re either waiting for me to get to the point, or you’re like me. You also have specific triggers, and agoraphobia, and are immensely scared of traveling abroad. If you fit into the second category, you may not believe you can travel abroad either. If so, you can imagine my parents’ confusion when I told them I would be staying in a hostel in Paris (when in reality, I couldn’t spend the night at my friend’s house as a kid, because of my OCD).

Me outside of the Shakespeare & Company bookstore (Paris, France).

Regardless of the unlikelihood, it was a fear that kept me from confirming my payment for KIIS. Right as I’d get confident enough to sign that little checkmark, I’d go back and think about the risk of catching lice or bed bugs and all of a sudden not want to go. Eventually, I came to the realization that I would have those obsessive thoughts whether or not I was in Paris. The good news was that even though I would have OCD, I would be having a panic attack in Paris. That is my first piece of advice.

Me outside of the Eiffel Tower on the famous lock-bridge (Paris, France).

Understand that the OCD doesn’t stop once you live in the U.S. But it also doesn’t go away in your dorm room, your therapist’s office, or your childhood bed. I would’ve had a panic attack about lice regardless of my living conditions. Once you come to that realization, it becomes a lot easier to commit yourself to travel.

Me inside of the Residenz-Munich ballroom (Munich, Germany).

Airports, for me at least, are some of the most anxious locations in the world. There are thousands of people running around you screaming, TSA is in your face about your liquids being in a clear baggie, and the signs aren’t very clear.  Once you arrive in whatever country you traveled to, take a moment to yourself and breathe. My therapist taught me a breathing technique that I keep in my pocket whenever I seem to lose consciousness of my surroundings. Look up slightly, open your mouth, and breathe in all of the air you possibly can. After holding for a few seconds, breathe out. I know a lot of sources will tell you to breathe in through your nose, and out through your mouth, but for me that doesn’t cut it.

Me inside of the Munich LEGO store (Munich, Germany).

And honestly, traveling abroad with OCD was just that easy. In fact, it was way better than I thought it was going to be. Don’t let the fear of anxiety and stress keep you from pursuing your dreams of visiting the Eiffel Tower or riding a camel in Morocco! Before you go, remember – your mental illness goes with you. A few days prior, I’d recommend visiting your therapist or doctor to work through some tips to remain calm in high-alert situations. If you are on medication, remember to refill that as well. Second, listen to your mind and your body. You are not a burden if you are hungry, tired, sad, or in need of a bathroom break. Often times we feel guilty about holding the group up, but your needs are just as important as everyone else’s! Finally, enjoy your trip to the best of your ability! Go to those sketchy gift shops, get local coffee, try new food, and make new friends! If I can do it so can you. I hope this short blog has helped you gain the confidence you need to submit that application. Thanks again, and good luck my friend!


Mack Carmack

KIIS Paris-Munich Winter 2022-2023
Communication & Broadcast Journalism
Berea College

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