On the Road with OCD

For the last few days, I’ve been living on a volunteer-run palm tree farm in Hamra, Israel called LivinGood Farm. This is a farm on the West Bank, right before Jordan. The farm packages and sells dates, grapes, and olives. They have a house about 15 minutes from the farm where all the volunteers eat, sleep, and live together. The farm is about an hour from Tel Aviv and an hour from Jerusalem. The work day starts at 6 AM when Ran and/or Eyal, the two farm managers come by the house. Everyone hops on the back of their pickup truck and off we go!

It turns out, travel is not all mojitos and sunbathing. Despite what the title “On the Road with OCD” implies, I don’t have obsessive compulsive disorder. However, I do have quirks. I obsess a bit. Especially when in new, stressful situations. As we all know, wherever you go, you still have to face yourself.

What challenges might you face whilst traveling and coping with your own quirks? Here are some that quickly became a hassle for me and drove me to leave the farm prematurely by no fault of the dates, the donkeys, or my wonderful hosts….

  1. Keeping to a schedule. If you’re completely on your own and independent, this may not present such a problem. However, if you use Couchsurfing, need a ride, or just want to meet up with people for activities, then you have to hope your friends are punctual. Personally, I find myself getting aggravated with people when they are late or are slow. This is especially true if I planned on going somewhere at a specific time and they are telling me not to worry. Then you get there and it’s dark or the place is closed or you just don’t handle change well… like me. It’s not about choosing to be tightly wound, it’s a mental response to unexpected, last-minute changes. When I travel alone, I can be at the airport 5 hours early or be at the meeting spot 2 hours early. If you are with someone who takes forever to get ready, isn’t anxious, or is otherwise preoccupied, you might find yourself at the airport after boarding begins…. I hate that.
  2. You’re gonna get dirty, and that’s fine, but not being able to clean up immediately after can result in stress. I recognize that I’m spoiled in this regard, as in many countries, washing machines aren’t in every building, much less a dryer. I can live without these things, but I rather not. As much as I enjoy the freedom and wildness of going a day or two in sloppy clothing, I can only tolerate so much before I feel like I have a bacteria petting zoo living in my crevices. Of course, this also goes for reliable clean showers, but most places I’ve been have had some form of water and soap.
    If all else fails, it’s always wise to have hand wipes available or a simple bottle of water and a small towel. Just for a quick wash down when the dirt or sweat or dust really piles on. This is when cold weather locations come in handy, as the washing needs are less dire.
  3. They tell me to chill out. There is a mess in the kitchen, a puddle in the bathroom, a plate left on the table, and a weird, yellowish spot on the wall. No one else seems to mind. They pass it by day after day without so much as a second thought. Meanwhile, I’m having a mental panic attack, running around room to room remembering everything that needs to be swept, mopped, moved, put away, and re-organized. Other people at the hostel or hotel or your host are all telling you to relax, you’re on vacation. You can clean later. When is later, though?! When you think you’re done for the day, and suddenly at 2 AM the mess comes back to haunt you?
    I rather just clean it now! I might spend an extra 2-3 hours making sure there’s no blood in the blender or dirt on the desk, but then I know I only have to sweep a little before bed. My mind can rest easy. Maybe.
  4. Checking out life outside the house has its ups and downs. For me, being outdoors is a lot easier than inside. I may get sweaty and dirty, but it feels acceptable, as if I am just part of nature. It’s not as horrifying to be gross while outside. On the other hand, if I am going out for night life or a busy restaurant, this can also set off some alarms. Heavily occupied places are a nightmare; I have a love/hate relationship with crowds of human bodies. Sometimes it’s fine and I am oblivious to the overwhelming state of things, other times it’s all I can think about, and panic and escape is imminent.  Which will it be? One never knows.
    One solution is just getting super drunk. However, this is not a good solution, it’s more of a defense and it could potentially go poorly. I don’t recommend this method, but I’ve never used alcohol for this purpose, so what do I know? If you’re stuck, you do what you must to survive. Otherwise, if stepping outside or finding an empty seat or corner is possible, do that. If a restroom is empty, a bathroom dance party is nothing of which to be ashamed. nzt nzt nzt fluushhhh pchtzzsszzttt! REEEMIIIXXXX!
  5. Being in a home that isn’t your own. As someone who utilizes free accommodations whenever possible, there are always hosts and roommates to face. As it turns out, most people are slobs. Which is cool and fine and dandy when I think about it rationally, but there is a little bubble in my brain that explodes whenever I see a messy abode. I tend to find myself cleaning up after others wherever I go. There’s no judgement, there’s no scolding, or loss of interest in them, I just need to clean! And clean. And clean… and clean some more. If I’m not doing the cleaning, I’m thinking about the cleaning. It’s in my mind, pounding like a migraine. Chasing me down like Wile E Coyote. I’m like a convict on the run from the addiction. I need it, man, I need it bad. I just need one more thrill. Gimme that Windex, hand me that Scrubbing Bubbles.
    Rather than trying to convince myself that I’m fine and it doesn’t matter, I just give in and do it! Don’t wait for dishes and clothing and mess to pile up, just grab it, clean it, and organize it. No fuss, no muss, no need to bust. The relief of seeing a cleared out space or a pile of items all in their proper places is Heavenly. Of course, sometimes this means dealing with the homeowner getting upset that he/she can’t find something or being upset that things aren’t in their ordinary chaotic state, but that’s not my problem. If they had cleaned up for themselves, we wouldn’t be in this situation! Now, would we?
  6. AgitaIn new, stressful situations, the tummy is the first victim. Even if you’re feeling good, feeling fine, and all’s right in the world, your body wants to see you suffer. Thus, stomach pains can arise. Burning, bloating, bowels from Hell, and various other medical conditions that the internet likely diagnoses as some form of cancer. Tums and Pepto won’t save you now! It’s PAYBACK TIME for all those moments you smiled and ate meals without winding up curled in a ball. You wanted to feel good, didn’t you? You just had to enjoy yourself, didn’t you? Well, now your stomach is catching up with you. Letting you know you made a major change and that’s just unacceptable.
    While working on the farm the other day, we were so far from a restroom and I had to use one so badly, that my fantasy was being kidnapped by an Arab, just to have an exit plan. That’s more of a tragedy than a plan, but it sounded so much better than moving sheets of metal in the sun while restraining the contents of my stomach. Release the flood gates! Just, not here and not now.

You know what, though? Despite the stress and anxiety and agita and loss of dignity, every bit of it is worth it. You will feel so good about yourself and about the world once you see how well you overcame and conquered your mental neuroses. It’s a huge accomplishment. Even if the symptoms win in the end, it’s better to have tried and failed than to waste your life letting it tell you to stop. Always do everything you can, you may surprise yourself!

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