There is nothing I love more than sharing the success stories of people who are using ERP to manage their OCD and intrusive thoughts. In this week’s podcast, I interview Taylor Stadtlander about her OCD recovery and how she used ERP School to help her manage her intrusive thoughts, compulsive behaviors. Taylor is incredibly inspiring and I am so thrilled to hear her amazing ERP Success story.
In This Episode:
Links To Things I Talk About:
This episode of Your Anxiety Toolkit is brought to you by CBTschool.com. CBTschool.com is a psychoeducation platform that provides courses and other online resources for people with anxiety, OCD, and Body-Focused Repetitive Behaviors. Go to cbtschool.com to learn more.
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Kimberley: Welcome. I am so excited to have here with me Taylor Stadtlander.
Taylor: Yes. Thanks. I’m so excited to be here.
Kimberley: Oh, thank you for being here. I am so excited about this interview. You’re someone I have watched on social media, and it’s really cool because out of there, I realized you were someone who had been through CBT School and I just love hearing the story of how you things get to me. I love that story. So, thank you for being on the show.
Taylor: Of course. Thank you so much for having me.
Kimberley: Tell me a little bit about you and your mental health and mental wellness journey, as much as you want to share. Tell us about that.
Taylor: I’ll start with, I am an OCD therapist right now. And I start by saying that because, honestly, if you were to tell me when I was in high school, that I would have become an OCD therapist, I would have laughed at you because I, at that time, was really when my OCD started in high school. Of course, now, knowing what OCD is, I can look back and I can see definitely symptoms back as young as eight or nine years old. But when I was in high school, it was really when I had my sophomore year, pretty intense onset of compulsions. And then, of course, the intrusive thoughts, and it really was all-consuming. But the interesting part, and I’m sure a lot of people can relate to this, is it was something I kept very hidden, or I at least tried to. So, a lot of the earliest compulsions I had were checking compulsions. So, it was these intense, long rituals before I would go to bed, checking that the door is locked, the stove was off, all safety things. I felt this immense amount of responsibility. And I remember thinking like, where did this come from? One day I was just so concerned with safety and all these different things. But no one would have known other than, of course, my family, who I lived with, and my sister, who I shared a room with, who of course saw me getting up multiple times at night to recheck things. But from the outside, it looked like I had everything together. I was the A student, honors classes, volleyball captain, lacrosse captain, and just kept that façade of that picture-perfect high schooler.
I did end up going to a therapist and she wasn’t an OCD specialist, but I have to say I got very lucky because I actually have some of the worksheets that she used with me back when I was 15. And it is in a sense ERP. So, I was very lucky in that sense that even though I wasn’t seeing a specialist, because I don’t think any of us knew what was going on, to even see an OCD specialist, I did get to-- and it helped. And that’s where I was like, “Okay, you know what, I’m going to go to college and become at least major in Social Work.”
So, I went to college, majored in Social Work, got my Master’s in Social Work, and my OCD pretty much went away and I thought I was cured or whatever that means. And I thought that, “Okay, that was a chapter of my life. And now for whatever reason, I had to go through that. Now I’ll become a therapist and help other people.” I say that because I had no idea what was coming. My first year out of grad school, I began working and I had the most intense relapse of OCD ever. It came back stronger than ever this time. We call it “pure O.” So like mainly intrusive thoughts. And I had no idea what ERP was. It’s sad because I went through grad school for Social Work and we never talked about that.
I remember this one day, and this is circling back to even how I found you, I had stayed home from work because I was just for like a mental health day, and I didn’t want to be on my phone because going on social media was triggering, watching TV was triggering, all these different things. But I was like, you know what, I’m sitting at home. I might as well turn on the TV. So, I turn on the TV, and an episode of Keeping Up With the Kardashians is on. I am a fan of that show, so shout out to them. And I remember watching and I was listening half not. I think I was trying to take a nap. And one of the family members had this OCD specialist on the show. And I remember pausing the TV because they had the name of the OCD specialist on the TV. And I wrote it down and it was Sheba from The Center of Anxiety and OCD. So I was like, “Okay, let me Google that.” That was the first time I’ve ever even heard of an OCD specialist. So, I stopped watching the show, went on my phone, Googled her name and her Instagram came up and I just started scrolling. It was like my world, my eyes were just open and I was like, “Oh my gosh, other people have OCD, and there’s a treatment, ERP.” Then I just kept scrolling. And then funny enough, I came across your page, Kimberley. And through that, that’s where I discovered CBT School.
Anyway, long story short, at that time, I wasn’t able to afford an OCD specialist. So, I was seeing a therapist, a different therapist from high school because now by this time I was married, on my own insurance, trying to navigate that. In the back of my head, I knew that I needed to see an OCD specialist. I just, again, couldn’t afford it. So, I had a conversation with my husband. I’m like, “Look, I’m going to pay for this, the CBTS course.” And I said, “I know it seems like a lot of money, but it’s really not. If I was going to see an OCD specialist, this is probably what one session would cost.” And that’s how I learned about ERP. That’s your course. It’s how I learned about ERP. So, it honestly traces back to Keeping Up With the Kardashians. I love telling that story because it’s so weird. And honestly, that changed my life because learning ERP, it finally clicked that, okay. Because I was just applying CBT techniques. Like, think of a red stop sign when you have an intrusive thought, thoughts popping, and things like that. And as we know, that was making it so much worse. So, I just dove into your course and taught myself through your course what ERP is, which then led me to seeing that at work, and then wanting to specialize in ERP, and now working with clients who have OCD. So it’s really been an amazing journey, to say the least.
Kimberley: I’m nearly in tears hearing this story. Oh my goodness, how funny, your story has gone from reality TV to here, and that’s so cool. That just blows me away.
Taylor: Well, and it really goes to show. I know that there can be negative sides, like technology and Instagram, but for me, most of, if not all of my education, initially about OCD and ERP was from Instagram accounts, like yours or Sheba’s. And it was like, again, I knew that, okay, this can’t replace therapy, but it was such a good in-between for me, especially being in the place where I was, where I was trying to navigate. Because it can feel like you’re stuck when you either can’t find an OCD specialist or you can’t afford it. And I know what that feels like. So, to have that in between, not as a replacement, but just as a bridging point was so helpful for me.
Kimberley: Wow. And for the listeners, I have not heard that story. This is new to me. So this is so cool. So, actually really, I’m so curious. So, when you took ERP PA school, were you like, “She’s crazy, I’m not doing that”? Or what was your first take on that?
Taylor: I think I was at the point where I was so determined to find relief, I was willing to do anything. And I had researched about ERP before I took your course. I wasn’t like, “Oh, I’m just going to trust this randomly.”
Kimberley: Random lady.
Taylor: Right. So, I did do my own research obviously. And again, I’m in the field and I have a degree in Social Work. It’s just so interesting to me that that was not discussed, and I think that’s lacking in a lot of programs. So, once I researched it myself, I was like, “Okay, this is the evidence-based treatment. This is the gold standard. It looks like I got to do this.” I just remember I would come home. I was working at the time at a partial hospital program and I would come home from work. And that would be my routine. I would get my little notebook out, I’d pull my laptop out, and I treated it as if I was-- again, I know it doesn’t replace therapy, but I treat it as if I was in an intensive program. I would spend an hour or so going through your videos and then printing out the worksheets. And that’s just what I did. And I just started to do it.
I had had before that a brief, very minimal understanding of exposures. And I think I was trying to do them on my own. But through your course, I was able to understand the response prevention piece. I was just exposing myself to all these things and then leading myself in a tailspin. But yeah, I see this again, even in my own clients now that there’s just I think a certain point that you reach, that yes, it’s scary to take this step, to start ERP, but because we’re so determined to not feel the way we’re feeling, it makes it so worth it.
Kimberley: Wow. Oh my goodness, I’m seriously close to tears listening to your story. So, thank you for sharing that with me. I mean, wow, what an honor that I get to be a part of your journey, but how cool that you were the journey. You deal with these works. So, what was that like? Okay, so you said you would come home from work and you would sit down and you would go through it. Tell us a little bit about how you set your own.
Taylor: I think I mentioned this, I was still seeing a therapist. What was funny is, I would come to my sessions and be teaching her about ERP, because in a way I was becoming this mini expert. And as I think a lot of our clients do, because it is such a unique treatment, you do have to become an expert. So, yeah. I mean, I remember using that worksheet where, okay, identify the what-if fear then list out the compulsions. I remember at the time I was like, “All right, I need to print out 10 of these because I have so many themes right now.” I remember doing that. And then, yeah, I would just pick away-- I would write them and then go through the whole process really as if I was going through ERP treatment. That’s what I was doing. Like the same process I do now with my clients is just what I did. And I’m so lucky and blessed to have a background in mental health to have that. And even the resources that I could have had self-taught myself ERP because I know that that’s not everyone’s situation.
And then what was really helpful, and I think this is really important to mention, is my husband. And I think a lot of people can relate to this. We all have our one person who we seek reassurance from. So, when I was still living at home, that person was my mom. Once I got married, it became my husband. And so, he had to learn a lot about OCD treatment and ERP and not providing reassurance. So, the poor thing, I would have him sit down and watch your video, and he would. And he is amazing and just the best support system. But that was really helpful because again, even if you are in therapy and doing this as a supplement to therapy, to be able to have those resources to watch again and again, once you buy the course, you have it. And I still reference it to this day if I am for myself or even if I’m working with something with a client. So, that piece was huge because then I could say, “Hey, look this is the science behind what I’m doing. This is why you can’t give me reassurance and things like that.”
Kimberley: Right. This is so cool, and it’s so cool that he was able to watch it and wasn’t intimidated by the whole process. I mean, he probably was, but he still went through with that, which was so cool.
Taylor: 100%. Yes. This was about two years ago almost to the date actually. And because now I can look back on it, I think I do lose the anxiety that I had with starting it. And I’m sure him wondering, “What the heck are you doing?” But I think that’s so important to have your partner or just your support system understand ERP because it can be very confusing to the outside. If you’re doing exposures. What was very upsetting and hard for me that I really had to come to accept is, a lot of my harm obsessions were unfortunately targeted around him. So, I’d be writing these scripts and I would feel this guilt, this horrible amount of guilt and shame, similar to what I felt back in high school when I was trying to hide my compulsions. Here I have this amazing supportive husband and I’m writing these scripts. So, I would want to try and explain that. And him understanding it, I think made the whole process so much easier, for sure.
Kimberley: Yeah. And those scripts can be hard, right? I even remember--
Taylor: I think that’s the hardest part for me.
Kimberley: Yeah. I even remember recording that and looking into the camera and saying, “You need to write a story about this.” And I do these with my patients all the time, but thinking like, “Why would anyone trust me?” That’s a hard thing to do when you haven’t-- so that’s really amazing that you did that. The good news, and I’ll tell you this, you’re the first person to know this, is we just renewed the whole imaginable script module. They’re three times as long now.
Taylor: Oh, amazing.
Kimberley: Yeah. So, you’re the first to know. By the time they start, everyone will know, but yeah, we tripled the length of it because people had so many questions about that process.
Taylor: In fact, I had a session yesterday with one of my amazing clients and she’s fairly new in the treatment and we were introducing the idea of scripts. And you’re absolutely right. When you’re describing it, you’re like, “What am I saying? This sounds horrible.” I was like, “All right, we are going to pretty much write out your worst fear coming true in as much detail as possible.” And she was like, “What the heck is going on?” And sometimes I have to take myself back to that starting point, especially with working with clients, because now I’m like, “I have an intrusive thought come up. All right, I know I have to go write a script when I get home.” So for me, it’s become second nature. But I think remembering how painful it was the first several times to actually write down those thoughts and then not only write down them but say them out loud and look into them, that-- I was reminded yesterday, I can’t lose sight of how painful that is initially, but then how rewarding it is once you realize it works.
Kimberley: Yeah. You get so much bang for your buck, don’t you, when you use those. This is so cool. You’re obviously a rockstar. So exciting. I can’t tell you how much this brings me such joy to hear. What would you say to somebody who’s starting this process? What was important to you? What got you through? Tell us all your wisdom.
Taylor: I think the biggest thing would be to know that you’re not alone because I remember that was the biggest thing for me. Before I knew what OCD and ERP were, I thought that I was the only person on the planet experiencing these intrusive thoughts, these horrible, violent images or sexual intrusive thoughts or whatever it was. So, first and foremost, knowing that you’re not alone, that there are so many of us who have experienced this, not only experienced the pain of it, but have gone through and are now in recovery. And that you don’t have to let fear dictate the choices that you make because that’s how I lived my life. I avoided things because of my OCD. So, I wouldn’t be triggered. I let fear make the decisions for a lot of my life. And when you do go through ERP treatment, you get to be in control again and you get to live again according to your values.
For example, I’ve always wanted to be a mom and I’ve always dreamed of having kids. And I remember so many times OCD in so many different ways that I can’t even get into, say, “Oh, you could never do that.” Actually, I’m in my first trimester right now, which is so exciting and has been such an incredible journey. That’s a completely different topic for another day. I’m handling my OCD attached to that. But I was thinking and reflecting about it the other day of just like, wow, I now get to live life according to my values and not let fear and OCD make the decisions.
Even though the treatment seems so scary and weird at first, it is so worth it because it works. And that’s why I wanted to become really a specialist in this specific field because I fell in love with the treatment. I fell in love with the fact that it gives people their lives back. And that’s so cool to witness.
So, you’re not alone. You’re also not a bad person because of the thoughts that you’re having. And I’ll briefly share, I’m a Christian and I know that a lot of the thoughts that I’ve had for a long time, I just thought, okay, I’m a horrible person, or I’m a sinner. And whatever your faith is, whatever spirituality or anything, whatever morals you have, just know that you’re not your intrusive thoughts. You are just a person with thoughts and that’s it.
Kimberley: Yeah. That’s so powerful. So, number one, congratulations. I just love when people say, “I have OCD about it, but I did it anyway.”
Taylor: I know. Talk about facing your fears, it’s like--
Kimberley: Right. And then the second piece where you’re really, again, speaking from a place of values, even your religion, I’m sure got attacked during that process. And it’s really hard to keep the faith when you’re being harassed by these thoughts. So, I just love that. What motivated you to keep going? Besides you said just the deep wish to be better and well, how did you keep getting up? Was there lots of getting up and falling down or did you just get up every day?
Taylor: Oh my gosh. In fact, there’s times where I still feel like I am picking myself up because-- I’m so happy you brought that up because that was something that I wasn’t prepared for, the feelings of relapsing I call it, where you feel like, oh my goodness, my symptoms have gone away, whatever. And then it hits you like a ton of bricks. And I always find that it comes back so strong. And it can be really discouraging at first. And I’ve even experienced that with the first couple of weeks of this pregnancy of just like, “Wow, I thought we were over this.” Even themes coming back from when I was 15 or 16 and like, “Okay, looks we have to deal with this again.” I’m able to laugh about it now, but in the moment, it’s really hard.
And so, I think the biggest thing for me that I try to keep myself reminded of in those moments where I do feel like I’m-- because it feels like you’re taking a step backwards in a sense sometimes. And I always try to remind myself that so much can change in a matter of a day and that this is temporary. And even the worst moments of my ruminating or obsessing or the nights where I would literally spend hours completing compulsions, they always passed, if that makes sense. It sounds so cliché, but the sun always rose again. I always got another chance. And I would say that I am a naturally driven and motivated person. So I think that definitely did help me. But that’s not to say that there weren’t times where it’s a hopeless feeling when you are living in your own personal hell of intrusive thoughts. The way I remember describing it to the first therapist I went to is that I was, and I don’t play tennis by the way, but I was like, I pictured myself in a tennis court with a tennis racket and someone just throwing balls at me. And those are the entries of thoughts. And I walk one away and another one comes back. It was exhausting. But being reminded that--
And also now too, and I wrote this down, I definitely wanted to talk about this, was you have to find the community support and that has been so vital for me. And again, thank you, Instagram, I’ve been able to connect with so many people who have OCD or a related disorder who I text or DM and are now some of my closest friends. And we hold each other accountable on days where it’s like-- because OCD can be really weird sometimes. And it’s really nice to have people who understand and have been there. So, that’s really helpful for me too on days where it’s like, man, it just feels like I can’t pick myself up.
Kimberley: Yeah. It’s so important. In fact, I’ll tell you a story. A client of mine, who I’ve been seeing for a while, could do the therapy without me. And she knows it as well as I do. And we hit a roadblock and it kept coming up. I just feel so alone. And not having support and other people with similar issues, it was a game-changer for her. And I think we’re lucky in that there are Facebook groups and Instagram and support groups out there that are so helpful.
Taylor: Yes, totally. And that’s one of the reasons I actually decided about a year ago to create a mental health Instagram because I knew how much Instagram and using that platform helped me. I literally remember saying, “Even if it helps one person.” And at first, it was really scary sharing some of the things, talking about the more taboo themes and different things like that, and thinking like, oh man, what are my coworkers thinking of me or my family members when I post this. But what’s been so rewarding is countless people have reached out to me who either I know and I’ve either grown up with my whole life or people across the globe really of just saying, “Hey, thank you for letting me know I’m not alone.” And to me, that makes it totally all worth it. So, it’s so important to find that connection.
Kimberley: Yeah. And is there anything else that you felt was key for you? Something that you want people to know?
Taylor: I think that it’s so important to-- a huge piece of it too was incorporating act, like acceptance and commitment therapy, which I also believe I learned from one of your podcasts. So, thank you. And that was a huge piece for me too, because again, I think that-- to be very honest, I didn’t even say the words “OCD” until two years ago. I knew in my head that I met the criteria in the DSM, but I never-- that label for me was so scary. I don’t really know why, looking back, but maybe because it was just so unknown. So a lot of the work that I’ve had to do personally that’s been really helpful is just acceptance of any emotion really, especially learning that acceptance doesn’t mean that you have to love something, and it ties into tolerating uncertainty. Tolerating, I was talking about this with a client yesterday. Tolerating is not an endearing word. If someone says, “Oh, I tolerate that person,” that’s not a compliment. We were not being asked to love uncertainty or love the fact that we have OCD or whatever we’re struggling with, but just learning to sit with it and tolerate it has been an absolute game-changer for me. As much as the exposures and response prevention was so new to me, that whole piece too was a game-changer.
Kimberley: Yeah, I agree. I think it’s such an important piece, because there’s so much grief that comes with having OCD too, and the stigma associated. I’ve heard so many people say the same thing. They had to work through the diagnosis before they could even consider--
Taylor: And I also had a lot of anger in two ways towards the fact that I had to deal with this. I always thought, and of course, I think a lot of us think this about anything else, I was like, “If only I just “had” anxiety and not OCD, or just had depression, that would be so much easier to deal with,” which I know is ridiculous. But in the moment, it’s like, I think whatever we’re going through seems so impossible. And then the other piece of the anger was just the misuse of people saying, “Oh, I’m so OCD,” or seeing it displayed on TV or on social media in the wrong way. And I’m like, “Oh my gosh, if only you knew what OCD was, you would never say that.” So now, it’s been cool because I can turn that frustration more into advocacy and education, but that was a huge hurdle to jump to.
Kimberley: Yeah. Well, especially because you’re over here tolerating OCD. And then other people are celebrating and it just feels like taking the face.
Taylor: Oh my gosh, yes.
Kimberley: Yeah. I love all of that. Thank you so much for sharing that story. Number one, it brings me to tears that we get to meet and chat. I think that that is just so beautiful and I’m so impressed with the work that you’re doing. So, thank you. Tell me where people can hear more about you or follow you and so forth.
Taylor: Sure. So, my Instagram is acupofmindfultea, and there you can also find-- I definitely share my personal story, but just also ERP tips. I’m also very big on holistic findings. So, obviously, medication has been a huge part of my story as well and helpful, but I also love finding natural ways and different ways that have helped my anxiety and just building my toolkit. So, I share a lot about that on there as well. So, yeah, I would love to connect with you guys on social media, for sure.
Kimberley: Yeah. I would have to admit, when I saw your pregnancy announcement, I was with my kids and I was like, “Woo-hoo!” And they were like, “What?” And I’m like, “Oh, it’s just somebody I’ve never met, but I’m so excited for her.”
Taylor: Isn’t that so great? I know, I love it. I feel the same way for other people.
Kimberley: Yeah. Well, thank you so much. Number one, thank you for coming on the show. I love how that creates itself organically. And number two, thank you for sharing this because I think this will hopefully give some people some hope. We were overwhelmingly encouraged to have people with stories of their recovery. So, I think this is a really wonderful start of that.
Taylor: Awesome. Well, thank you so much. I’ve been listening to your podcast for two years now, and it’s been such an encouragement for me and such a huge form of education and help. So, this was truly special. So, thank you.
Kimberley: Thank you.