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Kimberley Quinlan: Well, welcome, Laura. I am so excited to hear your story today about Overcoming Superstitious Obsessions. Thank you for coming on the show.
Laura Ryan: Thank you so much for having me. I'm so excited to be here.
Kimberley Quinlan: Yeah, so it's wonderful. I love the stories when I accidentally meet people online, and then we have this cool story that's together, but we're not like not together at all. So I love hearing your story for the first time today, and I love that. I've been a small small part of that journey for you. Tell me a little about you and your backstory in, you know, the area of recovery.
Laura Ryan: Yeah. So I definitely would have had OCD my whole life, but it wasn't until I was about 17 or 18 years old that I just stumbled across something on the Internet where I was like Oh yeah, that sounds like me. I've got OCD, but it didn't. It wasn't stopping me from doing anything at that point. So I just ignored it and went on. I had three Uni degrees under my belt. I was working at a publisher and freelancing as a book editor, and then
Laura Ryan: my family had some health issues, and my sister as well, had some relationship issues, and I don't think I knew what to do with the stress. Um, and OCD crept up. So gradually, it was undetectable, and then sudd, I found myself at age 22 with crippling compulsions.
Laura Ryan: It was nothing short of torture. It was horrific. I was so ill with OCD that I would come home from a day at work, and I wouldn't even remember the day because I'd spent the whole day in fight or flight. And I had mental sort of thought replacement and breath-holding compulsions. So it was completely invisible to people around me, but it was able to kind of have control over me for the whole day. Like from the second, I woke up to the second. I went to sleep. When I eventually saw a doctor, the psychiatrist was like, Oh, and how often are you affected by these thoughts? And I just didn't understand the question because I was like, Well, every few seconds, I guess.
Laura Ryan: Yeah, so they were weird. Compulsions, like a lot of Shame around them as well because they were all kind of magical thinking superstitious. Like there was no logical link. They were all like, I'm holding my breath because I think I will magically give someone a disease if I breathe out while looking at them, or Yeah, just weird. We had rules that made absolutely no sense.
Laura Ryan: which, Also. yeah, it impacted my self-esteem because I've always thought of myself as a Logical person, but these just made no sense.
Laura Ryan: yeah, I also became stick thin because if I, and it wasn't even anything to do with the food, it was just if you eat this food, the intrusive thought will come true. And I, it just wasn't worth their Stress of eating. and then, there was a point where
Laura Ryan: I would have conflicting compulsions, so OCD would kind of be like if you do this thing or if you don't do this thing, the intrusive thought will come true, and then I would just stand there paralyzed Like unable to do anything. I don't like to think how long I've spent just standing still, like the pervasive slowness, I think it's called was just Yes, stopped me from. Doing anything? Some nights it would have taken more than an hour to get to bed. It was just I had to touch wood or Rearrange things for so long before I was able to get to sleep. yeah, so I'd been a really
Laura Ryan: Pleasant child and teenager big people pleaser perfectionist type person, and then all of a sudden I was this irritable, distracted young adult, and I didn't like who I was, and no one in my family knew what was going on with me. Um, and yeah, I was eventually unable to work, and I quit my job. And I was too anxious to Google things. So I looked up OCD on my podcast app, and that was when I found you were a guest on the mental illness happy hour, I think, and you played this game of one-up together, and it was like, It was incredible. It was like it was. Yeah, it was the first time I had
Laura Ryan: heard of ERP and OCD.
Laura Ryan: Yeah. Sorry, it was the first time I'd heard of ERP and Anxiety treatment that wasn't just meditation or gratitude, which are helpful. But sometimes, when you're in that dark place, the only thing that can get to you. It is something dark itself but also brings that humor as well. I think it is just the most powerful tool you can have when you're there. Then I started looking up Absolutely everything Kimberley Quinlan. I was absolutely your number one fan. You say you had a small part in my story. You had a huge, huge part in my story. Because I was way too unwell to drive. There was no way I would go to my GP and get a mental health care referral. I was not going anywhere near Medical Center. And barely making it out of the house. So, when I found your ERP school to do online, it was nothing short of life-saving. I was able to get enough to go to the GP then and get a referral to see a psychologist.
Laura Ryan: Yeah.
Kimberley Quinlan: It makes me want to cry, it does. And when can I ask a couple of questions about that when you said There's no way you would have gone to the GP because of the obsessions that held you back or just the shame of it? What was there? Another reason that that was such a huge step for you?
Laura Ryan: It was mainly the superstitious obsessions. If I go there, I'll contract a disease or give someone a disease. Not even in a contaminated way. Just like a magical way. Yeah.
Kimberley Quinlan: Mmm, yeah, yeah, it's funny. I don't know when I'm helping people because you just don't know what you know. Just for those who are listening, the Mental illness happy hour is an amazing podcast, and then the host had no idea what OCD was. And so, we did play a game of one up, which is where we kind of, he said something scary. And then I went up. It was something even scarier and even more gruesome and horrible. Was that something that you started practicing on your own just from that episode? Or did you take up his school to follow the whole process?
Laura Ryan: A bit of both. I kind of took the one up and…
Kimberley Quinlan: Inflecting.
Laura Ryan: I ran because I think it just helped me. so much immediately, and then ERP school was able to lead me through in a more systematic way. Yeah.
Kimberley Quinlan: Okay. Amazing. Oh, I'm so happy that I could be there. It's not so cool.
Laura Ryan: Yeah, absolutely.
Kimberley Quinlan: It's so cool.
Kimberley Quinlan: Especially you're my Aussie friend too. That just brings me so much joy. So as you and I emailed in preparation for this, you beautifully and eloquently shared some of the pieces. I would love to hear from you if you spoke briefly about how your OCD evolved. Would you be willing to share a little bit about what that looked like for you?
Laura Ryan: Yeah. Yeah.
Laura Ryan: I had every kind of OCD, so as soon as I started doing ERP, OCD came back with a vengeance with some new topic and…
Laura Ryan: as I think a lot of OCD sufferers know, it can be especially difficult, when a new topic shows up because you don't know what's happening you are unfamiliar with. the sorts of thoughts it's going to throw you, and you don't know how to fight back yet. I remember when it initially switched from this sort of magical thinking superstition to moral OCD.
Laura Ryan: Hit and run OCD, and I've heard stories about OCD sufferers turning themselves in for crimes they didn't commit, and that was absolutely the kind of thing I felt like doing at that point. I was like
Laura Ryan: Although usually, I would panic when I was driving, I would constantly be checking in my rearview mirror, recycling, back driving around, again and again, to make sure I hadn't hidden anyone and then,
Laura Ryan: Yeah, I think it just Really. OCD will fight back.
Laura Ryan: Yeah, absolutely.
Kimberley Quinlan: that must have been pretty terrifying for you, though, or demoralizing for you for it to be sort of wack-a-moleing. Whack-a-mole obsessions are when your obsessions are changing from one obsession to another. Your obsessions will be one up and one down. Switching between obsessions each day or even hour. How did you handle that?
Laura Ryan: um,
Laura Ryan: I think, just I think the main thing was staying in touch with the online community and because Every thought you've had, no matter how crazy it is. Someone else has had it, and someone else has probably done a compulsion. That's Like as, or more embarrassing, is something you've done.
Laura Ryan: Yeah, I always think when I have a thought I met someone else's had this, and then I'll go on like OCD Reddit and find that they have.
Kimberley Quinlan: Right. Absolutely. So so, that's how it evolved. Wait, you shared. Also, Where are you now? Like what does life look like for you now? Having gone through and know, you'd said You'd moved on to getting treatment. What's life like for you Now? What does recovery look like for you?
Laura Ryan: So, yeah, I spent the better part of two years just really taking the time to get better. I was doing bits of freelance work, but it shouldn't have been because it was taking me way too long. I wish I'd just given myself permission to rest properly. and I don't know whether this was a part of moral OCD or whether I like to think it's just part of who I am. Still, I didn't want to go back into publishing because I Um felt like I wanted to do a job helping other people, and I especially wanted to give back to the healthcare world.
Kimberley Quinlan: It.
Laura Ryan: That helped me so much. When I went, I went to the hospital to do an inpatient OCD program. And the people working in the program were obviously psychologists, psychiatrists, and occupational therapists. And so, I wanted to do a course in OT. But
Laura Ryan: Then I saw speech-language, pathology, and I've been doing that course for the last two years, and I'm just about to graduate. So, Yeah.
Kimberley Quinlan: Wow, that's so cool. Does OCD have something to say about you returning to school for that? Like, how did it How did your OCD handle that decision?
Laura Ryan: Oh my gosh, it was so. mad at me for picking something that I needed to do hospital placements to complete. Especially being speech-language. I think they called in America speech-language therapists, in hospitals, at least in Australia, there, they see the people with the Like worst neurodegenerative or the scariest diseases, or they've just had a stroke. Like, really, the most triggering things I could have thought of at the start of my journey. And yeah, and like, you have to like to touch them and would never ever have thought that I could have done this a couple of years ago.
Kimberley Quinlan: Yeah. In ERP school, we talk about your hierarchy, right? Like it would have been a 10 out of 10. I'm guessing you're like doing 10 out of 10…
Laura Ryan: Yeah.
Kimberley Quinlan: it's incredible of all the careers; you picked like your 10 out of 10. That's incredible. Right. Yeah. So was that like a decision? Like I'm doing it as an exposure, or is it just like your values led you there to get to that place?
Laura Ryan: It was definitely my values and took me. And my therapist, a lot of coaching to get me through. Yeah.
Kimberley Quinlan: Wow, it's so cool. It's so cool. It's like perfect, right? Because it's so often, I hear of people who have the career that they wanted, and their OCB gets in the way, right? You know, there he'll have health anxiety in there, and us or they have their teacher, but they have thoughts of, or pedophilia obsessions and impacts their work. Like you, you went the other direction where you moved into the career after your treatment which is just so cool. I love that you did that. So one thing you shared, Was what you find hard, and I love that you included that piece in what you find hard. So, would you be willing to share, What do you find hard? We talk about It's a beautiful day to do hard things, but What is it? It's okay that things are still hard. What do you find still hard?
Laura Ryan: Yeah, I find it now that I have so much functionality back compared to where I was not leaving the house to pretty much do everything that I want and need to, I find it hard to find the motivation to do ERP to kick those last mental compulsions, and those things that kind of still follow me around all day. Yeah, I think. I think now it's less about functionality and now more about doing it to get back that quality of life.
Laura Ryan: which, yeah, I think I often find really hard to it's much easier to. When you're doing ERP to reason with yourself, oh, I deserve to be able to leave the house and go to the shops. And so that's why I'm doing this thing that feels so awful. But when you're just saying, “Oh, I'm doing this now just because I want to be happy.” It's a lot harder to reason with myself
Kimberley Quinlan: Yeah, it's like you said at the beginning and I've heard that many times that if it's not impeding in your functioning, it is easier to sweep it under the rug and cope and not address the problem. And I've heard that many times. So I think that's a really valid point of, you know, a lot of people will say like there's a really strong. Why are they doing the exposures? There's not a strong why it's hard to do it. How are you learning or starting to practice tools to manage what's worked for you? And what hasn't
Laura Ryan: 'm getting a lot better at being less of a people pleaser and getting better at not putting everyone else before myself filling up my own cup so that I have some to give to everyone else. Yeah, I'm it is hard, but I'm definitely getting better at doing things because
Laura Ryan: Yeah, if I give myself that, Quality of life. I can be. Even at least I can be if not for me, I can be there better for my family and friends.
Kimberley Quinlan: Yeah. Yeah. Is there you know, if you were to work? I mean, I'm assuming people listening are having similar struggles. Can you walk me through moment to moment how you muster up motivation? Or maybe it's a different experience to get yourself to do. Those exposures? Like, what do their steps involve? Or how do you get to that place?
Laura Ryan: Yeah, one of my favorite tools is just before I do anything. So if I'm if I've just driven in the car to go somewhere, I will take one minute before I get out of the car, I will take one minute. and just Kind of have a word with myself and OCD, and I'll be like, right, what's OCD? You're going to throw at me. It's going to say this, and then what will I do? I'm going to do this, and then how's OCD going to push back? And then what am I going to do? Like just having a game plan before you do.
Kimberley Quinlan: If?
Laura Ryan: Functional things for those mental compulsions.
Laura Ryan: I find it's a really
Laura Ryan: it's really helpful for me because I don't have to kind of set aside time and find that motivation to do it. I can just kind of plan and make ERP tasks out of, going to the shops or seeing a friend or things like that.
Kimberley Quinlan: Yeah, that's cool. It's, I think of it, like Olympians or, you know, high-performance athletes as they, they do that same thing. They're high performing, you know, the high performers there, they're rehearsing. You know the strategy to get through that really hard moment. It sounds like you're doing something similar there, which is really cool. I'm fascinated by that, sports psychology piece of it, right? I think that's so cool. All right, you had mentioned, which I thought was fascinating, what OCD gave you. Now, this is sort of a controversial topic…
Kimberley Quinlan: Okay. So one of the things that you wrote as we were emailing was what OCD gave you right, which I thought was so fascinating because usually, we hear stories are like, I hate OCD, and it's the worst thing ever. And I hate everything about it, and we even know there's some controversy of some people who have sort of misused OCD. I loved what you had to say. So, would you share it? What were your thoughts regarding what OCD gave you?
Laura Ryan: Yeah, I definitely don't get me wrong. I think OCD is a very unique form of torture, I don't think it's. Yeah, it's horrible. It's absolutely. Yeah, I think. When you said it was one of their Top 10 Most debilitating disorders, you can have either physical or mental. Absolutely. I think it's just Awful. But I think going through treatment gave me this really, really,
Laura Ryan: I was able to see these incredible sides to my family and friends. they were just so, Incredible at every turn and so accepting of something that's really hard to understand.
Laura Ryan: and, Yeah, it's also just constant reminders to follow my values. Like if, if you're having a hard day with OCD, the only thing you can use is to get yourself out of that. is to be like, okay, well, What am I doing? What am I valuing? And the treatment is kind of mindfulness and coming back to
Laura Ryan: What's important? So yeah, I think I'm I'm quite lucky to have those. those treatment principles kind of under my belt because, I think everyone can use them because they're just
Laura Ryan: Yeah, that's how you have a better life. Yeah.
Kimberley Quinlan: Yeah, that's true. It's so true. And you, you talked about your you had sort of a shift in motivation to sort of take care of your health. Was there a shift in that for you? Once you started going through OCD treatment? That was when further beyond just your mental health,
Laura Ryan: yeah, it was it kind of turned into adding in. Meditation moving my body a lot.
Laura Ryan: Yeah, I I remember going down this because I had access to my uni like academic journal database, and I am early on. I went into a lot of obvious research about ERP and OCD. But also SSRIs and exercise.
Laura Ryan: and I think people found Or some people. And at least for me, I find Like, I'm staying on the SSRIs, but exercise is. As effective for me as those. So if I Do them both. It's like supercharges it so good. Yeah.
Kimberley Quinlan: Yeah. Yeah, absolutely. The research backs that doesn't it? So that's so good.
Laura Ryan: Yeah.
Kimberley Quinlan: That's so good. All right, the last thing I question I have for you it's just makes me giggle and smile and feel all good. Inside is tell me a little bit about what gets you through the hard things because that's what this is all about, right? That's what our whole message is. What are some of the things that get you through the hard things and the hard days?
Laura Ryan: And definitely remembering my sense of humor. And Kind of encouraging the people around you. Because I'm not as. I'm not super comfortable yet telling my family and friends to You know, help me with exposure tasks, but if you can tell them, they help me laugh about these things. They'll They can people can do that, people know how to, and they want to, and it's really good.
Kimberley Quinlan: Yeah.
Laura Ryan: Yeah, also, if you go on the go on Reddit and look up Reddit OCD memes, it's the best. It's so good. It's like and John Hershfield's means they're so good, and they
Laura Ryan: Again they like they get into these really dark awful themes but then we're laughing at them and I think that's just the fastest way to get power over OCD.
Kimberley Quinlan: Yeah.
Laura Ryan: um, Yeah,…
Kimberley Quinlan: Yeah. Changes the game.
Laura Ryan: it's really cool. Definitely.
Kimberley Quinlan: Doesn't it right when you find? Yeah, it really really does. And you did talk about the game plan Already.
Laura Ryan: Yeah.
Kimberley Quinlan: You mentioned something called a panic inventory. Do you want to share a little bit about what that is?
Laura Ryan: Yeah, so I hope it's not a kind of reassurance knowing that I can go back and check it, but I never do. And so when I have an intrusive thought, I just write it down in the notes of my phone and it's stops me from doing things like, checking the police news or asking for reassurance, or like, if I have the thought written down, and it's there, and I can think Laura, you can come back to it like it's there. It's not going anywhere. You can come back to it tomorrow or next week, or even just if you can hold off on doing this compulsion for an hour, the thought will still be there. You can still
Laura Ryan: Address it. If it still feels urgent, then and yeah, some of them only last a few minutes, some of them last a few days. But I've never come back to a thought a week later still panicking.
Kimberley Quinlan: Mmm, that's cool. It's funny, it makes me think about as With young children, when we're treating young children with OCD, we talk about their OCD box, and they imagine putting their thought up in the box and they leave the box there, not to kind of make the thoughts go away. But just like it's there, you can bring it with you. The box is always with you and…
Laura Ryan: Yeah.
Kimberley Quinlan: we're just not going to let it be there, and we're gonna go about our lives. Anyway, so does it sound like that for you? Is that kind of mindset there? yeah, so that I love that…
Laura Ryan: Yeah, absolutely.
Kimberley Quinlan: because what you're really doing is you're saying I'm willing to let the thought come with me. And I'm gonna be uncertain about it and sort of staying very present. Like, we'll worry about it later, kind of like not that you're planning to worry about it later but she'll deal with it when it needs to be dealt with which is sounds like never Really okay.
Laura Ryan: Yeah.
Kimberley Quinlan: I love that. I love that. Yeah, okay, cool.
Kimberley Quinlan: Anything else that you found to be helpful in getting you to where you are today in this really cool story?
Laura Ryan: Yeah, definitely. I think the Perfectionistic side of me thought that every ERP exposure had to be. 10 out of 10. Full-blown panic attack level, but it's At least for me it's only gonna work for insofar as I'm willing to actually feel what it brings up. So
Laura Ryan: I think they the best exposures for me are the ones that just feel mildly uncomfortable and even to the point where I'm sitting there and I'm like, Oh, am I, Even bothered by this. Like, it's sometimes I feel like I'm lying or…
Kimberley Quinlan: Mmm.
Laura Ryan: Or I don't have OCD or yeah, I think those tiny. Yeah. Like a hundred. Many exposures are way way better than one, one giant one, at least for me.
Kimberley Quinlan: Wow. That's cool. I'm so glad you brought that up, and because that is actually, interestingly, I'll share with you when I'm supervising my staff. That's probably one of the biggest questions that my staff come with of like, my client seems to be wanting to do these crazy high hard explosions and it feels like it's sort of compulsive in that they're doing these exposures.
Laura Ryan: Yeah.
Kimberley Quinlan: And I think you're speaking to this really important topic, which is the exposure should Simulate the fear and the uncertainty And so you're saying, I think. But correct me if I'm wrong Doing a small exposure actually simulates in brings on other obsessions and fears along the way. So that's how you're doing your exposures. That's so cool. Is that correct?
Laura Ryan: Yeah. Yeah, absolutely.
Kimberley Quinlan: Yeah, wow. And we say Any happy school. We talk about doing a b minus effort, right? Like not doing it perfectly and sometimes perfect. You know, purposely making an exposure imperfect has, was that a trigger for you? As you went through this process of trying to make the exposures perfect? Yeah.
Laura Ryan: Yeah. Absolutely. I remember, I came to my first session with my psychologists, like, with a printed out, hierarchy of like this. Yeah. Everything was scored perfectly and I was ready to work from. Yeah. Number one, to number 10 in and cool. According to the research, we should be done in 12 weeks and then I'll say See you later. That was really…
Kimberley Quinlan: You like my schedule,…
Laura Ryan: no, it works.
Kimberley Quinlan: It says right here. This is how dispersed to go. Right, right. Okay. And it didn't work out that way. No, no that would have been hard to take.
Laura Ryan: Yeah. Yeah.
Kimberley Quinlan: Yeah. Yeah, I have loved hearing your story. I'm so grateful that we got to meet in person and connect. You know, it's sort of a full circle moment for me and I hope you know that you should be so proud of the work you've done and how far you've come.
Laura Ryan: Thank you so much. Yeah, I can't believe I'm talking to you.
Kimberley Quinlan: Yeah. I know,…
Laura Ryan: Yeah, it's awesome.
Kimberley Quinlan: I'm so happy to have you on the show, I really? And that's again, I say it all the time, like it just to know that. That. People can make small but very mighty steps on their own. Is the whole mission here,…
Laura Ryan: Yeah.
Kimberley Quinlan: right? Is that just even if it's the first step, I'm so happy if that's the step that people take. So I'm so grateful for you for sharing your story.Laura Ryan: Thank you so much for having me.