Meet Laura. Laura finds success as a Certified Life Coach, Nutritionist, and mental health advocate, and works as a Customer Success Manager at TaskHuman. Her line of work brings her passion for holistic health and wellness together with her diagnosis with OCD (and more specifically, Relationship themed Obsessive Compulsive Disorder), to help others achieve balance and thrive through mindfulness and natural healing. Living with OCD has forced Laura to face a life of challenges and struggles and her Brain Story is rich with self-discovery, healing, and success.
Laura Joseph was officially diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder 5 years ago, after a long and tumultuous period of self-doubt, uncertainty, and constantly questioning her relationship with a former partner. Laura first sought counseling in early 2010 during her sophomore year of college, after struggling to come to terms with mental health challenges that seemed to impair her friendships and romantic relationships. It wasn’t until 2016 however, that she sought out treatment and diagnosis with an OCD specialized professional. Living with OCD has caused hardships that Laura has worked hard to overcome, and we are honored here at the United Brain Association to speak with her in-depth about her diagnosis and the ways she hopes to support the OCD community.
“Part of managing the OCD requires leaning into the uncertainty and welcoming it into my life no matter how uncomfortable it may feel. For ten years prior to my diagnosis, I battled depression, panic attacks, and withdrawal; I lost friendships and hurt my family.”
Living With OCD – Laura Joseph’s Journey to Discovery
Roughly 2.3% of the US population lives with OCD, equating to 1 in 40 adults, and 1 in 100 children. When asked about the severity of her symptoms relating to other diagnosed patients, Laura made a poignant clarification for us. “OCD and its comorbidities affect each sufferer in their own way. There is no absolute “scale” or metric other than a person’s ability to lead a happy and productive life. After receiving counseling and understanding my OCD, my overall outlook improved, and I began to enjoy my life. As with so many brain disorders, Laura puts emphasis on the need for relatability and understanding that every person lives with their unique symptoms and treatment plans in their own way, and that overcoming these challenges is not a one size fits all method.
3 Exercises For Relationship OCD from Awaken Into Love
Laura’s biggest hurdle when it comes to her diagnosis is due to a unique subset of OCD symptoms pertaining to the development and nurturing of romantic relationships. Laura vocalized to us some of the challenges she’s faced pertaining to her past and current relationships. Laura expressed to us some of the intrusive thoughts that spurred feelings of self-doubt and uncertainty as it related to her relationship with her former partner.
“On my first day in intensive therapy, I was asked to write down my thoughts from the moment I woke up until I fell asleep. By 9 a.m., after being awake for only three hours, I was exhausted by my thoughts. They were uncontrolled and torturous: I want to be with her but do I need to explore myself more before making a commitment? How do I know I want to be with her? I have never experienced these intense emotions in a relationship before. What if she isn’t the right person? What if I should be with a guy? But, wait, I have been with guys. Can I see myself with this person? Should I try again? What if I can’t commit to her? How should I feel? Does this feel right? What if I get hit by a car? Would I care? This is too much to deal with. What if my family never accepts me being with a girl? What makes me happy? Should I move or try to go out more? No, that’s not who I am. Who am I?”
In her case, Laura discovered that her personal uncertainty about her previous relationship with a same-sex partner was magnified by her disorder. It wasn’t until diving into the symptoms and treatment surrounding her diagnosis that she was able to distinctly identify that the root of her uncertainty was rooted in the neurotypical concerns common in people in any relationship, regardless of those relationship dynamics. After working to get the anxiety at bay, Laura was able to dive into the core fears of judgement, not belonging, and not being lovable as who she really is.
“High school was where a lot of my mental health issues started where I began comparing myself to others, feeling as if I didn’t fit in and felt as if something was wrong with me.”
She tells UBA that “At that time, these thoughts consumed about 95% of my day. The internal dialogue and questioning never ceased. It tore me to pieces.”. She says “There was one incident where this boy asked me if I was gay and that thought/question did not leave my mind for years! It was a trigger for sure! The ultimate thing that would make me “different.” I tried to find ways to prove my feelings for guys but it made me ultimately question my attraction to anyone. Walking down the street, watching movies, anywhere I saw someone I would question and check for any attraction to them. It was all mental rumination. “Am I attracted to that person? Do I feel anything when I am around XYZ? How do I know? What do my friends think? What will my family think? How do I find out?”.
Life Before Diagnosis – Laura Recognizes the Impact of Her Disorder
While her diagnosis came much later, once therapy and treatment began, Laura was able to identify that her symptoms had been present since early childhood.
“When I think back to kindergarten when I used to have to touch the keyhole on the trunk of each car in one parking lot on my walk home – if I missed one I had to go back (to touch them again). I would stay up at night with prayers, songs, and worries on loop in my head.”
Laura tells UBA that her thoughts led to feelings of extreme isolation, self-harm, and suicide at times, but that through years of dedicated focus and treatment, she’s learned to cope and refocus for personal clarity and growth. Her path to discover who she is, and how it impacts her relationships have been a long and arduous process, but she feels more in control every day.
What are you currently doing to reduce the impact of OCD on your day-to-day routines?
“I have learned to face my fears to abate my anxieties; I employ several forms of conditioning: Flooding and Scripting are the most effective. I face my fears, and I ride them out. I found a specialist who is trained in OCD, and I trusted the process. I discovered that the neural pathways established during the build-up of my OCD occurred over time, and the redirection of these pathways would also require time. Healthy channels replaced the old OCD pathways. As I began to re-write my outlook on many issues, I was able to let myself understand the process.”
Laura discussed treatments she’s tried, and methods that have worked to curtail her symptoms. “Therapy, Zoloft, and ERP (Exposure Response Therapy) typically reduce the cycle of obsessions and compulsions. Awareness of the condition is the first step. Journaling has been extremely useful in identifying patterns, themes, and trends and their corresponding triggers.” She wants to encourage other individuals diagnosed with OCD to seek professional help to assist in overcoming the day to day hurdles OCD can lay in their path. “I found a specialist who is trained in OCD, and I trusted the process. It is essential to find your own path.”
Supporting the OCD Community – Words of Advice
Due to a lifetime of symptoms that caused her to question who she was, Laura wants to help support other people struggling with the effects of OCD and help them discover themselves. She has attended multiple conferences pertaining to her diagnosis, and she feels better connected with the community and ready to help others come to terms, and learn to cope with their disorder.
“After receiving treatment, I am more knowledgeable about the disorder and have developed effective coping strategies. This helps me to maintain perspective. If you struggle with any form of anxiety or OCD, I strongly encourage you to find a therapist who you connect with and who specializes in the treatment of OCD. This will help you to fight to reach the other side. You are worthy!”
Laura hopes to give back to the OCD community through support, and by helping others who may be living with OCD realize that their thoughts and processes may be unique, but are not unmanageable. She recommends seeking professional therapy to help better understand an OCD diagnosis and encourages every individual to work towards coping mechanisms that help them in a way that best works with their case.
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