Episode 41: OCD and Other Anxiety Disorders

Episode 41

OCD and Other Anxiety Disorders

In this Episode of Purely OCD, your show hosts Kelley Franke, LMFT and Lauren Rosen, LMFT, are joined by special guests from the UK,  Emma Garrick (The Anxiety Whisperer) and Lisa Towers (Simply Anxious)

In their discussion about OCD and other Anxiety Disorders they talk about:

  • Their lived experiences with OCD and Anxiety
  • Their recovery journeys
  • The differences and similarities between OCD and GAD (General Anxiety Disorder)
  • The differences between neurotypical and neurodivergent brain
  • Whether it’s possible to become neurotypical or “normal” if you have OCD or an Anxiety Disorder.  
  • As they end this episode, Lauren and Kelley share their personal journeys from discovery to recovery.

Lauren and Kelley invited Emma and Lisa to the discussion about OCD and Anxiety Disorders to give the Purely OCD listeners the benefits provided by a good mix of lived experience and psychological training.

With this in mind, they begin with a little background on both Lisa and Emma.

I’m not a professional mental health person in any way. What I am is someone who suffered with anxiety and panic for 20 years. A lot of those years I suffered in silence, and then I got sick of suffering in silence, and I started to raise awareness. I did that for ten years now.

So I have got a lot of experience in networking within the mental health community, meeting people from all walks of life, learning the facts, not the myths, and not the stigma myths, and not what the anxious mind tells you either.

Lisa Towers, Simply Anxious

Emma shares how Lisa recently received a medal from the Queen of England honoring her for her work in raising awareness and voluntary work.

Lisa Towers receiving a medal from Queen Elizabeth the Second, honoring her for her work in raising awareness about Anxiety.
Lisa Tower's medal from Queen Elizabeth the Second, honoring her for her work in raising awareness about Anxiety.

Emma makes mention of particularly stubborn types of OCD and Anxiety. Kelley asks Emma to explain what she means.

A lot of the time, what I see are people who have struggled with anxiety throughout their life- maybe they have pushed it away. Maybe at some point they’ve gone on medication. But the actual work that we need to do to recover has not actually happened.

The other side of this for people that are having stubborn anxiety is that we just get very busy at times in our life, and sometimes we don’t stop. It’s not until we are put on our knees that we stop, and we actually start to take a look at ourselves. We start to think, well, actually, I’ve been flying by the seat of my pants for a long time, and now is the time to actually take a good look at myself and do something about this. And I’ve had people who have had those moments of, oh my God, this is what life without anxiety actually can be like.

Emma Garrick, The Anxiety Whisperer

Kelley jumps in and asks Emma, “What is that ‘life without anxiety’ like? Because I live with anxiety, I feel like it’s just managed and not gone.”

Emma explains

I’ve have been riddled with anxiety at times in my life to the point where I wasn’t functioning as a human being. And when I had my first child, that was one of those moments that I will never forget.

But I have also had moments in my life where I had completely just forgotten what it’s like to wake up in the morning with that dread that you feel in your stomach and that morning nausea and walking through your day as if you are plugged into the main electricity sockets. A very calm and peaceful place that I wanted to visit more.

Emma Garrick, The Anxiety Whisperer

Lauren adds her thoughts to this very important question:

I think that experience that you’re talking about where you wake up and you think, ‘oh, this is such a different experience than the ones I’ve had before.’ I think that’s really a side effect of recovery that comes and goes.

I have had plenty of days in my own recovery, where you feel that current going through your veins, and you want to do all of the behaviors that have historically been your “go to’s”. Recovery, I think, is in the cultivating of those (peaceful) moments, and the choice really to prioritize values. At a certain point in recovery, the values have to take the front seat, otherwise you’ll keep going back.

Lauren Rosen, LMFT The Obsessive Mind

Lisa offers,

With my recovery, I still get anxious, but I no longer get triggered by getting anxious. I don’t trigger anxiety unnecessarily and what I mean by that is that I don’t trigger it because I’m scared it will come.

I was talking to Emma about it earlier, and it’s like Emma says, when you have a broken arm, you still have an arm when it’s healed. You still have a nervous system. And part of my nervous system is anxiety. It just comes when it’s meant to. I’m not triggering it. It’s losing that fear (of becoming anxious) for me. It’s being so much more accepting of the experience.

Lisa Towers, Simply Anxious

Kelley clarifies, that Lisa suffers from Panic Attacks. Lisa affirms that she doesn’t suffer from OCD.

Kelley takes this opportunity to explain the difference between GAD (General Anxiety Disorder) and OCD and how she and Lauren talk about anxiety.

We think of anxiety as kind of on this continuum. We treat it very similarly. So a person with GAD is going to have obsessions around real life stuff that’s going on. Like, “Will my kid get into College?'” “Am I going to pass my exams?” “Will this guy like me or not like me?” It’s rumination over stuff that’s really happening. Whereas OCD, is very removed in a lot of ways. It’s like, “What if in my sleep I’m walking, and I stabbed my family?” There’s a jump in content a bit.

Kelley Franke, LMFT The OCD Therapist

Kelley, Lauren, Emma and Lisa all agree with Kelley’s definition, but also agree that all forms of anxiety can bleed into each other.

Lisa provides an example from her own experiences and wonders if she had both OCD and GAD. Lauren responds to Lisa, I think we put things in these boxes and you can kind of look back at your experience and say, okay, well, that would probably be considered OCD and that would be Generalized Anxiety Disorder. But she asks whether we experience it (OCD or GAD) as something different or a continuation of different topic.

Kelley agrees, that this proves her point.

There isn’t a box to put anybody in. And it’ really common to see people who suffer with Generalized Anxiety Disorder also with OCD. It is a continuum. It’s like here they are: here’s, Generalized Anxiety, here’s OCD. But like Lauren said, there’s somewhere in between where it gets muddy, too.

Kelley Franke, LMFT The OCD Therapist

The anxiety continuum can include:

  • Panic Disorders
  • Health Anxiety
  • Phobias
  • Social Anxiety
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorders

It’s rare to see someone come in and just have one obsession.

A viewer asks if it’s possible to change your brain from a Neurodivergent brain to a Neurotypical brain.

Well, what are we talking about when we’re talking about Neurodivergence? We’re talking about something that’s falling outside of what we would call normal, regular, more common. It’s absolutely okay to be Neurodivergent. Can we influence that? Do we want to? Yes. When it's distressing for us in our Neurodivergence.

Emma Garrick, The Anxiety Whisperer

In their discussion of labeling people as “normal” and “not normal or Neurodivergent” Lauren further clarifies Emma’s description.

I think somebody asked what is neurodivergent? I think that the idea is that there is some average that we might call typical for what’s going on neurologically. But to the discussion going on here, nobody fits that average because everyone is their own individual. To your point, Emma, I still consider myself to be Neurodivergent, even though I’m very much living in recovery. And it’s because of the way my mind functions. I can watch it, and I can navigate it in a way that supports my life better. But I have to understand the way that my mind works in order that it doesn’t interfere with my ability to live a very big, full life.

Lauren Rosen, LMFT The Obsessive Mind

Emma adds:

Absolutely. And I think that once you’re aware of the playground that you’ve got in your own head, and you know how to navigate it, you can navigate it differently You find different ways to climb over some of the challenges that you will face. Emma shares an example from her current life: Friday, my head was jumping around. Saturday, the same intrusive thoughts were just coming. And I work with this. I’ve been on my knees before, but still I just had to go back to that basic and let me reset myself again. Let me just find my ground zero and get myself back to where I need to be so that I can move on, and I could recognize everything. But that has taken years to get me to that place.

Emma Garrick, The Anxiety Whisperer

Lauren chimes in:

that our brains change from neurodivergent to neurotypical, and I don’t think that they should. I don’t think that it’ an important thing to move toward neurotypical. I think that learning how to navigate the mind that you have is way more important than trying to change your mind into something else. Because, I spent a long time trying to turn my brain into something else, and it just wasn’t helpful. I was trying to do something that was not possible.

Lauren Rosen, LMFT The Obsessive Mind

Emma finishes by saying, “We spend our lives trying to do that (change our brains) until we get permission to stop.” Emma asks how Neuroplasticity fits into this discussion of Neurotypical and Neurodivergence? And begins by defining Neuroplasticity.

Our brains are Neuroplastic, which basically means that we can do things that can help us (rewire as people say). That means that we can influence behaviors and thoughts, and change patterns. It’s not the point at which you can change from one brain into another.

Emma Garrick, The Anxiety Whisperer

Kelley adds,

Thought or feeling, you can then relearn how you respond to it, or you can learn that you put your seat belt on before you start your car.

Kelley Franke, LMFT The OCD Therapist

Lisa offers that one can unlearn habits in 3 weeks. She gives smoking as an example

Kelley jokingly says, “I don’t know if you can unlearn OCD in three weeks, though. Which gives Lauren and Emma a huge laugh.

Lisa asks, but is OCD a habit? Kelley continues more seriously.

The response part could be (a habit) in some ways. We’re getting intrusive thoughts. Right. We cannot change that, but we can change how we respond to them and that’ how we change the behavior.

Kelley Franke, LMFT The OCD Therapist

Lauren adds to what Kelley said,

You can overcome the impact that OCD has over your life, but I think people think of “overcome” like, I’m going to move beyond that thing. She gives an example, It’s sort of like people within the realm of spirituality. Thinking that some sort of enlightenment is going to lead them to move beyond all of the issues that exist on this planet when it’s quite the contrary. It’s learning how to live with what’s going on. Romdoff likes to say that” if you think you’re enlightened, go spend a weekend with your family”. I think same goes; you’re not overcoming OCD. It isn’t about leaving anything behind in the dirt. It’ about learning to be with those things and not letting them be at the helm of the ship.

Lauren Rosen, LMFT The Obsessive Mind

The group finalizes the conversation with a delightful convergence of ideas on OCD. Emma starts by saying:

“You can live a normal boring life with OCD. You can find joy in your life, even if you have a diagnosis of OCD or you have symptoms of OCD and you learn how to work with that in your noodle.”

Emma Garrick, The Anxiety Whisperer

Lisa beautifully explains:

I love this talking openly, because it just takes me back to when I used to have to go to the library, because there was no Internet to understand what was happening to me. And so this kind of conversation always gets me. If it helps just one person, it’s so awesome. I was listening today a psychologist, and she was saying that people think, because I’m a psychologist, everything in my life is perfect, and it isn’t. I suffer with anxiety. And again, that normalizes it.

Lisa Towers, Simply Anxious

Emma asks Kelley and Lauren about their stories. “So listen, I’m curious when you realized that there was something not quite okay about your “noodles” (brains), who did you turn to?”

Kelley shares her personal experiences with mental health.

It wasn’t just OCD at first. I think it was first recognized as trauma. The first thing I did was I turned to rebelling for the first time in my life, because I was always in that box of, being a good kid and the golden child. I was in my late 20’s, and I really rebelled.

And then I hit rock bottom where I wasn’t able to go to my work, and I wasn’t able to function at all, like eat. At some point my grandma told me, “you’re going to go to therapy and I’m going to pay for it”. I will always be grateful for that, because it changed my life.

It’s definitely a place of privilege, because therapy is not accessible to everybody, and it’s not cheap. But that’s where I went. I had to go down pretty dark paths before I got the help I needed and I got better.

Then I got pregnant and then OCD hit with the beautiful mix of panic and trauma coming back. Asking lots of reassurance from friends and family without even really recognizing, “hey, this is OCD.” And I was already working in the world of OCD, I was just in denial about it. This isn’t OCD. This is real. I should be concerned about this.

-Kelley Franke, LMFT The OCD Therapist

They turn to Lauren and ask her about how she realized her “noodle was a little off” and who she turned to.

I was seven when my symptoms first started. And so I first turned to my parents. My mother had been through therapy herself and was a huge advocate for it, and so she took me to some therapists. Nobody really knew what was going on, but one of the therapists, after many times going, was helpful with the particular theme of anxiety that I had.

I had a lot of existential anxiety when I was that age. But I think what happened was my anxiety never went away. I was prone to anxiety, and I didn’t have tools to navigate it on a larger scale. So then as a teenager, I turned to drinking and smoking cigarettes, and then I quit those, and I started restricting food and developed anorexia, and then I went back to alcohol. So I started jumping around from thing to thing just trying to find the answer.

I got sober, and the eating disorder flared up again. And then I got hooked on this particular obsession about having relapsed on a piece of tiramisu. And that’s how I found CBT, ERP, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy and Mindfulness.

I’m so grateful that I had a therapist who said, “I think you might have OCD”. And I had somebody else in my life say, “I think you might have OCD”. I thought, this doesn’t look like OCD, because essentially most of it was happening in my head or between friends. I was like, “do you think I relapsed”? …Everyone in the greater Los Angeles area of AA was asked whether or not they thought that eating a piece of tiramisu constituted a relapse dependent upon one’s intentions. And how could one know one’s intentions about eating a piece of tiramisu? I mean, it’s a fascinating disorder, man.

-Lauren Rosen, LMFT The Obsessive Mind

As they wrap up, Kelley, Lauren, Emma and Lisa all agree that by offering education and a sense of community that they can help people who may not be able to afford therapy or who are looking for additional information to aid in their recovery. Emma invites Lauren and Kelley to participate in a discussion about Hypnosis and OCD, as she has found it to be a very helpful too.

As a reminder, hypnosis has not been a clinically proven treatment for OCD.


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