The Man Who Couldn’t Stop (Book Review)

OCD and the True Story of a Life in Thought by David Adam

This is the best book I’ve ever read about Obsessional Compulsive Disorder; blending personal experience with research and including the words OCD, fear or basal ganglia in nearly every sentence, David Adam’s book “The Man Who Couldn’t Stop” has a way about it that fellow obsessive compulsives will nod their heads at in understanding, and people seeking to learn about them will too.

Psychiatrists have classified OCD as an anxiety disorder with conditions similar to phobia. People with phobia are able to avoid their fears though, while if OCD people avoid their fears, their fears will continue to get larger and larger until they infiltrate all areas of their daily lives. Adam’s description of obsession:

“Consider a personal computer screen, and the various windows and separate operations that the machine can run concurrently. As I write this, there is another window open… When I choose, I can toggle between these windows, make them bigger or smaller, open and close others as I see fit. That is how the mind usually handles thoughts… Obsession is a large window that cannot be made to shrink, move or close. Even when other tasks come to the front of the mind, the obsession window is there in the background. It grinds away and is ready to sequester attention. It acts as a constant drag on the battery and degrades the performance of other tasks. And after a while it just gets really frustrating. You can’t force quit, and you can’t turn the machine off.”

As of 2013 though, the American Psychiatrists Association reclassified OCD under “OCD and Related Disorders” instead of under “Anxiety Disorders.” Related disorders to OCD or “OC Spectrum” disorders include eating disorders, Tourettes Syndrome, body dysmorphic disorders, hoarding, hair pulling, Schizophrenia, obsessive compulsive personality disorder (which is different from straight OCD) and Autism.

Adam writes about the new OC Spectrum, which, as psychiatry moves away from categories and more towards spectrums, everyone can be ranked on instead of just a few “qualifying.” The science is also coming out that, similar to PTSD, other mental illnesses that have been waiting relatively unnoticeably within us our whole lives can be elevated to the surface level by trauma:

“Take, for instance, an intrusive thought of stabbing an old lady in the street. If someone brushes it off as a weird idea that deserves no attention then it is unlikely to lead to mental illness. If they were to fight the thought, to try to make it go away, then as we have seen, they could develop OCD. And if they were to attribute the thought to another person, or the devil, or the CIA, then they could turn that same thought into schizophrenia.”

Adam’s suggestion for his fellow OCDers out there? His mantra when he experiencing a moment of OCD panic is “what would most people do?” and then do it. Sit in the discomfort of what the general population would do, sit in the imperfection, and ride out the anxiety to live to tell another tale and do it again next time your basal ganglia flares up.

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© Copyright 2018 Annie Windholz

midwestern librarian, writer, activist. subscribe —

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