Everyone has intrusive thoughts. Some are outrageous and some are just ordinary, uncomfortable ideas. They cruise through our minds and we process them. Most of us do that successfully. Like that funny feeling we get when we’re on the top of a mountain or a balcony, and can almost feel the jump over the edge. It doesn’t happen, but it enters our minds as a possible scenario. We think it for a split second, feel uncomfortable, maybe take a step back and move on. Or more commonly, maybe we just aren’t sure if the oven is turned off so we go back to check. It was off. Done. Here we’ve coped with two different intrusive thoughts. But people who suffer from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) cope in a different way. They develop rituals to help them with the anxiety. A person who worries about catching an infectious disease may wash his hands not once, but over and over again, to be sure. He may spend hours doing this, inventing different dangerous scenarios in his head and repeating the process. That’s the vicious circle of OCD. The thought returns, the action repeats itself. There’s no way out.
David Adam has written a fascinating book about his own experience with OCD, when he first recognized his problem, the years he spent coping and how he got help, what treatments worked for him and what didn’t. But his book is much more than that. The Man Who Couldn’t Stop is a comprehensive study of OCD, human thought patterns, research, and treatments. Adam looks at the similarities between OCD and other related disorders and diseases like autism, hoarding, Tourette syndrome, Parkinson’s, Postpartum Depression and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). He looks at genetics and the theory of nature versus nurture. He explains the relationship between animal and human behavior, and between the rituals of different cultures and how they are similar to some OCD coping rituals. He discusses the history of treating OCD, including experimental brain shocks and the controversial lobotomy. Adam does all this to give the reader a full view of a condition that is still not completely understood. There are many different triggers, anxieties, and treatments and it’s a frustrating path to navigate.
One of the most interesting points Adam raises is how the entertainment industry portrays people with OCD. It’s become a popular character trait and it often treated with humor. So there may be greater awareness and it may seem more normal or interesting, but the truth is people suffer from this condition and it is difficult to treat.
Adam has a great writing style. He writes clearly and casually, despite the serious subject and he has a fun sense of humor. He did a huge amount of research to write this book, but it doesn’t read like a dry scholarly research paper. He’s very open about his own condition and he presents OCD in a way that doesn’t make you feel like you’re nosing in on people’s odd behaviors. He makes you understand them a little better.
I wanted to read some non-fiction this year and think I picked a good book. The Man Who Couldn’t Stop is informative, easy to read and looks at an important mental health problem.
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