Friday, June 22, 2012

Interview with Andrea Kayne Kaufman, Author of Oxford Messed Up: Part 1

Andrea Kayne Kaufman, author of Oxford Messed Up, graciously agreed to answer some questions about her novel, which deals with OCD.

ExpWoman:  "What if" questions are a hallmark of OCD, 
usually with dire answers.  Your novel seems to be a 
"What if" with an optimistic answer.
How did the scenario of Henry and Gloria 
come about?  As a "what if" of an extraordinary kind 
or did one of the characters come first?

Andrea: Gloria came to me when we were struggling with ocd with one of our children. There were some people close to us who doubted the efficacy of the medication and cbt/erp therapy we were going to embark on. They told us our child would be fine. Was so smart. Would go to yale and find his niche eventually.  That wasn't good enough for us as we watched needless suffering. So i think that is why i created gloria.  The "perfect" yale graduate, living a miserable existence.

After our child got better (very quickly by the way), Gloria seemed to be asking for her happy ending too.  I created Henry because our child's therapist once said that what seems like the worst thing possible may actually be the best thing possible. So that is why i gave Henry his condition, the worst germs possible.

ExpWoman:   What led you to have Henry be the agent of the 
Exposure Therapy(ERP) rather than a therapist?

Andrea: Henry or any lay person is not an ideal person to administer erp.  But given Gloria's parents undermining of her early erp and history of hospitalization, she has been closed off to full treatment for years. Henry is able to open her up to the process again. His efforts are supervised by his sister (unethically perhaps) and i tried to show in the chapter with the dog that Gloria realizes Henry needs to be replaced by a real professional.  In order for the erp to be successful, you need patient buy-in and Henry is able achieve buy-in.

ExpWoman:  Some of my readers, 
most who struggle with OCD, wondered at the
speed of Gloria's recovery from her contamination OCD 
after she begins doing exposures with Henry.  
I know that my progress for health anxiety, 
intrusive thoughts & perfectionism has taken longer.  
What led you to a more rapid progression?

Andrea: Our family experience was that once we started medication and cbt/erp rigorously and consistently, we saw dramatic reduction in compulsions within 3 1/2 months. That doesn't mean the ocd has gone away. It's a life long struggle that can be triggered with all sorts of life events, hormones, stress etc. Although, it can rear its head, it has never been as strong because we have the tools.  The novel was vetted by three experts and has been hailed by the ocd community. There may be some poetic license but i really wanted to show the true torture of ocd from the inside out and how cbt can be very effective. Some people think that it is archaic and cruel, denying someone the few things that provide comfort. But cbt is the only therapy proven to really work and if done well, it can work quickly.

ExpWoman:  Which books on OCD were most helpful to you in writing this novel?


The Boy Who Couldn't Stop Washing By Judith Rapoport

Ocd In Children And Adolescents By Johns S. March And Karen Mulle

Freeing Your Child From Obsessive Compulsive Disorder By Tamar E. Chansky

What Do Do When Your Child Has Obsessive-compulsive Disorder By Aureen Pinto Wagner

Talking Back To Ocd By John S. March

ExpWoman:   Did someone in particular inspire you 
to take on the subject of  dealing with OCD?

Andrea:  As I said before, we experienced very bad ocd with one of our children whose courage and tenacity really inspired me. Also, his psychologist Amanda Holly (whose video is on my website) is my total hero. She is our "ocd whisperer" and really saved a life and our family. She is one of the experts who consulted on the book.

ExpWoman:  I grew up as the daughter of an English
professor, and then did an MFA in creative writing. 
Being in the academic world had its own set of challenges 
when suffering from OCD.  What insight would you offer to 
those readers who are currently in academia and struggling?

Andrea:  Academia can definitely be daunting for anyone and especially for those who suffer from anxiety disorders like ocd. Moreover, whether you are a student or faculty member, the work in school can be isolating which can lead to stoicism, keeping all the struggles inside until they build and build. It is so important to have good mentors and advisors that you can share with— not just academics but also social/emotional struggles. It is also important to know that transitions to college or going through tenure can trigger internal stress and anxiety disorders. It is good to be prepared and prophylactic.  Finally, the world of academia emphasizes grades, publishing, comparing, competing. This dynamic is not healthy for the person who suffers from perfectionism whether in ocd form or eating disorder or something else. It is so important to master the "good enough" standard and learn to be gentle with ourselves.

ExpWoman:  I will post Part 2 of the interview with Andrea Kayne Kaufman next week.  For Andrea's introduction to Oxford Messed Up, check out her video.


  1. Thanks for an interesting interview! I'll look forward to part 2.

    I am glad that Kaufman did bring up poetic license.

  2. Very nice..glad you nabbed her for an interview and we get to read it. Thank you.

  3. I enjoyed being interviewed. Thank you so much for your interest in Oxford Messed Up. I'm always happy to engage in dialogue with readers!