Monday, August 6, 2012

Intrusive Thoughts and Harming Fears: A Review of I Hardly Ever Wash my Hands: The Other Side of OCD by J.J. Keeler

TLC Book Tours contacted me about reviewing J.J. Keeler's I Hardly Ever Wash My Hands: The Other Side of OCD, and I was intrigued by the title because my OCD doesn't manifest in handwashing rituals, and this is the short-cut metaphor for OCD much of the time.  After reading the book, I felt like I'd found an OCD-Soul-Sister and although I am never glad that someone else has OCD, and I am glad when they can write about it in an articulate and insightful way.  

I had to laugh when J.J. Keeler describes how her twin sister had hypochondria with fear of many diseases(a type of OCD I am very familiar with), but the author had only "had" one disease: AIDS.  In the irony of OCD, in elementary school she is triggered into worrying about AIDS when her parents mention a blood transfusion she had, but what her OCD latches onto is the risk of "dirty needles" which in her young mind means thumbtacks, staples, pine needles, with dirt on them.  Humor is a major component of Keeler's account of OCD, grabbing the edge of ridiculousness about OCD fears and pulling the whole thing apart, so that the sufferer can catch a glimpse of OCD's game of generating endless scenarios and holding life hostage.  

The second chapter, The Bomb in my Teddy Bear, is a marvel of encapsulating the experience of morphing OCD thoughts.  When she was 8 years old, neighbor gives her a teddy bear at a yard sale, and a chain of fears links itself around her.  She started getting a weird feeling about the bear, and wondered why a relative stranger would give her a teddy bear for free.  Then it came to her, "The reason was obvious.  There was a bomb in the teddy bear."  Keeler agonized over how to dispose of the bear, without harming anyone else, and then when it didn't explode, wondered if the neighbor would come back to finish the job.  Her rituals to keep the anxiety from exploding were a constant stream of "figuring out" and "analyzing" combined with tin cans at the door to let her know if there was an intruder, and plotting how she could take the bear on one of her father's fishing trips and throw the bomb overboard.

Eventually, OCD moves onto other topics in Keeler's life, but the same corrosive fear and desperate maneuvers to make the fear go away.  In addition to fears about AIDS(and calling the testing center before her test was even received, to check, check, check), she feared causing harm to others after being deluged with intrusive thoughts.  If you suffer from this very painful form of OCD, please read this book.  Keeler has known the despair that made her consider suicide, because she didn't want to harm anyone and yet these images would pop into her head, and she has survived, and now thrives.  

The most difficult part of reviewing I Hardly Ever Wash My Hands: The Other Side of OCD, is that I want to quote everything, but it would be better for my readers to go find a copy of this book and read it for themselves.  

Read J.J.Keeler's Introduction to Harming Obsessions on her blog.  

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