Friday, July 20, 2012

I Hardly Ever Wash My Hands: The Other Side of OCD by J.J. Keeler

"I have always imagined my obsessions to be like little demons working inside the brain: the have little faces and bodies and work inside cubicles. Sometimes, a particular demon endorsing a specific obsession will get a promotion. He will be moved to a bigger office, get a little demon secretary, and suddenly have a lot more influence."

With I Hardly Ever Wash My Hands, J.J. Keeler gives readers a glimpse inside the mind of someone with obsessive-compulsive disorder. As someone with OCD, Keeler is able to describe how the disorder has effected her on a daily basis for much of her life and how she has been able to manage.

The book is essentially a memoir. Keeler takes us through some of her experiences coping with OCD at various points throughout her life, and she manages to do so with a good deal of humor and wit. As a young child, she was obsessed with contracting AIDS and for weeks was convinced that a stuffed teddy given to her by a neighbor had a bomb implanted inside of it. As she grew older, so did her obsessive fears. They transitioned into a fear of inadvertently causing a car accident and incredibly detailed harming obsessions.

I had never heard or read of harming obsessions before this book. According to Keeler, they are not uncommon among those suffering from OCD. Keeper started fearing that she would stab strangers as she walked past them, intentionally hitting pedestrians with her car, and strangling people. She makes it clear that these are not fantasies, but rather fears. She does not wish to do these things, but is terrified that she will or in many cases, already has. Driving over a speed bump in her car meant spending the next few minutes checking her mirror and even pulling over or circling back to verify that she hadn't run anyone over.

I particularly enjoyed the chapter "A Talk with God." Keeler explains how some aspects of religion can exacerbate OCD. As she puts it, "The problem with being religious and having OCD is an underlying, and unrelenting, need to know." When her grandmother was in the hospital, Keeler started praying for her to get better. She crafted meticulous prayers that had to be said just so in order for them to have the desired effect. If she messed up, even in the slightest way, she would start over from the beginning.

Keeler isn't someone who blames the everyday worries of life on OCD. As she says, "A lot of the time, people with OCD have fears and worries that have nothing to do with being obsessive-complusive--they merely have to do with being alive."

The final chapter of the books is directed at those with OCD. Keeler imparts some advice and tricks--some of them quite interesting--that have helped her manage. Despite this last chapter, the book doesn't strike me as having been specifically written for those with OCD. Keeler wants to dispel some of the misinformation and challenge the stereotypical portrayals of the disorder in films and television. Toward the end of the book, Keeler states, "If there is one thing you take away from this book, I hope you learn that OCD is not a disease as cut and dry as people think."


Kailana said...

I think this book sounds like one that is important. There are lots of portrayals of OCD and such in movies and books and they very rarely present this sort of picture. Good review!

Brent Waggoner said...

So this is basically Monk, right?

Inreresting review.

Carlton Farmer said...

Thanks, Kailana.
Keeler never mentioned Monk as an example of oversimplification of OCD, but there were a few points where I felt like she was alluding to it.

Peppermint Ph.D. said...

I've never watched Monk...but I think I'll check it out. I thought his OCD was the cleanliness kind, but I'll be interested to see more detail :) i think the cleanliiness/organizing OCD is the stereotype (very much perpetuated in movies/tv) and it's important that the world learn that it can and is so much more.

Anonymous said...

Sounds like an interesting exploration of a common but misunderstood disorder. Thanks for being on the tour!

Carlton Farmer said...

@Peppermint Monk OCD was very much of the cleanliness kind--a simplification of the disorder.

Anonymous said...

Accurate portrayals of OCD are so needed (and few and far between) in all types of media. This one seems to tell it like it is. I'm reading it now and will be reviewing it in a couple of weeks also. Thanks for your thoughts!