The smart person knows that there is always more to learn. And this is the attitude I used when I approached David Adam’s Book “The Man Who Couldn’t Stop: OCD and the True Life Story of a Life Lost in Thought”. It was the second book I read when I was in my local NHS psychiatric hospital.

I knew painfully little about OCD other than stereotypes. The obsessive cleaner, the person who rubs their hands clean until they bleed. Luckily I wasn’t ever naïve enough to adopt the phrase “I’m so OCD” (FYI: this is stupid and patronizing).

It was a stroke of luck that I came across the book at all. I’d been logged on to the hospital computer, and I was browsing Amazon (I did this when I was bored). Suddenly, the book pops up. The title intrigued me and it had an average of five star reviews so I clicked on it. I read the synopsis and read some reviews and made a mental note of it.

That same day, I did my usual short walk to the local charity book shop. It was here, and only here, that I could feel like a normal human being again, something who was simply in the world rather than completely alienated from it. Books in this shop were £1.99 at the most expensive, so you’d often get a good bargain in there. I was building a small stack of books to buy (this had become a regularity as it turns out I’m a very impulsive spender, often spending hundreds of pounds a week on books), and there it is! As clear as day, the very same book I’d been reading rave reviews of was now right in front of my eyes. At £1.99 I snapped it up without a second thought. When I walked back into the hospital, the nurses gave me a disapproving look that a mother might give, but I was happy as I trundled up the stairs to my room and dumped my latest book haul. The room was small and I was quickly becoming surrounded by books.

It would be some time before I actually sat down and read the book, as I think I was more entertained by the idea of the book than the actual book itself. Weeks later, when I’d been transferred to a new, more volatile hospital, the book provided intellectual stimulation and a ticket out of my surroundings.

What David Adam does in the book is catalogue his own struggles with OCD in a clear and concise way. He makes clear what OCD entails, using examples from his own life. His writing is so powerful that is makes his experiences your own, which is what all good writing and all good books do. He catalogues the sheer panic that bubbles within himself when he’s playing with his daughter and an intrusive thought convinces him that his daughter has caught HIV from an open wound on her skin. He’s aware of how absurd the thought is yet it continues to dominate his mind until he can take action against it, such as ritualising.

David Adam makes the thought process that would cause a girl named Biafra to eat her house, brick by muddy brick clear. Adam’s book delves also delves into evolutionary theory and the latest science, to get to the root of why something like OCD exists. Adam is at his best when he’s analyzing the method by which we diagnose mental illnesses. He sees a pattern that each DSM adheres to, the earlier editions spouting the Freudian psychoanalysis which was in vogue at the time. Analysing the more modern DSM’s Adam finds that just as Freud dominated previous editions to their detriment, Emil Kraepelin’s viewpoint focusing on psychopharmacology now dominates the more modern iterations of the book.

For anyone that is simply curious, wants to know more about OCD, or who has a family member/lover with the condition, this book is indispensable and without equal. An absolute necessity for this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week.


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