I have absolutely no illusions about this blog, and I am fully aware that the majority of the time I’m talking to myself. So I thought it would be worthwhile starting a new feature where I review books I have read. If you are reading this and have yourself read the book I am reviewing, I’d love to hear your thoughts!
The Man Who Couldn’t Stop
What it’s about: A Summary
Broadly speaking, the book is the personal story of our author’s struggle with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), interspersed with vital information on the historical, political and medical context of the disease. I adored this book.
It gives a slice of life into the struggles of an OCD sufferer, whilst educating you in an fascinating way that shows you it is more than just a “behavioural quirk”. The straightforward way in which the author reveals his deepest, darkest obsessions is both compelling and incredibly insightful for someone who has never truly understood the disorder before.
It is separated into different sections, each providing a different context for the development of the modern disease model and treatment. The writing style is also of note for its scientific and yet personal nature.
On the author
David Adam is a writer and editor of the journal Nature. That he was a correspondent for The Guardian whilst in the thralls of his disorder speaks volumes for his bravery.
“An Ethiopian schoolgirl names Bira once ate a wall of her house… By the time she was 17 years old she had eaten eight square metres of the wall – more than half a tonne of mud bricks.”
It is hard to explain a mental disorder to one who has not studied medicine, and yet, from this book, I feel as though I have seen through the eyes of a person with OCD. At times hard to read and at others impossible to put down, I found that the take home message was simply that of enlightenment. Enlightening readers that no one is “a little bit OCD”; but that OCD is a serious condition that is frustratingly, and painfully, hard to treat (consider the famous “white bear” experiment referenced throughout this book).
In terms of historical context, the existence of OCD in the religious community, the animal world, and the difficulty of its treatment even up to the current day are explored. The grisly chapter on lobotomies is particularly striking, with almost unbelievable tales of “brains irreversibly damaged by cavalier surgeons armed with nothing more precise than knitting needles”.
These contextual sections at times descend into an Oliver Sacks-like description of patient cases, which is incredibly compelling (amongst the more well-known being Phineas Gage and the Collyer brothers). Also of note is the amusing use of paradoxical Freudian psychoanalyses, encouraging OCD sufferers to obsess more deeply into their intrusive thought, as a more “successful” early treatment.
The book also chronicles evolutions of diagnosis, and how it is essential that we consider such psychiatric disorders on a sliding scale rather than as black-or-white diagnoses. Also key to consider is the importance of personalised medicine, and further research into the use of behavioural therapies as well as drugs to treat patients where it is not possible to pinpoint something “physically” wrong.
I recommend this book to anyone curious about OCD or any psychiatric disorder.
A note from the author: As my posts sometimes touch on emotive subjects, comments are disabled after 14 days. This is because, at this stage, I feel that ongoing discussions tend to stagnate.