The Man who Couldn’t Stop, David Adam

This is a book about Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) which is an illness estimated to affect over one million people in the UK alone. David Adam, the author, is just one of these people. He shares how his OCD started in his youth, when a friend teased him with a flippant comment about how he may have AIDS. This planted a seed in his mind that grew and developed into an all-consuming, obsessional fear of having contracted this illness. He developed strategies to cope with this fear, including a need to seek ongoing reassurance that he did not have AIDS. One of his reassurance-seeking strategies was to repeatedly call an AIDS helpline and to disguise his voice once the staff could recognise him as a caller.

OCD remains largely misunderstood. It is often associated with hand-washing and repetitive behaviours like flicking light switches on and off, or repeatedly checking the door is locked. These can be features of OCD for some, but for others the symptoms of OCD may be less visible. Some may have intrusive images of hurting their children and so avoid contact with them out of fear of unintentionally acting on these thoughts. Some may worry they have caused an accident on the road and repeatedly return to the site to be sure that they haven’t. People often describe being ‘a little OCD’ because they like tidiness and order or tend to double check they really did turn the gas off after cooking. OCD is much more than this and can be a completely debilitating illness.

The Man Who Couldn’t Stop sets the record straight about this condition by providing an engaging and comprehensive insight into the illness. It includes several stories of people with OCD and lengths people can go to in order to carry out their compulsions – from fatal hoarding to eating a wall. He shares examples that highlight the grip that OCD has, making it clear that compulsions aren’t a quirk but attempts to alleviate genuine distress, often with great costs. Interweaved with stories and case studies is a wealth of science and research and a narrative about how this has informed changes in OCD treatment over time – from lobotomies to exposure therapy.

Having sought treatment and made improvements in managing OCD, the author tells his story in a light-hearted and humorous way, remaining sensitive to the fact that anyone with OCD will know that it is far from funny when you’re in the thick of it. David’s story will be relatable to many people who suffer with OCD. As he highlights, OCD is often accompanied by shame and embarrassment which can prevent people from talking about their concerns and experiences.

Included in this book is a brief resource to support people with having a conversation with their GP about seeking this support with OCD that acknowledges these concerns. There is also an impressive reference list so anyone left wanting to learn more will be spoilt for choice. This isn’t a self-help book, and doesn’t claim to be, but it offers a thorough overview of a complex illness in a relatable and informative way.

The Brighter Minds Book Club

The Brighter Minds Book Club read and review a variety of books centred on mental health and wellbeing, mindset and self-development. Here’s what one of our book club members had to say about this book:

“The Man Who Couldn’t Stop provides an in-depth education into OCD. It combines science, historical examples and humour to walk you through how the world of psychiatry has viewed, assessed and treated individuals with OCD throughout the ages. This is brought to life by the authors very honest, personal account of living with OCD. I found it interesting reading about the interplay between intrusive thoughts and compulsions. The level of scientific detail can make for an intense read at times but for anyone looking for a deeper understanding of OCD, it is worth the perseverance.”

– Leah, Soft Tissue Therapist.

Treatment for OCD

It is important to know that OCD can be treated. The clinically recommended treatments for OCD are Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and medication. As a therapist, I have heard many accounts of OCD. Although everyone is unique, there is a common thread for OCD – a fear of something bad happening and a belief about being personally responsible for preventing this. CBT for OCD involves challenging these fears and beliefs. We do this by setting up exercises that involve facing your fears and distressing thoughts without using compulsions.

The objective is to learn that the compulsions aren’t necessary and that with practice, the anxiety will reduce a without needing to use these strategies. This can feel daunting so we take time first to develop an understanding of the problem and what’s keeping it going. Once we’re clear on this, we then start working through anxiety-provoking situations, ranked from least to most difficult so that we can build up to the more difficult things as you build your confidence. Barriers to treatment can often include difficult emotions such as anxiety, fear and shame. A good therapist with experience working with OCD will recognise this and support you with treatment at a pace that feels achievable for you.

To find out more about starting CBT for OCD, get in touch.