The Man Who Couldn’t Stop: OCD, and the true story of a life lost in thought by David Adam, 2014, published by Picador
David Adam is not an ‘academic’ writer. However he is an established British writer, mainly on the subjects of science and nature, which make him well placed to write this well researched book even without the autobiographical element. The book is written for the lay reader – anyone interested in the subject, perhaps because they think they or a friend or a relative might be ‘a bit OCD’ – but is just as valuable to the social care professional whether working with the young or the old, with or without recognised mental health problems.
Adam explains the difference between an obsession (thought) and compulsion (action), looks at the history of OCD, how the DSM classification has changed in recent years, the role of the brain in OCD, and the eccentric behaviours of people who if they were still alive today may well find themselves diagnosed with OCD.
One of the things that comes out Adam’s writing is the emerging recognition that OCD is another spectrum disorder and that rather than each disorder being distinct in its own right there is some overlapping: some of the behaviours linked to autism may be seen in OCD; whilst there is no known cause for OCD it is often triggered by a single traumatic event that might result in PTSD in someone else; intrusive thoughts, that lead to the compulsive behaviours, can be compared to schizophrenia, although the reactions might be different.
A key point Adam makes clear is OCD is not just about repetitive hand washing or checking ovens are turned off or doors are locked. There are many other behaviours symptomatic of OCD that are not so visible: some may attract attention such as skin-picking (causing damage and scarring) while others might be almost un-noticable to most people, such as maladaptive daydreaming and endless counting.
Woven through the factual information is Adam’s own story, giving the reader a real insight in to what it is like to live with OCD.