20 April 2015

Overcoming OCD

Last year, on this blog, I interviewed Janet Singer*, who lives in the USA and whose son, Dan*, suffers from OCD.

Today I am delighted to review Janet's recently released book about her family's experience of the condition.

* * *

Dan Singer's OCD has prevented him from eating for five or six days and he is not only thin, but also dehydrated. His mother, Janet, on a visit from home 1,500 miles away, finds a son who is a shadow of his former self. His condition also often prevents him from moving and she has to coax him, step by agonising step, up the stairs to her motel room. Once inside, the problems continue: Dan proposes to do nothing but sit in the same chair for the next eight hours, before returning to his student accommodation. 

So begins Overcoming OCD: A Journey to Recovery, which describes Dan's often rocky road to a better life - one free of OCD's disabling grip.

 Cover image courtesy of Rowman & Littlefield
For those who might be put off by a book with mental health at its core, don't be; this is no misery memoir. Yes, it's the story of a troubled teenager and his family, but the family is a loving and supportive one, and not the cause of his troubles; his parents, Janet and Gary, want only for their son to be happy. His mother is obviously heartbroken - and uncomprehending - at the transformation of her bright, happy, engaging little boy, who previously loved life, into a thin, twitching, anxiety-ridden young man, who has also resorted to self-harm to alleviate his feelings.

Janet perfectly conveys her desperation, frustration and helplessness in the face both of her son's difficulties, which he first revealed at the age of 17, and the challenges of finding the most appropriate treatment for him. Initially implicitly trusting the experts' opinions, Janet comes to realise that her sometimes conflicting parental insight and instincts - and research - are equally valid considerations.

At times, the story reads almost like a psychological thriller. Will Dan escape the clutches of his obsessions and compulsions? Will his parents be able to extricate him from the care of doctors whose treatment - whether via therapy or medication - is sometimes, it transpires, doing more harm than good? 

It all makes for a pacy, compelling and moving read, which also has dots of dry and dark humour, both from Janet and Dan - even OCD sufferers can, on occasion, see the funny side of their plight! 

The book is co-authored by Seth Gillihan, who provides expert commentary and background information about the condition and its treatment, which is interspersed throughout the book in bite-sized chunks easily digested by the layman.

At the end, I had a lump in my throat, in spite of already knowing the outcome of Dan's journey, both from the book's title and as a follower of Janet's blog. His success in reclaiming his life is inspirational and proves that, no matter how badly affected you are by OCD, you can do the same.

* * *

Overcoming OCD: A Journey to Recovery is available on amazon.com here and on amazon.co.uk here. You can also read more from Janet on her blog, ocdtalk.

*Pseudonyms Janet uses to protect her son's privacy.


Tina Fariss Barbour said...

Great review! I loved the book, too. You are so right that it's not a "misery memoir." It's full of hope and strength. And I, too, felt the elements of the thriller when there seemed to be a tug of wills between the providers at the inpatient facility and the family. Even though I knew things would turn out OK because I follow Janet's blog, I enjoyed the narrative aspects.

Helen Barbour said...

Thanks, Tina. I deliberately didn't read anybody else's review until I had written my own, so as not to be influenced! Now that I have, it's apparent that, while we each took a different approach in our feedback, we're all in agreement that it's a great book.