The Man Who Couldn’t Stop

July 6, 2015

Man who couldn't stopDavid Adam has written a wonderful book about his decades-long struggle with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Adam, a journalist for several years with The Guardian and who now writes for Nature, has written both a personal account of his OCD and a factual and historical account of this debilitating mental condition.

For him the OCD centred around an irrational fear of getting HIV/ Aids. In practice this meant that every possible public surface was a source of fear. However much his rational mind told him that he couldn’t get HIV from a door handle, the irrational fears won out (with crippling consequences).

The Man Who Couldn’t Stop (Picador: 2014) is open, engaging, punchy as well as very interesting. There were moments when I could have done with less history (e.g. on lobotomy and leucotomy) and more personal narrative. But given that this must have been a very difficult book to write, Adam has done incredibly well. The parts I found most interesting were those in which he described the genesis of his own OCD, the description of his treatments (both drug and CBT), as well as the discussions about neuroscience and the difficulties of categorisation. As with all the best Science writers, Adam manages to be interesting, knowledgeable and very accessible.

I do have a few gripes though, and perhaps the first one is his dismissal of Freud and psychodynamic therapy. He gives a shortish account of Freud’s famous OCD case (the “Rat Man”) and then laughs off Freud’s emphasis on the psychosexual origins of the Rat Man’s obsessions and compulsions. Psychodynamic psychotherapy has moved a long way from Freud’s original ideas and the emphasis these days tends to be far more on the early bond and relationship with the mother (or primary caregiver) than on any sexual rivalry with the father. Interestingly, while CBT is the psychotherapeutic treatment of choice (together with SSRIs) for OCD, the current research on the importance of primary attachments means that psychodynamic therapy is still incredibly relevant here as well.

Adam provides a glimpse of possibilities (admittedly quite dismissively) in his final chapter:

This should be … the point … where it all comes together. Having discussed the possible causes of OCD – the genetic, family, social, Freudian, environmental, infectious, psychological, medical, traumatic and just plain unfortunate pressures that might contribute – I should reach a triumphant and emotional conclusion. … It was my parents what did it or my childhood fear of dogs … [the] betrayal by the boy who I thought was my friend … [that] my mother had a stroke and couldn’t hold me as a baby …

I couldn’t help noticing that this was the only mention of his mother in the book. Similarly, his wife is only mentioned in the acknowledgements. Surely Adam’s OCD must have been incredibly difficult for this relationship as well? But I can also well understand the reluctance to go there. It’s one thing admitting that you have a mental illness without dragging your nearest and dearest into the mix as well.

Jenny Turner, reviewing in the Guardian, writes:

His fear … seems to be some sort of death-fear, associated with blood and sex and other usual suspects, triggered perhaps by his misfortune in having reached sexual maturity just as an emerging disease became the focus for a massive moral panic. So Adam’s Aids fear, too, makes most sense when looked at sensitively and symbolically, as a story.

It’s easy, I suppose, to say that we would like Adam to be able to look at the symbolic side of his crippling fear. What he has done is extraordinary enough.


Current reading

June 9, 2015

currently reading 090615A screenshot of my current reading.

Psychology

Know your teenager is one of those books I need to read for work. I’m enjoying parts of it and learning about how to manage adolescents.

Awakening the dreamer by Phillip Bromberg is a self-psychology book for my small psychology reading group. A bit too academic in parts but I’m also really enjoying some of the insights. At the moment Bromberg it talking about bringing in the dreamer to the therapy. He says that whenever a patient brings a dream to therapy his goal as the therapist is to bring the dreamer into the process. An interesting change from focusing on what the dream means to encouraging the dreamer (as a different self-state) to enter the therapy space.

The man who couldn’t stop is a book about OCD. I’m struggling here since there are more urgent books and more enjoyable books that I’m busy with. But it’s well-written and a very accessible and personal book about the writer’s struggle with OCD as well as a general discussion about it.

Novels

The Narrow Road to the Deep North (audiobook). Looks like a really good one. Interesting characters and story. But to find the time to really get into it is a challenge.

Memoir

Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris (audiobook). Sedaris is brilliant. Funny, poignant, excellent story-teller. I keep thinking that he will be too frivolous but he’s not.

Poetry

One Hundred Favourite Poems (audiobook). I’m listening to this in the car and I wish I had a long car journey to savour them all. Great to hear some old favourites and some new poems, read beautifully as well as part of a Classic FM compilation.

Travel-writing

Right to the Edge: Sydney to Tokyo by any means by Charlie Boorman. This is my stuck-in-the-car-with-a-sleeping-child book. Charlie’s a likeable chap and, to my surprise, this book actually makes me want to don some suitable clothing and take to the road on a decent-sized (but not too powerful) bike. I’ll let you know if I ever get that sorted!


Which book would you choose for your coffee mug?

May 18, 2015
Penguin classics coffee mugs

Penguin classics coffee mugs

I saw these Penguin classics coffee mugs over on Pinterest and I really want one. Not one of these titles particularly – although I think drinking my tea out of a “Pride and Prejudice” mug would be pretty cool. One title that springs to mind is “One Hundred Years of Solitude”. If I want to go with a psychology theme then I would have to choose “The Interpretation of Dreams”, but that’s not a Penguin title. Personalised mugs come at a price though (as do vanity plates) but I think not more than R100. I do think they’re more playful than pretentious. Any thoughts on what you would choose for your daily beverage?


How to eat a raisin

May 13, 2015

One of the highlights of the conference I attended this past week was the “mindfulness of raisin” exercise which the presenter borrowed from Mindfulness expert Jon Kabat-Zinn. Kabat-Zinn, professor of medicine at Massachusetts University and who founded Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) uses it to give people a first taste of mindfulness meditation. It’s very simple.  Take just one raisin, hold it on the palm of your hand, look at it, touch it between finger and thumb, smell it, chew it with your teeth, taste it on your tongue and then …. finally  ….. swallow it. The exercise takes at least 5 minutes and my fellow attendees agreed that it was the tastiest raisin we’d ever had.

mindful raisin meditationThis exercise was particularly pertinent to me because over the past few weeks I’ve been having tummy issues. I won’t bore you with the details suffice to say that I’ve lost a few kilograms, I had a colonoscopy (clear) and now I am scheduled to see a dietician next week. I have IBS and need to follow a more restricted diet. I’m still working out what my tummy will tolerate but it clearly doesn’t like sugar and dairy for a start. Gluten is an obvious suspect (although I’m not sure). And then other food stuffs which are high in fermentable sugars. At the moment I’m trying to follow a low FODMAP diet but the trouble is that I get bored and so end up trying to eat normally again. I keep thinking that if  hunger is anything to go by, then I’m well on the road to recovery.

One thing I have noticed is that when I’m stressed and anxious then my digestion suffers. Being anxious about my eating certainly doesn’t help! So I’m trying to slow down a bit (not easy with two small children) and savour my food. At the time that things started going downhill, I was feeling really down — right about the time of my 45th birthday. A whole of issues seemed to overwhelm me at once. I was stressed about getting older and not having achieved half of what I would like to achieve. I was terribly frustrated with the demands of parenting small children and never having enough time for myself. I also quit therapy and we were stressed about money. Not to mention feeling the pressure at work and the acquired stress of worrying about my parents. My mom is not always in such good health and my dad, although retired, had a massive work project which was coming to a head.

A month later I’m feeling so much better. I do love my food and so even snacking on healthy things such as rice cakes and bananas and rooibos tea can be enjoyable. I’m certainly not depriving myself, which is why it’s a cruel irony that I should have lost weight whilst other people struggle to lose anything at all.

Today it’s also Leah’s turn to do Bakerman at school and so last night the house was full of the smell of Nutella and Marie biscuits. I should really have taken a picture of the biscuits beautifully decorated with chocolate spread, sprinkles and tiny marshmallows. Completely illegal in terms of my diet but quite delicious! I forgot to take one as I was so busy trying not to eat any while at the same time doing the normal, endless cleaning-up routine.

On the book front I have managed to read a few short stories and I’m almost finished with Ali Smith’s How to be both which I’ve enjoyed immensely. But that can wait for another time. I think it’s time for lunch!


Reading to a 4-year old

March 23, 2015

Here are three books that I’ve been reading to our four-year old recently. They are actually pretty good, apart from the princess pop-up book. Oh boy, do I get sick of those princess stories!

c&l_sizzles_300 dr xargle sleeping beauty pop up

Leah is going through a toilet-humour phase at the moment so I’m seriously considering investing in one of the Captain Underpants books. Yesterday we sang the “Diarrhea song” and managed about 12 verses. It is terribly silly and also quite addictive. Google if you don’t know it – or rather don’t since it may become an ear-worm!

Any other book recommendations for this age group? I downloaded an audio version of Charlotte’s Web but I think she’s too young for that.

As for Tessie, she just wants to rip out the flaps in all her books. I wish she would direct her energy towards something useful such as crawling!

Here’s a pic of the two of them this week. Tessie was not feeling great but she’s still a cute bunny.

Two bunnies


Holiday catch-up

January 28, 2015

tidal pool smallWe’re into the second week of school and I’m slowly adjusting after six weeks off. Sounds idyllic but actually it was pretty hard work with two small ones. A baby who woke up at 5am on the dot (before the blinds – now we get to sleep for an extra 45 minutes) and then the monotony of looking after an 8-month old and a 3-year old. There’s only a certain number of times you can watch The Little Mermaid, print Ariel colouring-in pages and change nappies before you go a little dilly.

We did get down to Betty’s Bay for a couple of days and then to Hermanus. I love being at Betty’s Bay — even when the time is short and we have two little ones to look after. Our trip to Hermanus was a little too eventful for my liking, however. I packed the car – no small feat involving spatial reorganisation and tough decisions about what to leave behind — and then we were all set to go. Children strapped in, house alarm on and the food in cooler bags.  Of course the car which was working perfectly well 10 minutes before now wouldn’t start at all Jump leads? Nothing. Call the AA and prepare to wait for 2 hours. And then in desperation telephone my father-in-law who knows about cars. He says something about the solenoid, tells me to put the car in 2nd gear and try it again. Voila! I haven’t been so relieved since my previous car broke down in a dodgy area on the way to Betty’s Bay.

And then Hermanus. Hot, windy, crowded. But still lovely. Some of my favourite things: early morning walks with the little one in the pram; lunch at a child-friendly wine farm near Stanford with a superb play area for children; and then swimming in the tidal pool near the Marine Hotel.

Leah loved it. There were starfish! And the pool was the perfect temperature even for a cold-blooded creature like me.

We still had a couple of weeks of childcare, home maintenance etc. but at least we were refreshed by our time by the sea.

Today was my first day of taking Leah to her new pre-school. But that’s a story for another day.


Thank goodness …

November 21, 2014
  • it’s Friday
  • for children (the pics are of Tessie with her maracas and Leah as a dalmatian puppy)
  • for audiobooks (currently listening to Expo 58 by Jonathan Coe)
  • for tax rebates
  • for tuna toasties (recipe here)
  • for gardens and irrigation (this is our front bed).

I know I complain a lot but today I’m slowing down, taking a pause and being grateful. I’ll worry again tomorrow :-)

maracas nov 2014 dalmatians

front garden nov 2014 small

tuna-and-corn-toasties001


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