Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Body Punishment: Book Review

Are you like so OCD, that you have to arrange all your clothes by colour?

Just because you like things organized or tidy, does not mean you have OCD, which, by the way, is not an adjective, its a mental illness.

OCD stands for Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and its nothing to laugh at.

Unfortunately, there are a lot of myths and misunderstandings around the condition, and a lot of silly misrepresentations in the media. Its not something cute and quirky, it is potentially very serious and disruptive to a person's life.

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is an anxiety disorder in which people have unwanted, uncontrollable and repeated thoughts, feelings, ideas, sensations (obsessions), or behaviors that make them feel driven to do something (compulsions).Often the person carries out the behaviors to get rid of the obsessive thoughts, but this only provides temporary relief. Not performing the obsessive rituals can cause great anxiety. OCD is often associated with eating disorders, depression and generalized anxiety disorder and/or panic attacks.

Note, however, that OCD is distinct from OCPD (Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder). OCPD is is a personality disorder characterized by an overconcern with orderliness, perfectionism, excessive attention to details, mental and interpersonal control, and a need for control over one's environment, at the expense of flexibility, openness to experience, and efficiency. There is some overlap with OCD, however, those with OCD see their symptoms as unwanted and shameful whereas those with OCPD see their behaviour as rational and advantageous.

There are also many people who do have some obsessive compulsive 'traits' or tendencies, but would not meet the clinical criteria for a diagnosis of OCD. But just because you are a perfectionist does not mean you have OCD traits.

Now that we've got that all out of the way, I will review Body Punishment, a memoir by writer Maggie Lamond Simone which details her life long suffering from OCD that wasn't diagnosed into late adulthood.

Her tragic story - which fortunately ends well - is a perfect example of the harm caused by the shame and stigma associated with mental illness. This talented, intelligent woman had no idea she was suffering from a mental illness, suffered by many others like her, for most of her life to-date. Why? Because we don't talk about it enough!

Recently, many initiatives, like Bell's Let's Talk campaign, have started to bring attention and awareness to mental illness, but much of the focus has been on depression.  Very seldom does OCD get mentioned. This is despite the fact that OCD and other anxiety disorders are often associated with depression.

I applaud Simone for her courage to not only admit her struggles with OCD, but to detail the symptoms, which seem odd to others, and are a great source of embarrassment and shame.

You probably think of excessive hand washing when you think of OCD, and that can be the way it manifests, but it can also manifest in a wide variety of behaviours. For Simone, it was through pulling out her eyelashes and eyebrows, and self-starvation (hence the title of her book). Though there are pharmacological treatments for OCD, along with counselling strategies that can help, Simone just thought she was broken and self-medicated with alcohol.

Here is an excerpt from Body Punishment:

Its a vicious circle: I have obsessive thoughts and uncontrollable urges that seemingly no one else has, which cause my self-esteem to plummet; since I have such a low opinion of myself, I feel I don't deserve to be with other people, to love other people, or to let other people love me; the loneliness and hatred cause anxiety, which kicks the OCD into high hear, compelling me to do things to myself that will further my isolation because I make myself ugly by scarring my face or plucking out my hair.

...When I'm plucking, or picking at my face, or stepping o and off that scale, or counting, the world is on hold. I'm completely away. My brain shuts down and I'm focused on my task. It's as though I'm able to shut myself off from life entirely for those few minutes. I escape. And nothing hurts.

In fact, it's almost like meditation--a distorted, perverse, self-destructive medication technique...

One of the reasons I have chosen these passages to share is that her description of the mental state while performing the rituals is something I can relate to.

I have always known I have obsessive compulsive tendencies. How? I have no idea. But even as a kid, I was always prone to various mental games and tasks, like counting how many steps I took or bites of food, etc. I also am a compulsive picker. Since childhood I have chewed at my fingers and cuticles (not my fingernails though). It sounds weird but I feel like it helps me think. Unfortunately, it often ends up with me drawing blood and hurting myself and it totally grosses out Adam and the kids.  I've actually much cut down on how much I do it, not even on purpose except maybe perhaps because as I've gotten older, my skin has gotten dryer and chewing on my fingers leads to more cracks in them, especially in cold weather, which are extremely painful. Pain, at least for me, is a good deterrent!

I have also had OCD. After Little A was born, I felt so overwhelmed and incapable of caring for a toddler and an infant that I developed generalized anxiety disorder and OCD. I did, in fact, develop the hand washing kind. This fear of contamination I developed was directly linked to my anxiety around taking care of the kids: I feared I'd come into contact with some germs that would make them sick. I also became overly worried about something happening to them. Any time Adam would take one or both girls out without me, I had to tell him to be careful and drive safe, or I would be plagued with extreme anxiety that there would be an accident.

Luckily, I knew things with me were not right and I sought help.  Medication and cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) helped me get over it.

Simone is a good writer and though I am sure she could have filled many more pages full of her experiences and insights, she manages to keep the book focused and concise. There is some jumping back and forth in chronological time, but she manages to prevent the story from getting confusing, despite this.

Do I recommend this book? Absolutely. If you think you might have OCD or that a loved one may have it, you will find this book extremely enlightening. If you know so, even more so!

Disclosure: I was sent this book to review but all opinions on this blog are my own.

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