I Hardly Ever Wash My Hands: The Other Side of OCD
By: J.J. Keeler
Publisher: Paragon House
Publication Date: February 2012
Reviewed by: Amy Lignor
Review Date: May 5, 2012
The human brain is a conundrum. No matter what new advances in technology suddenly ‘come to the table,’ it remains a fact that - during our lifetimes, at least - the brain will remain the one thing that can not be defined. This is our epicenter - our ground control; it makes us act oddly and allows each one of us to see life in our own special way. The brain can create the most extraordinary dreams and the most vicious nightmares all at the same time. And this is the truth behind this incredibly powerful book.
Because this book is so unbelievably personal, I felt the review should be as well, in order to do the author justice. I, like many, have always seen OCD as a ‘light-hearted’ disease, such as the OCD teacher on Glee who can’t eat her grapes at lunch until she polishes them and removes all germs. But after reading this truly touching, yet extremely hysterical book, I can tell you the title is absolutely dead-on. There is another side to OCD that goes far beyond the compulsion to be clean, and Keeler brings it to the forefront in an extremely caring, and at times frightening, way.
This is an author who tells you of her trials as a child. The OCD at that particular time was more a case of angst that every single one of us on the planet suffers from. In her younger days she heard about AIDS on the news and was convinced she’d contracted it on several occasions. Another thought that was ingrained in her mind from the always depressing news about war, led her to believe that there was a bomb stashed in her teddy bear. And one of the most poignant things she says is that her teenage years were the easiest because there was so much angst - obsessing over good grades, boys, etc. - that her slightly darker and odder obsessions took a backseat. A majority of us will always maintain that the teen years were the worst because that WAS the time that held the most angst and worry, showing exactly how Keeler’s OCD played out - by being different from the ‘norm.’
This is a person whose OCD has nothing to do with being a hypochondriac or a crazed germaphobe. She doesn’t wash her hands constantly - doesn’t even worry about the mouse living under the stove. In fact, there are things that do not affect her at all, even though they would be placed in the OCD category. When OCD hit her square between the eyes she was in her twenties - and small obsessions or odd thoughts became obsessions of terror. She was afraid of killing - herself, strangers, children - it didn’t matter, and she felt as if there was a serial killer resting somewhere deep inside.
As this look on life moves on, offering humor, pain, fear, and every other emotion on the human scale, readers will truly begin to feel something, and that ‘something’ I would have to call knowledge. A huge percentage of us are completely ignorant about OCD and the various ‘types’ that can stem from this particular ‘illness.’ What this author does - and quite well - is she defines the truth about life, what we look at as ‘crazy’ versus ‘sane’ and how a person can, with full understanding and help, learn how to live with OCD and live happily.
It’s odd because a book review is a judgment of sorts, and after reading J.J. Keeler’s story, learning the facts and statistics and feeling the emotions that she expresses about her own trials, makes me see that having any judgment about OCD is simply wrong. We can not make an informed opinion, nor can we help others who suffer from this illness any better without knowledge - and Keeler provides it in spades!
Quill Says: A hard, yet warm-hearted introspection about a life plagued by fears that, thankfully, turned out to be a life of happiness and love. A must-read!