Resource of the Month–April, 2013

Triggered: A Memoir of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder by Fletcher Wortmann 

“What if I pushed that woman down this flight of stairs?”

“What if I drop my baby off this balcony?”

“What if I strangle my spouse in his sleep?”

“What if I cut my finger off with this butcher knife?”

These are examples of the kind of intrusive thoughts that torture some people with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Most of us can probably relate to occasionally having thoughts like these, but imagine being tortured every day, or every hour or every minute by them!  I heard about an interesting study of the intrusive thoughts of people with and without OCD. The lists were identical! But people with OCD have a particular challenge when it comes to letting the thought go.

What Fletcher does in his memoir is to explain, with wit and honestly, his life with intrusive thought OCD. He spent most of his life misdiagnosed—even the professionals that he saw did not know how to identify OCD without obvious external compulsions that are more well known, like hand washing or checking light switches. The result was years of suffering with intrusive violent and catastrophic thoughts with no knowledge of what to do about them. Wortmann, like so many sufferers, worried that he was some kind of deviant!

The story unfolds and eventually Wortmann is appropriately diagnosed and finds appropriate treatment—the kind of treatment that I do for OCD. This book struck a chord with me as I have experienced with my clients the relief of an accurate diagnosis and the pain of this particular disorder. I have had clients who have been in previous treatments with practitioners who didn’t understand this type of OCD. Their experiences vary from therapists listening empathetically to their obsessions to prescribing snapping their wrists with rubber bands!

The book is entertaining and very educational. In our recent climate of increased sensitivity to mental illness and the need for appropriate treatments, this memoir strikes a chord. If there were greater understanding of intrusive thought OCD even in the professional community, Wortmann may have had a much better childhood and adolescence. And certainly we could all stand to grow our awareness of others’ suffering. And on top of all that, this book is entertaining! You’ll laugh and cringe with Wortmann as he shares his sarcastic sense of humor without minimizing the pain. It is important to see his model of experiencing his illness with both humor and sensitivity.

For an article and an NPR interview with Wortmann, CLICK HERE.

4 comments


  • Kate

    Janice, I look forward to your blog every week! I’m fascinated by your last two posts and can’t wait to lean more.

    Thank you so much for the rich food for thought!

    April 11, 2013
  • Michael

    Janice, thanks for this. I’m going to share it (esp. the radio interview) with some of my patients who have OCD. It gets it right, sort of. He gets a LOT right anyway. It is a bit confusing because of some of the terminology that gets mentioned in the radio piece because Wortmann refers to himself as having “pure O” when I think, if I understand him right, he actually has or has had mental compulsions–both the obsessions and the compulsions he’s had are mental. A lot of people don’t understand it’s OCD unless there are compulsions like washing or checking, that are physical behaviors. So Wortmann is talking about an important thing, since so many OCD sufferers have mental compulsions and many have ONLY mental compulsions. There are experts who think there actually is no “pure O”–that if you look at it long enough there are always mental compulsions hiding in there that are an important part of the disorder.

    Neal Conan also says he had a psychotic break, but I don’t think that was accurate either. Sounds like he had a “breakdown,” where he became too overwhelmed with the obsessions that he couldn’t functions. But it’s a really important distinction, psychosis and even the most wildly senseless obsessions are completely different.

    April 11, 2013
  • Doug

    OK, so maybe I’m not OCD then. Whew.

    April 11, 2013
  • Randi

    Janice,

    Thanks so much for sharing this resource. I think it will help a great many people. I plan to order myself a copy tonight.

    April 12, 2013

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