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I Hardly Ever Wash My Hands: The Other Side…

I Hardly Ever Wash My Hands: The Other Side of OCD

by J. J. Keeler

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In her biography, I Hardly Ever Wash My Hands: The Other Side of OCD, J.J. Keeler explores with honesty and humor her struggles with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and how OCD manifests itself in her life. She writes in the prologue:
"You might know someone like me. You might be someone like me. I didn't plan this for my life.
It's not like I went to career day at school and thought, Being a lawyer sounds neat. Being a doctor sounds cool. But, I really want to grow up to be in the depths of despair. (pg. x)"

"Maybe you're thinking I wash my hands a little too often, I organize things a little too thoroughly, I make sure my house is a little too clean. But, the truth is, I do none of those. OCD has another side. (pg. xi)"
Keeler isn't obsessively clean or neat or organized. Her OCD takes another direction: obsessions.

Some of Keeler's obsessions are harming obsessions. She acknowledges "By definition, they sound so simple: those of us with harming obsessions have an obsessive fear of harming others. But, they are much more complex. (pg. xiii) And she goes on to explain how they affect her daily life. Simply reading about her thought processes as she tried to deal with her obsessions was enlightening to me, someone who does not have OCD.

While Keeler is funny and writes about grappling with her various obsessions in a smooth, entertaining way, her honesty also allows some of the pain the obsessions have caused to show through, which is heartbreaking. Keeler openly describes the time-consuming rituals she has performed in order to fight off the panic and fear her obsessions caused.

She says of others who also have OCD obsessions: "On one level we know these obsessions aren't a reflection of reality. We tell ourselves not to worry. But, the obsessions persist and pester. They build in our heads until we yearn for reassurance the way a junkie yearns for a fix. (pg. xiii-xiv) and "Sometimes I think people with OCD view the world from inside a 1950's TV: we tend to see things in black and white. Things either have a right way or they have a wrong way. (pg. 35)"

Keeler does and excellent job describing what she was thinking and experiencing when she obsessed over having AIDS: "I can't tell you how many times I've had AIDS. I've probably had it more often than the average person has had a common cold or a sinus infection. I’ve had it more often than the average child has had strep throat or the average athlete has had a muscle pull. I’ve had AIDS more times than I can count. (pg.1)"
Or being scared of bombs: "Whatever the reason, I was scared of bombs, and believed they were everywhere. (pg. 19)"
Or being excessively fearful of getting into trouble: "Getting into trouble was something I feared all through childhood. But it wasn't just a lingering fear that many children have; it was an obsession. (pg. 51).
Or vampires: "Though I know they don't exist, that doesn't stop me from being afraid of vampires. By mentioning this, hopefully people will tell others that this book is about vampires and its sales will increase dramatically. (pg. 83)." (And I hope this mention of vampires will help.)

It is exhausting to just read and consider everything Keeler has to go through when she is obsessing over something - and she obsesses over big things. This is an incredible look at a side of OCD that isn't generally thought of when the disease is mentioned. Keeler does a real service to others by educating us about another aspect of OCD.

She also has random facts about OCD through out the book that are illustrated with little cartoon stick figures. For example" "Random OCD fact number 1: Approximately 3 million people in the U.S. are believed to have OCD. (pg. 11)" Certainly most of us know someone who has OCD - or it is a personal battle.

Last chapter "Dear Friend" is written specifically to those who are struggling with OCD. Keeler wanted to reassure others who are suffering from OCD that they are not alone - especially since only someone else who has OCD can truly understand what they are going through. Keeler shares some knowledge and some strategies she uses to deal with OCD. Reading about some of her personal struggles makes the wisdom she shares to help others master their OCD even more powerful. This was a very powerful chapter and would be worth acquiring the book if only to read it. But read the whole book, especially if you have OCD or know someone who does. Very Highly Recommended
( )
  SheTreadsSoftly | Mar 21, 2016 |
I think this memoir of OCD is very useful, considering that the popular conception of OCD sufferers is people compulsively cleaning or washing. That's not always the case. However, I found the complete lack of any information on treatment (other than the author's own suggestions, which are just anecdotal) to be somewhat unfortunate. This book could also have benefited from some editing. ( )
  lemontwist | Jul 3, 2015 |
I got this book through the First Reads giveaway from goodreads.com.

I thought this book was very interesting. I knew that there were other forms of OCD but I didn't realize they were as scary as this. I thought the book was funny despite the subject matter and J.J. Keeler provieds a lot of wonderful information as well as showing us her own experiences. ( )
  PrescottKris | Jan 26, 2015 |
One of the main reasons that J.J. Keeler wrote this book documenting her struggles with OCD is to dispel the myth that OCD is limited to excessive hand-washing, tidiness and order. The disease can take many forms, and not all OCD sufferers have the “classic” symptoms the public associates with the disease. (Seriously, how many times have you heard someone say “I’m so OCD … I have to organize my spices alphabetically!”) In Keeler’s case, her OCD took the form of harming obsessions—recurring fears that she had caused harm to someone. Keeler addresses her OCD experiences honestly and with humor —often adopting a light tone that somewhat belies the difficulties of her disease and all the things she experienced. However, from the point of view of the reader, this sense of humor is a welcome relief and makes the book an easy read. If you or someone in your life has OCD, I’d urge you to check out this book to get an “insider’s” perspective of what the disease is like and some of the forms it can take. Keeler also includes practical and helpful information about the disease to help raise awareness and help others facing the challenges of OCD. ( )
  Jenners26 | Jan 5, 2013 |
Keeler discusses very personal stories about growing up with OCD and not realizing what was driving her crazy until well into adulthood. She adds humor mixed with facts in order to press forward her most important points, OCD is not always the stereotypical hand-washing disease and those suffering from OCD in its many variations can and do live normal lives.

What I Liked
The #1 most important thing in this book, to me, are the examples and concrete statements explaining that OCD isn't always what we think.

If I suffered from Keeler's particular kind of OCD I would be scared to death...and she does a great job of portraying her fear...of hurting someone, of telling others about her fears, about thinking something is really really wrong with her, etc. I think, if nothing else, someone with the irrational fear of hurting others would be thankful to finally read something that shows them they are not the only one...and, most importantly, that a fear of hurting someone is a lot different than actually hurting someone.

The bomb in the Teddy Bear - this chapter was one of my favorites bc it reminded me of an incident with my older daughter that happened when she was a child. She collected Ty Beanie Babies, had tons of them, and everybody, knowing of her love for them, gave them to her as gifts. There was this one Beanie Baby, however, which I kept finding all over the house. I would put it back in the toybox, on her shelf, on her bed, etc. only to find it again the next day hidden somewhere in another part of the house. A few times I simply found it in the hall where it had been tossed. At that age, probably 6-7, she couldn't explain to me why, but she simply could not/would not have it in her room. Even if she could see it somewhere else, as long as it was not in her room, she was ok...but it could not cross her threshold. I promptly threw that sucker away (it's probably worth a bazillion dollars today).

The chapter on Rules - this chapter fits my OCD flavor the best...I didn't get in much trouble when I was young either...bc I didn't want anyone to be disappointed in me, I believed what they told us in school about drugs and I took following directions very seriously (still do, much to the chagrin of my students at times). I don't have to have EVERYTHING exactly the way I want it, but the things I can't let go of, I simply can't let go of. My way has order, it makes sense and gives me some semblance of control in a chaotic world. I do not, however, try to control things I cannot control...I'm not afraid to fly, for example.
I must pick up pennies, no matter how nasty or where they are found. Poultry also must be washed, hands and sink scoured and the poultry washed again...salmonella, you know, is a living breathing bacteria just waiting to attack your family :P Expired items MUST be disposed of. The day before those items can be lifesavers...after that, you're on your own.
I like law; I like security; I like making rules and expecting others to follow them. I don't like it so much when some particular "others" don't follow my rules (my two teenage daughters). I've made it home with something from the store that I didn't pay for, and gone all the way back to pay for it. Everything must be good. Period. Check.

What I Didn't Like
The Title - I almost didn't read this bc from the title I thought it was going to be about someone who was "opposite" from hand-washing, i.e. someone who never washes their hands. That, my own OCD wouldn't have allowed me to read unscathed, and I try very hard to stay away from things I know will set off my reptilian brain (that's what our therapist calls it anyway :)
The author never mentions an aversion to hand-washing...she mentions being untidy but nothing that would make my germ-warfare captain jump up and start calling out orders.

The author's fear of hurting others truly outweighs any of her other compulsions and made me wonder time and time again if this book should have been marketed specifically to people with that particular brand of OCD. I cannot even imagine living with that kind of fear and would assume that those who do would benefit tremendously from this book.

The author didn't talk much about therapy...just a mention in the last chapter, "Dear Friend." Again, I am biased here, but an exceptional therapist has been the key to our family's management of OCD. I also am not a believer in medication without therapy. We do medicate, but we also "therapize" (my made up word) to the point sometimes that I think I'm therapized to death. I need my own therapy just to deal with everybody else's therapy...and so on.

Overall Recommendations
For someone who's suffering from Keeler's OCD of hurting others, I think this is a must read for support purposes. For others with OCD it's an interesting read and you'll see yourself in some of Keeler's examples with her other OCD characteristics since OCD tends to shift...it's a "compulsion" disorder...what a person has a compulsion about is up to his/her own individual brain. ( )
  epkwrsmith | Jul 21, 2012 |
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"Describes the challenges of a young woman living with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) and how OCD impacts her ability to live a normal life, including her harming obsession, fear of AIDS, and other issues, approaching this serious subject with humor"--… (more)

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