National Alliance on Mental Illness
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Book Review: Triggered: A Memoir of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder by Fletcher Wortman
Thomas Dunne Books (2012), $24.99
By Doug Bradley, NAMI Information and Referral Associate
There are many books on obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), but few have captured the mainly obsessional form of this illness as well as Fletcher Wortmann’s Triggered: A Memoir of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. Like many mental illnesses, OCD often strikes during adolescence and early adulthood, a particularly vulnerable period for most people. As a person who is trying to figure out identity, social interactions, dating and future career paths, the “pure-O” form of OCD casts doubt into every area of one’s life. While he has no outward compulsions like hand washing or counting, his form of the disease “will inundate you, incessantly, remorselessly, with…the most repulsive things you are capable of imagining.”
While Wortmann is now still relatively young, he is in his twenties, he describes his experience vividly and knowledgably. This memoir is presented in a conversational, chronological fashion so the reader can easily trace how the illness, and treatment for it, affects the author throughout his life. From childhood, where he showed some symptoms of OCD, to college, where the obsessions became overwhelming, the author tells how the “doubting disease” came to dominate his life.
Two things especially impressed me about this book. Firstly, most books on this subject only allude to the most terrible intrusive thoughts suffered by people with OCD. Wortmann, while admitting that doing so is difficult for him, shares his worst obsessions involving, among other things, sex, violence, family members and children. (Some of the language in this book is coarse but necessary to describe what he has gone through). This stark revealing of his darkest, most tortured mental images shows how bad the involuntary thoughts and their accompanying terror can be. While he knows he would never commit any of the acts he imagines, the fact that can’t “control his own mind brings horror.”
The other notable feature was that the author is brutally honest about his treatment. He is very thankful for his medication, exposure therapy, counseling, and hospitalization for helping him improve. However, he knows that there is not a cure for OCD. Despite modern “evidence based” treatment, his recovery was difficult and filled with setbacks. He was fortunate in having an emotionally supportive family which had the financial means to get him excellent treatment. Nonetheless, finding the right combination of therapies and coming to terms with the illness, even in its controlled state, takes him some time.
Family members and people with other types of mental illness will also identify with the author’s experience. His initial feelings that something is not right (although he can’t quite identify what it is), the awkwardness of having a romantic relationship while having a mental illness, having to leave college, inventing a cover story to explain his absence to his peers, and working a stressful entry-level job are all phases in life that readers will recognize.
Wortmann also has the awareness that recovering from a mental illness does by itself not bring maturity. Throughout Triggered he acknowledges the confusion of distinguishing problems due to the illness from problems due to growing up. However, with help from his family, his doctors and even his pets, he is able to navigate these turbulent years and thrive.