Recommended Reading –
Finding X: One Family’s Solution to Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
Finding X refers to the process of working through all the personal variables that OCD can manifest in one’s life, and coming to a set of responses that represents the solution that works for you – X. In this second book, Ray teams up with his mother, Joni, as co-author. She reveals her own observations about how a personal experience with OCD has infiltrated her life – and how her own mother was likely suffering similarly in her lifetime. It takes some bravery to come forward like this.
Part I – The Author’s Personal Stories
The takeaway message in this early section: correct diagnosis is critical to recovery.
The first part of Finding X takes the reader through how OCD invaded Ray’s life and the life of the family over the course of time. It is noteworthy that Ray’s trouble with OCD started in childhood, and returned repeatedly over time to confound everyone. The reader is introduced to the phenomena of triggers, compulsive responses and the interpersonal aspects of the disorder. Clearly, Ray and his mom got caught up in the all-too-common pattern of anxiety generation, avoidance, and reassurance seeking. Of course, loving parents persist in giving reassurance freely. Only later did everyone realize how counterproductive this can be. Of course, everyone was doing their best to deal with the situation. Later, once Ray and Joni learned how to use Exposure & Response Prevention strategies, things got better. However, even as their book went to press, they were dealing with yet another round of symptoms.
Part II – Understanding the Nature of OCD
One of the toughest things for those who have never experienced OCD is to imagine what the experience is for those who do. Joni and Ray contribute passages to try to answer this question. Yes, it is pain. And, yes, it is [or can be] a continuous stream of thoughts internal to a person that interferes with the quality of life. It does so by devious means: introducing a sense of personal responsibility, danger or vulnerability, and the uncertainty of just about everything. Can I trust my senses, my memory, my actions – all these and more are part of the mix.
Ray and Joni reflect on the role of genetics and environment in the development of OCD. While research continues in this area, there seems to be a consensus that genetics is the foundation for the disorder. Both authors wonder about the influence of home life. While being willing to consider whether there is anything tangible to grasp onto, I think most families will likely come up empty on finding a definitive answer here. From what I can tell, most families cannot avoid OCD if the predisposition is there. No one to blame.
From there, the authors turn to the topic of co-morbidity, how this increases suffering, and how this complicates treatment. Joni grapples with the question of whether she influenced the sexual obsessions that her son developed; Ray has decided to live without knowing definitively. In the end, that is likely the better approach. I hope Joni can get there someday, too.
Part III – Exposure & Response Behavior Therapy
I appreciate the co-authors efforts to describe the process of ERP therapy. Generally, when people are dealing with an anxiety-based problem, they look for relief: antidepressant and/or tranquilizer medications, relaxation exercises – just about anything to reduce the distress in the mind and body. Medications can help reduce some symptoms, but is rarely the whole solution. When told that ERP therapy requires people to face trouble, to intentionally trigger discomfort, any number of my clients have wondered if I knew what I was doing. Fortunately, I attended training with the OC Foundation [www.ocfoundation.org] several years ago – and now have an accumulation of treatment successes to share with clients. But some people drop out after one session – not ready to try this approach. The authors bear this out vividly.
What impresses me in this part of the book is the toughness and courage each person demonstrated. It is impossible to know in advance whether you are pushing too hard or nudging too little. You find out over time, and adjust as needed. The nice thing here is that both Joni and Ray are able to report progress, right from the beginning. It’s hard to say whether others could get the same results in the same time. But the validation of the process is the important message here.
Part IV – additional resources
We discover how Ray and Joni found creative ways of relating to one another and to OCD. They found ways to externalize the problem that worked for them. I bet this was one of the keys to their success. Yes, there is little doubt [though I could be wrong] that the tools of ERP were fundamental to progress. But, I can’t help but think that the ways they brought tenderness and humanity into their process made a huge difference.
Next, the authors share their thoughts on medications, and their potential role in treatment for OCD. The main message here: to use them is a big decision, it takes a while to find out if a particular medication will ease suffering – and no single medication will likely be perfect.
This section comes to a close with a useful review of ideas that assist with overall coping: engagement at school; exercise; making time for friends and family.
Part V – Wrapping Up
In this final section, Ray and Joni reflect on their relationship to one another, to OCD and to others who seek information on its nature and treatment. It’s clear that OCD has left its fingerprint on each of their lives. This section is thought-provoking and the reader will find their insights into media/TV/movie portrayals of OCD to be of value.
Of special importance, the book comes to a close with a thorough list of the resources that the authors used in Ray’s treatment – and a resource list for further learning.
This is not a textbook; not a treatment guide. On the other hand, you will be able to learn something about the interior of the experience of OCD and the hell it can create for sufferers and their families. Perhaps it will also offer inspiration and hope to those who are considering ERP therapy, but are holding back – thinking that it might be too hard or take too long or not work well enough. I recommend it to you, and hope you agree.