OCD – The Subjective and the Objective, excellently examined
I found this a most interesting, absorbing and at times quite painful to read book.
Joanne Limburg is a poet, who suffers from OCD. She also studied philosophy, did an MA in psychoanalytic studies, and for a time worked on a PhD on psychoanalytical theories about creativity. This all makes for the possibility of an excellent and insightful book about OCD – precision of writing; the ability to take the personal and distil something more universal; application of analytical thought, a desire and ability to research meticulously and engage with the scientific aspects. Limburg delivers all of this.
I came across her book quite by chance, feeling dissatisfied after reading a book by another academic and poet, an American woman, writing a memoir of a very difficult period in her life, (nothing to do with OCD) who had taken a very different approach to Limburg’s, and it had set me thinking about the approaches a writer might take to writing a factual book about their own particular journey. On the one hand, there seemed to be the relentless turn it all into an upbeat-shrug-off-the-pain-make-light-of-it approach (the American book), which seemed to me to lack a certain honesty, and denied feeling. The other polarity is an intense Deirdre-of-the-sorrows where the author opens her bleeding wounds for us to see, with excoriating honesty, – an Oprah confessional – and we all weep in sympathy for her pain – but maybe she can’t stand outside, and assess objectively.
Limburg, in my opinion, has steered a pretty perfect middle way. She completely took me into engaging with what her condition might feel like, for the sufferer, bringing me into her mind, through her poetry (some of which is scattered through the text, illuminating the account considerably) so that I did imaginatively explore how ‘normal’ reactions and thinking/feeling processes could get stretched and expanded into something inappropriate. She does this through the quality of her writing but also because of the quality of her thinking, so that she can stand outside, and observe the process, and therefore write about it from within and without. I assume this is also a part of her history both through the experience of having had psychotherapy, and CBT.
She examines the changing theoretical understanding of what OCD is, looks at other conditions which may be said to be on the OC spectrum – Tourettes, for example, looks at theories of brain and mind in reference to depression and anxiety, and dissects treatment protocols, both behavioural and chemical.
A fascinating book. AND she avoids the ‘wrap’ ending where our plucky heroine rides off into the sunset as the triumphal music reaches a crescendo, or has us reaching for our hankies with a close-up on her tear-streaked face. She remains work-in-process. Life in process
In case all this makes this book sound dreadfully dense and serious – she has a very well judged line in self-mockery and humour, measured in a perfect proportion within the seriousness of her subject matter.
Her writing is a wonderful mix of the personal, getting you inside what OCD feels like, even creating intense rushes of sickening anxiety, through her ability to precisely describe, and then using wry humour, to let you, the reader, out of this intensity. And then she will explain, objectively, something about the philosophy and neurobiology, the analysis of the condition. The within and without, but avoiding tear-jerking sentimentality and also carapaced avoiding laugh-it-off, is perfectly immediate and honest.
This is much more than an autobiography, or an account of a disorder. It casts its net into a greater understanding of what it means to be a human at all, physiologically, psychologically, in society, inside one’s own head, in relationship, in solitude and in creativity. She taps universals as well as particulars