Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Review: Nowhere Near Normal: A Memoir of OCD by Traci Foust

Dear Lit Loves,

Greetings from snowy Morrisville, North Carolina!  The weather forecasters totally missed the call on this winter storm so we're all snowed in and making the best of the situation.  Recently, in between attempting a long wait to hear back from literary agents and editors, I decided to read the memoir Nowhere Near Normal:  A Memoir of OCD by Traci Foust.  Now, this book proved interesting to me because I once had an active case of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder myself; however, my case was definitely not as overwhelming as Ms. Foust's experience.  Initially, the author chronicles the development of her first knowledge that something is wrong with her from age seven.  She begins the book living with an intact family of mom, dad, brother, sister, and Traci.  You see her exceptionally focused on not cross-contaminating deli meats in the fridge.  Next, you see that she begins thinking certain numbers should not be located beside or next to other numbers or something very bad is going to happen.  Her mother and father separate and she along with her older brother and sister go live in various rentals across California.  She has difficulty making friends.  Her mother is constantly pestering her about acting crazy and causing trouble.  For example, she locks a friend in her mother's hot car one afternoon and leaves the scene. This appeals to her and she finds it funny which to me demonstrates the disordered thinking that accompanies a diagnosis of OCD.    The older sister eventually marries her boyfriend and moves out of the house which leaves Traci at home with her brother and a mom who appears to have a boyfriend, a chain smoking problem, and overuse of prescription controlled substances. 

Dad does come and get Traci for visits, but these are few and far between.  Essentially, he's late with child support payments and can't wait to be able to take his kids off his health insurance.  In my opinion, Traci's mom takes out much of her anger and frustration with her ex-husband on Traci.  Next, we see Traci excessively worried about getting up in the middle of the night and hurting someone in her family so she hides all the kitchen knives.  Additionally, she is afraid if she doesn't check all the locks in the house at night then it will be her fault if someone breaks into their home and kills everyone in her family.  This goes along with the catastrophic thinking associated with OCD.  The reader also begins seeing the repetitive movements associated with OCD when Traci feels she must lick the window locks in the home so many times at night and also unplug all the appliances in the house.  At the mid point of the book we learn that her great-grandmother on her mother's side of the family had some sort of major psychiatric illness and it led to her demise.  Traci constantly asks her grandmother to tell her about the great-grandmother.  None of this shocked me because I'm well aware that OCD can run in families. 

Eventually, Traci does acquire a boyfriend; however, her grades go to hell in a hand-basket.  Her grandmother has just opened a retirement home for seniors near where Traci's family lives.  Traci's mom essentially kicks Traci out and the dad and brother move Traci to live in the assisted living center that her grandmother owns.  She finds herself almost like an indentured servant at the place and never truly gets a room of her own.  She does see several counselors during the course of the book and begins to learn quite a bit about OCD.  Eventually, she runs away from home or the assisted living facility and goes to Santa Cruz having no real plan of how to live there.  She does call a woman with whom she used to work who comes to pick her up and allows her to stay for a couple of weeks.  Traci then gets hooked up with some rather shady characters involved in illicit drugs and pornography.  Fortunately, she does escape this scene only after breaking into a local laundry mat and getting busted by the police and her mom.

Eventually, Traci's brother leaves home to join the military and the mom becomes a religious zealot.  The mom holds prayer and religious vigils at the assisted living center as well.  Traci slowly watches her mom essentially check out of life.......she no longer has a boyfriend, her kids are no longer at home, she no longer works, etc.  Traci drops out of school, but then takes Independent Study classes toward getting her GED.  The grandmother decides to sell the retirement center and the mom dies due to fluid on the lungs two days following Christmas.  This leaves Traci with nowhere to go.  Since her sister now manages an run-down apartment complex in the ghetto, that's where Traci eventually finds herself living.  In the midst of all this she does see a psychiatrist who has her taking medication for OCD, journaling, and attending group counseling sessions with other OCD afflicted individuals.

Traci's old boyfriend becomes an artist and Traci's life has fallen completely apart.  She often experiences panic attacks whereby she must keep a paper bag near her so she will not hyperventilate.  It's an excruciating process to watch what happens to this girl.  Eventually, following surgery, Traci's grandmother moves in with her, but then several months later, the grandmother abruptly leaves to make a life for herself in Palm Springs.  This gives Traci the incentive to leave her situation.  She packs up her apartment.  She takes a suitcase and a duffel bag to the airport and flies to Germany where her old boyfriend named Goat is on tour as an artist.  What happens next is basically summed up by the author saying she went on to college, got married, has four sons, and realizes that OCD is something that ebbs and flows in a person's life.  Sometimes it's more active than others.  I think that whenever an OCD patient's life circumstances become chaotic, you will see OCD flare because it's the person's way of maintaining some sense of control.

One thing is for sure:  people with OCD have an underlying almost crippling anxiety disorder.  Generally, most people with OCD that I've met also have someone in their family with a psychiatric disorder.  I've seen no one defeat or overcome OCD without the help of medication; however, I'm sure there are those who have.  I think most patients additionally require cognitive-behavior therapy.

This was a difficult read for me.  I didn't read it all in one sitting.  There were parts that were so disturbing to me that I could only read one chapter before I had to put the book down and go do something else.  Did reading the book elicit any OCD tendencies in me?  No.  It did remind me of the period in my life when I had active OCD; however, mine was more repetitive movements and checking.  The repetitive motion/behavior bring some sort of peace and solace to a person with OCD.  That may be hard to believe, but it certainly is true.  There does come a point in every person who successfully deals with OCD where he/she decides, I'm taking control of my life and behavior.  I will live with this disease and keep it in check.  I will do whatever is necessary to contain my anxiety.  That's how I successfully dealt with OCD. 

Next up on the reading list is a memoir about a physical therapist's experience working with military veterans at Walter Reed Medical Center.  Until my next review...........

Stay warm,

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Review: Misdiagnosed: One Woman's Tour Of And Escape From Healthcareland by Jody Berger

Dear Lit Loves,

Greetings Book Lovers!  Hello from good ole' North Carolina!  While I'm waiting to hear back from agents and editors on my latest manuscript and book proposal, I am working my way through my reading queue.  This week I read Misdiagnosed:  One Woman's Tour Of And Escape From Healthcareland by Jody Berger.  In a nutshell, this book is about a woman in her early forties who considers herself athletic and healthy.  She begins experiencing tingling in her extremities inclusive of her feet and hands.  The tingling sensations become worse and at times she feels as if her feet are bound and that she has a flip flop between her toes.  Before going on a meditative trip to India, she has this all checked out by a primary care doctor who then sends her to a neurologist.  The neurologist orders an MRI and sees lesions on her spine.  He calls to tell her she has MS (Multiple Sclerosis) and advises her of the meds and steroids necessary to treat it.  She doesn't like the diagnosis and the fact that the neurologist will not call her back and answer her questions.  So she goes on this wild and overly extensive crusade to seek out alternative medical practitioners who can discover what the real issue is because she definitely doesn't believe or think her problem is MS.  I couldn't believe the extensive travel, expense, and number of opinions she sought and I'm a person with serious medical challenges including Uveitis, Uveitic Glaucoma, Meniere's disease, basal cell carcinoma, and Cogan's syndrome.  Through all the alternative doctors she visits, she realizes that she has a serious problem with her gastrointestinal system, is often crippled by anxiety, needs to get more exercise, and seriously re-evaluate her diet.  Eventually, the woman finds that her problem is a gluten intolerance once she commences with an elimination diet for almost a month.  So essentially what we learn is that a person can have asymptomatic lesions on their spine that does not give rise to MS and therefore should not receive an MS diagnosis.  Now there were several issues I had with this book especially since I'm a person that subscribes to serious investigation by university medical experts when it comes to getting a diagnosis and proper treatment. 

Issue 1)  Why on God's green earth did this woman not go see a psychiatrist at some point along this journey of a correct diagnosis?  It's obvious she had a somewhat problematic childhood made worse by a mom who constantly wanted to "fix" her daughter's illnesses so they wouldn't embarrass the family.  Her parents divorced.  Her mother is presented as self-centered, irrational, and would never be nominated for "parent of the year".    Mother and daughter have a strained relationship at best and the reader never learns if they resolve their issues by the end of the book.

Issue 2:  This woman went above, beyond, and over the meadow and through the woods to get a diagnosis other than MS.  Why did she never go to another neurologist or neuro MS specialist at a major medical center for the second, third and fourth opinions?  I think she thought they would all confirm the same diagnosis, but who knows?  She never gave any other Western medical specialist an opportunity in my opinion.  She was hell bent on seeing alternative doctors.  And let me just add that I have no idea how this gal who supposedly is a reporter afforded all this travel and medical expense.  Let me also add that not all women have a boyfriend who would pay for all the medical testing and evaluations she received.  She did have a boyfriend who paid for a lot of the extra medical travel, care and evaluations; however, he never attended with her.  This was a major red flag in her relationship with this man.  If he's really the one for you, he's going to not only take care of the bill, but also be right there with you interpreting test results and asking questions. Most women do not have the luxury of having a rich boyfriend with a private plane, several homes and who can afford to pay for extensive medical tests and opinions.

Issue 3:  The guy who she discusses as her boyfriend in the book has his own issues.  He doesn't seem to want to find a place for her in his life.  He appears to just want to play Superman and swoop in when a woman has a medical crisis and save the day.  I thought he was also moody, irritable, and highly introverted.  And the reader never learns what happens to their relationship by the end of the book except that he keeps cancelling trips and visits with her so he can attend to business meetings and travel.  To me, his behavior said money is more important than relationships.

Issue 4:  Why didn't she know her family medical history especially when she is in her early forties?  Her mother was diagnosed with Parkinson's; her grandfather had tingling in the hands, feet and legs and his was due to a pinched nerve, but she doesn't seem to learn any of this until she gets the diagnosis of MS and goes on this year-long quest to disprove that she actually has MS.  That was a totally foreign concept for me as an individual who started getting serious diagnoses at age sixteen and even more rare ones as I'm now in my mid forties.  I probably know my family medical history better than any single person in my family because I have to as all my doctors require it.

Issue 5:  Let me say that I found over ten spelling and grammar errors over the course of reading this book.  Some words were obviously omitted and there were words that were added that caused sentences to not read correctly.  Now, the only reason this gets on my nerves I'm sure is that I'm trained as an English teacher so editorial mistakes GLARE at me. 

I'm on the fence about whether to recommend this book.  I think if you are especially supportive of alternative medical therapies, you will find this book validating.  If you are like me and like the opinions of major respected doctors in various specialties at fine medical institutions, you're probably going to keep thinking that she should have gone to more than just two neurologists.  I mean, she went to eight different alternative doctors and I think she had a greater fear of traditional Western doctors due to her past experiences with illnesses in her childhood that she consented to because it was expected of her by her mother or because no one really challenged the guys in white coats with cursive engraved names.  Í'm here to tell you that's a major part of my life right now.  I question all the traditional medical experts and make sure they know that I'm as on top of my illness as they are and they had better deliver the best medical care. It's called being PROACTIVE.

Happy Reading!