Book Review: The Man Who Couldn’t Stop

Alexandra Hall – Year 9 Student & 2008 Society Member

‘The Man Who Couldn’t Stop’ by David Adam

I’ve often wondered if it’s just me who has a sudden urge to jump off a twenty-foot balcony, walk in front of a bus or punch a stranger in the face. Reassuringly, according to David Adam, the author of ‘The Man Who Couldn’t Stop’, I’m not alone. According to Adam, the majority of us will experience these strange thoughts hidden deep in the darkest crevasses of our mind. This book explores the enigma of ‘unwanted thoughts’ and explains how, if they can’t be dismissed, they can lead many to obsessions, compulsions, and often mental illness.

The writer attempts, through his own personal experiences, to explain and explore the specific mental illness – obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). Adam clarifies that OCD isn’t just the stereotypical need for everything to be spotless and clean (that is a totally separate disorder called Obsessive-Compulsive-Personality Disorder OCDP); in fact, every OCD stems from unwanted thoughts which cannot be switched off and cause anxiety and fear. When an individual cannot move on from these thoughts, they start forming obsessions and compulsions. The author’s particular unwanted thought is a fear of catching HIV; he explains how this single unwanted thought dictates and overwhelms his day-to-day life and has a detrimental effect on his relationships as father, husband and journalist.

The exact reason why certain individuals become obsessive and compulsive is not clear, although the book examines possible causes and cures including: psychological, medical, social and genetic sources. Adam does not claim to have the answers, in fact, he is very open that he is still very much trying to understand the root cause of his own OCD. He does, however, believe one of the biggest challenges to making progress with the disorder is a need by doctors, psychologists and other health professionals to make people aware of OCD and identify its similarity to many other mental illnesses such as depression, anxiety and substance abuse.

Most fiction books love to throw an infinite supply of facts at their readers but what I loved about this particular book was how it integrated the writer’s personal experience and the experiences of others within the facts, statistics and research. The anecdotal stories help to add a constant reminder of how destructive and overwhelming living with this disorder can be and provides the reader with a metaphorical anchor to the real-world emotions and experiences of those with this condition.

This book covers a serious and complicated topic but Adam is able to grab the reader’s attention and take them on his journey looking for answers in a sea of unknown. I would suggest this book to anyone interested in what makes people think and behave outside of what is deemed to be ‘normal’. I was concerned, given the subject area, that the book would be dull, negative and depressing, and whilst some of the scientific explanations were challenging, it was actually accessible and engaging. Peer readers will enjoy the contrast between seriousness and humour and the witty style of the author. Anyone looking for definitive causes and cures for OCD will be disappointed – Adam admits he cannot provide this – but he has certainly made me more empathetic and aware of this, and other mental-illnesses.

Alexandra Hall

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