Book Review: I Hardly Ever Wash My Hands

Through TLC Book Tours, I was asked to review this memoir by J.J. Keeler. I received a free copy of the book in exchange for an honest review….

On my very first blog post, I wrote about my reaction when my son Dan told me he had OCD: “But you never even wash your hands,” I said. Needless to say, the title of the book struck a chord with me, and I couldn’t wait to read it.

Though I don’t have OCD, I found myself nodding my head through most of the book, as so much of it reminded me of Dan. We are given an “insider’s view” of what it is like to live with harming obsessions, a type of OCD that is not often represented in the media. That is one of the reasons why this book is so important: to dispel the stereotypes of what OCD is and is not. While Ms. Keeler’s  OCD encompasses more than just harming obsessions, they are definitely a focal point of the book. We see how her obsessions evolve from an imagination gone wild, and also how her fear of harm affects her day-to-day life. For example, in the chapter “First Do No Harm,” the author talks about how she was a great soccer player, but her downfall was that she could not be aggressive on the field. The same was true for Dan. It always looked as if he was afraid of getting hurt, when the truth was he was afraid of hurting someone else. Ms Keeler also writes about how people reacted to her:

“Be aggressive,” my coach would yell from the sidelines. “Be aggressive,” my mom would say later on in the car. “Be aggressive, be-be aggressive,” the school cheerleaders would say during pep rallies. But, I never was. Even in youth it was always apparent: I am a pacifist.

The above is also one of many examples where Ms. Keeler shares how those without OCD often react to the disorder. I saw myself often in the book:

It’s funny how it all works – when you tell someone that your mental illness has reached its boiling point they often think it’s because of some big tragedy. They assume you lost a parent to a terminal illness or were sexually assaulted in an airport bathroom. No, I often tell them, it really can be as abrupt as stepping off a curb and being hit by a bus:  it can come out of nowhere. At least it did for me.

When Dan’s OCD became severe, that’s just what I thought. “Something terrible must have triggered this.” I was wrong, and if I’d been able to read this book five years earlier, I would have had so much more insight into my son’s disorder.

The author has an amazing sense of humor, and this, coupled with an easy-to-read writing style, makes the book a good read. But of course, no book is perfect, and I did feel that, while the author describes the torment she goes through, I don’t really feel the intensity of it. The exception for me is the chapter titled “The Belly of a Babe,” when the author writes of her obsessions revolving around harming children.

The only other issue I have with the book is the lack of focus on treatment. Was or is the author getting the right treatment for OCD?  Did she have good or bad experiences with healthcare providers? As an advocate for OCD awareness and proper treatment, I really would have liked to have seen at least some reference to Exposure Response Prevention Therapy, the frontline treatment for OCD.

All in all, I would highly recommend this book…for everyone. OCD sufferers will surely realize they are not alone, those who care about someone with the disorder will gain insight as to what their loved one experiences, and those who know little to nothing about OCD will become informed.

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10 Responses to Book Review: I Hardly Ever Wash My Hands

  1. 71º & Sunny says:

    Great review, Janet. I agree that this book is good for anyone. It’s really a peak into an OCDer’s mind. Ms. Keeler does a very good job of explaining obsessions and how they morph to take over your life. Her wonderful attention to detail in her descriptions is very helpful.

  2. LISA DOUGLAS says:

    I didn’t know much about this matter until attending a Q&A session featuring Michael Jenike during the IOCDF conference. I learned from a man suffering from this manifestation of OCD that his children were taken away solely due to his OCD, and he is only allowed supervised visitations. He was seeking help and advice. Michael stated that THIS IS NOT UNCOMMON! He went on to say that there exist resources for OCD sufferers in such situations and these resources have successfully been able to reverse court decisions. He didn’t say who or how, but should anyone need these resources he’s the one to ask.
    Lisa

    • Janet Singer says:

      Thanks for commenting, Lisa. This is heartbreaking because, as we know, those with OCD NEVER act on their obsessions. They are tormented by them. Thank goodness for Dr. Jenike. That man is a saint!

  3. Thank you. Pinned your review.

  4. Janet Singer says:

    Thanks so much, Kat!

  5. Thanks for being a part of the tour!

  6. Great review, Janet! Well-written and thoughtful. I think the book would be of help to anyone, too, who wants to learn more about OCD. It’s still such a mystery to most people.

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