A lot of people have misconceptions about what OCD is. Often, they are confusing it with OCPD, where we think of people being overly clean and keeping everything in order. Those with OCPD don’t see it as irrational behaviour. OCD on the other hand is obsessing over intrusive thoughts and using compulsions to counteract them. Sometimes those compulsions are cleaning or order, but often not. The book goes into the difference and similarities between anxiety and OCD, which helps put it into context. However awful anxiety gets, there’s a logic to it, an immediate threat that our fight or flight instincts respond to. OCD is usually completely illogical, the sufferer’s obsessing over thoughts that contradict who they are.

Picking this up, I thought it was going to be more of a memoir than it actually is. David does cover his own story in part, but there’s a lot of science and history of OCD. It’s the kind of non-fiction book I am drawn to and enjoy. The book shows varied cases of OCD throughout history and many of the treatments used, some which did more harm than good. Freud is rather amusingly dismissed on several occasions.

The stuff about intrusive thoughts was really interesting. You know when something pops into your head and you’re horrified by it? How on earth could I think that and does it make me a bad person? Well, if you don’t get them, the chances are you’re a psychopath or lying. Most people manage to shake these thoughts free, but OCD sufferers latch onto them and can’t get them out of their heads.

David is both a science journalist and an OCD sufferer. He knows what he’s talking about both from personal experience and the research mentality his work gives him. He isn’t judgemental but he sets everything out straight. It’s a very accessible book to read too. His obsessive thoughts were focused on catching HIV, not through risky behaviour but just through everyday contact. He couldn’t shake the thought that there could be infected blood lying around. No matter how slim the chances, his brain wouldn’t be at peace. This was apparently a common OCD obsession in the 90s, when HIV was considered a horrible death sentence.

There’s some repetition in the first half but somehow it feels appropriate for the subject matter. I found the section on the history of lobotomies morbidly fascinating. Then there’s a great part that explains how drugs gets into your brain after taking a pill. Overall an enlightening and entertaining read.

The Man Who Couldn’t Stop is published by Picador and is now available in hardback and ebook editions. Thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy for review via NetGalley.

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Disclosure: I received a copy of this book free of charge for review purposes only. Receipt of a book does not guarantee a review or endorsement. My reviews are my honest opinion and are not biased for the purpose of personal gain.