Books about mental illness

Pure, by Rose Cartwright.

Amazon summary: "Rose Cartwright has OCD, but not as you know it. Pure is the true story of her ten-year struggle with Pure O, a little-known form of the condition, which causes her to experience intrusive sexual thoughts of shocking intensity. It is a brave and frequently hilarious account of a woman who refused to give up, despite being undermined at every turn by her obsessions and enduring years of misdiagnosis and failed therapies. Eventually, the love of family and friends, and Rose's own courage and sense of humour prevailed, inspiring this deeply felt and beautifully written memoir. At its core is a lesson for all of us: when it comes to being happy with who we are, there are no neat conclusions."

My comments: It's very chatty in style, but I don't think it's aimed at me. "Rose" is obsessed by sex, and has obessionsal thought without compulsions - hence "Pure O". I don't think pure obsessional thinking is that rare, although it is perhaps less commonly talked about than compulsive behaviours (such as washing your hands multiple times. I assume OCD lies on a continuum from "Pure O" to "Pure C", with most people somewhere in between. This book is very much a story, and I must admit I didn't learn much about pure obsessional thinking. I would have liked to have seen more of the clinical history explored too, and there is nothing about the pathology of obsessional thinking and why it occurs.

As described in my book, when a teenager I had three compulsions: to get up from bed during the night and check that the front door was shut; getting up to check my wallet was in my jacket pocket; and washing my hands (but to a lesser extent). Now I have very few compulsions, and none that bother me, but I am very prone to obsessional thinking. The content varies, and it's most unpleasant. Obsessions were there when I was young too, one example being having to say sorry mentally in multiples of three. Looking back I can see that the seeds of obsessional thinking were present even younger in childhood.

Rose also clearly worries that her obsessions mean something: that they have some content. I worry less about that than the fact that I have them at all, and can't do anything about them. It resonates with my thinking on consciousness and mental causation in that we are not really in control of what we think, but what we think is in control of us.

I have the impression that OCD is more fixed in its occurrence. Depression can be summed up as occurring because of an interaction between genese and environment: you need a trigger to become depressed, although the severity of that trigger will differ between people. I'm not sure you can escape OCD if you have the genes.

What happened to my childhood obsessions and compulsions? They just faded away. Am I better now? Yes. Am I well? Sadly, no.

Underneath the Lemon Tree, by Mark Rice-Oxley.

Amazon summary: "How many men do you know who have been through periods when their lives haven't seemed right? How badly askew were things for them? Many men suffer from depression yet it is still a subject that is taboo. Men often don't visit the doctor, or they don't want to face up to feelings of weakness and vulnerability. By telling his story, Mark Rice-Oxley hopes it will enable others to tell theirs. In this intensely moving memoir he retraces the months of his utmost despair, revisiting a landscape from which at times he felt he would never escape. Written with lyricism and poignancy, Mark captures the visceral nature of this most debilitating of illnesses with a frightening clarity, while at the same time offering a sympathetic and dispassionate view of what is happening, and perhaps why. This is not a self-help book but a memoir that is brimful of experience, understanding and hope for all those who read it. It is above all honest, touching and surprisingly optimistic."

My comments: Of all the books I've read about depression, this one comes closes to describing my experence. It's extremely well written and captues the hope and hopelessness perfectly. I recommend it very highly.

The book also traces recovery. Rice-Oxley's experience is similar to mine, over many cycles of depression, in that one day you notice you're starting to feel a bit better. It isn't like a switch being flipped, and it isn't a smooth path to recovery, As it's happened to me many times now I have learned that when I am at my worst, I just have to remember that implausable though it might seem, over time I will feel better.