The Literary Minds Online Book Club is in Session – Please share your thoughts about ‘Nowhere Near Normal’

Readers, welcome to our discussion of  “Nowhere Near Normal – A Memoir of OCD,” by Traci Foust. This conversation will take place in the comments section, below.

For the next book, we will enjoy a hybrid between the online interaction here on anewscafe.com and a face-to-face meeting, complete with refreshments, at YAKS on May 31 to discuss our second book,  “A Long Way Down,”  by Nick Hornbyn.

But first books, first.

I’ll start, and after that, please, jump in and share your thoughts, OK?

The book’s cover photo illustration for “Nowhere Near Normal – A Memoir of OCD”  shows half a dozen whole, white, smooth eggs in a holder beside an egg with the top shell cracked and broken, exposing the raw yolk and runny white inside.

For me, that was the ideal depiction of author Traci Foust’s tale of her life with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, beginning when we meet young Traci at age 8, and going on up through her 20s.

Having the story begin when Traci’s 8 is ideal because it was shortly before that when Traci’s OCD traits began. The older, and more aware of others’ behavior Foust became, the more it dawned upon her that she was different – that she had a problem. She began to notice that, for example, nobody else washed their hands nearly raw with Ajax, or nobody else had to snap their fingers after saying the word ‘God’ or nobody else needed to repeatedly check, double-check and triple-check  door locks, and nobody else she knew had debilitating fears of germs and illnesses.

Foust’s child self character is so smart and engaging that I found her a completely sympathetic person, despite some of her over-the-top behaviors, such as nearly killing a young playmate by locking the little girl in a hot car.

I felt such great frustration for Foust as a child, because she was so obviously unable to articulate to her family what exactly wast ailing her, and the anxiety she suffered alone.

One of the parts of the book that I liked the most was the question-and-answer session with Foust at the end of the book. She is blunt and brilliant and plain-talking, and can perfectly sum up a thought, such as she did here, when discussing her acceptance of OCD.

“Rising above the stigma of mental illness (which is a fancy way of saying people are ignorant and you may have to deal with their crap) means that you have to say Okay, I’m getting better, I can see I’m getting better, ” and this passage, where she shares some of her most helpful affirmations – many of which she carried on Sticky Notes as reminders –  that helped her cope:

“…I think my favorite ones are those that end in who cares? Like, I have a little more anxiety today than yesterday – WHO CARES! Or, if I have to leave the party because I’m getting anxious – WHO CARES!”

Foust says those messages were crucial because she’d spent her whole working herself into a panic over what others would think or do.

“You cannot imagine how freeing it is to let go of that,” she says.

Statements like that were so illuminating, and were so potentially applicable for us all – not just someone with OCD. And Foust’s book made me feel ashamed for how loosely I’ve tossed around terms like OCD, without truly thinking of what it means to suffer from this disorder.

Sometimes, while reading Foust’s descriptions of her seemingly irrational behaviors, I was reminded of irrational things I’ve done in my own life, like make myself drive home to see if I left a stove burner or iron on, which made me relate that much more to Foust.

Readers, how about you? What are your thoughts about Foust’s book? Or, if you haven’t read the book, do you have anything to share about OCD.

This Literary Minds Online Book Club is the third collaboration between anewscafe.com and the Shasta County Health and Human Services Agency in honor of May’s Mental Health Month. Special thanks to everyone at SCHHSA, and most notably its Community Education Committee, for the work to make this event happen.

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Independent online journalist Doni Chamberlain founded what’s now known as anewscafe.com in 2007 with her son, Joe Domke of the Czech Republic. Prior to 2007 Chamberlain was an award-winning newspaper opinion columnist, feature and food writer recognized by the Associated Press, the California Newspaper Publishers Association and E.W. Scripps. She lives in Redding, CA.

 

Doni Chamberlain
Independent online journalist Doni Chamberlain founded what’s now known as anewscafe.com in 2007 with her son, Joe Domke of the Czech Republic. Chamberlain is an award-winning newspaper opinion columnist, feature and food writer recognized by the Associated Press, the California Newspaper Publishers Association and E.W. Scripps. She lives in Redding, California.
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12 Responses

  1. Avatar Cari Live says:

    This is my first Book Club and I love that it is online! I'm enjoying the book still (!) but what I've read so far has given me an uneasy feeling, although I feel compassion for Traci and I may share some of the streaming head talk! Does that make sense? Anyway, I look forward to reading comments here of those who can express themselves better than I. Very happy to be a part of this experience. Hope to contribute more soon!

    Cari

    • Cari, welcome to this online book club. We're glad you're here. No worries about not having finished the book. We are more interested in the conversation about not just this book, but mental health issues in general.

      With that in mind, I encourage you and others to please, DO share your thoughts about the book .. .even the parts – maybe even especially the parts that left you feeling uneasy.

      As an aside, if you have a second, flip to the back of Foust's book to page 357, "A Conversation With Traci Foust About OCD" and skim through the Q&A. That might help address some of your unrest.

      Either way, feel free to check back often to see new comments.

  2. Avatar James Herington says:

    Thanks for offering such a wonderful benefit as a book club. I personally do not have OCD, but there is a lot to be said in reading about it. Appreciate a site such as a news cafe, and how it presents each story from every viewpoint. Congratulations, and good luck

    • I appreciate not just the venue and partners that make the online book club a possibility, but the readers – like you – who can engage in such bright and interesting conversations. Thank you, James.

  3. Avatar Linda Sebat says:

    I have not yet read the book although the subject fascinates me. I did a little research and found that medical literature differentiates between OCD and obsessive compulsive personality disorder which is described as being within the autism spectrum.

    OCD, according to the literature, can be genetic but frequently arises from some trauma during childhood causing excessive and abnormal manifestations of anxiety (i.e. excessive handwashing). I do not know if this book describes any such trauma. I have known people with OCD whose parents have been alcoholic or abusive.

    Going home to check the stove (or, in my case, going home to make sure that the dryer vent has been emptied when the dryer is left on) does not seem to me to be abnormal although it does show that you have anxiety which is common in obsessive compulsive personality disorder. Excessive anxiety about rules, orderliness, need to control they way things are done or who does them seems to characterizes OC personality disorder.

    • Linda, I can see that your scientist son comes by his interests naturally. 🙂

      You bring up some interesting points, and while this OCD information is new for me, at the end of Foust's book she addresses some various theories of OCD's causes.

      She also pointed out that in some cases, PTSD can trigger the same physical manifestations as OCD. She says that OCD falls into, as you mention, the spectrum of generalized anxiety (like checking the dryer or stove or oven).

      Foust sets aside in another category repetitive motions or "checks and tics" such as when she'd snap her fingers when saying the word God. She cited other examples, such as touching some objects repetitively or cough after particular words … and said those kinds of behaviors fall under the same physical symptoms as Tourette's syndrome.

      One thing that's not been mentioned yet is that for Foust, although talk therapy and learning coping mechanisms (like affirmation statements, which I mentioned in the article, above) .. medications were her salvation.

      Thanks for weighing in, Linda. Very thought-provoking.

  4. Avatar Kerri says:

    Funny – the tidbits that you point out are many of the very ones that I noted, too. I felt the very same guilt about loosely tossing around the term "OCD" when I'm referring to someone who's exceptionally tidy or organized. These folks don't feel required to unplug all appliances before leaving home because "a set alarm clock meant I didn't love my mother enough to care whether she exploded in her sleep from faulty wiring and my selfishness." Wow… this child is 8!

    I could go on (as you know) but I think the overarching take-home message is that stepping into her shoes gave me a perspective I've never had before. Education builds understanding, and understanding combats stigma. Meanwhile, I encourage everyone to visit http://www.standagainststigma.com, which includes beautiful stories and photographs of people in our community who struggle with mental illness (or have suffered a suicide loss). By sharing their stories, these brave individuals are helping break those barriers of stigma and discrimination. Their stories are fascinating and inspirational.

    Thank you, Doni, for doing so much to help bring attention to these issues. I appreciate you!

  5. Avatar Barb B says:

    This is my first foray into sharing with the Book Club. The author was very frank about her struggles and feelings with OCD. The book was a little hard for me to read because I felt her frustration and frenetic anxiety through her writing style. I felt so bad for her to realize this was a child starting at 7-8 years of age and up that had to deal with these overwhelming feelings. I am glad she shared her struggles and showed you can overcome hardships, deal with them and live a great life.

    Thanks for helping facilitate the Book Club with HHSA. Barb

    • I can relate to what you're saying about having a hard time reading Traci's recollections as a child. That's a testimony to Foust's writing ability that she was able to invoke those feelings.

  6. Avatar Robyn says:

    This looks like a really good book. I love reading books that help me work on my issues. I am reading a wonderful book now called, "Being You: How To Live Authentically" by Gerard M. Doyle. My life has been up and down for awhile now. This is a non-fiction self help book to show readers how to be confident and live life without fear or anxiety. Just what I need!!! http://www.adaptivefreedom.com/

  7. Avatar Joanne Lobeski Snyde says:

    Nowhere Near Normal was a perfect book for Mental Health Month. Traci (with an i and NOT a y) is a superb writer. She does an excellent job of telling her story in a way gives the reader a good idea of what was going on in her life, as well of the lives of family and friends close to her were were effected by her disorder on a daily basis.

    I can't say that I loved the book because it made me very uncomfortable. I lived with an anxiety disorder until I was properly diagnosed in my 40s.

    Traci and I grew up in an era when the problems we delt with were considered psychological in nature. Talking therapy is as effective in curing brain disorders as it is curing diabeties, broken legs or epilepsy, but it's only been in the last couple of decades that medical research on OCD and anxiety disorder have been able to determine the problems in brain chemistry that cause these disorders.

    She describes in her book the decision to use SSRI drugs to become well. She determined that the benefits outweighted any other person's opinion. She writes that anyone who brags about dealing with "depression" without resorting to drugs has never experienced a clinical depression.

    Reading this book reminded me of an important book I read in the 70s. Mark Vonnegut, the son of the writer Mark Vonnegut wrote a book , "The Edan Epress" about his life with a disorder that was eventually diagnosed as schizophrenia. Like Traci, he wrote a letter in the back of his book to readers who may have experienced the same symptoms, but had been convinced that, if they chanced their thoughts or behavior or beliefs the disorder would go away. That misinformation is a heavy burden and pretty useless.

    Thank you Doni for letting me have my say!