by Fletcher Wortmann
Thomas Dunne Books, 2012
Review by Christian Perring on Apr 23rd 2013
Most accounts of OCD focus on the behavioral symptoms like frequent hand washing, counting rituals, compulsive checking that the gas is turned off when leaving home, or not stepping on the cracks in the sidewalk. As these are explained, memoirs talk more about the feelings behind them: worries about staying free of germs, and keeping one's house safe, which are fairly easy to understand even when they are done to an extreme, and other more bizarre beliefs about certain numbers being important, rituals needing to be performed a certain number of times in order to work, or dark beliefs that something bad will happen if a some sort of act is not performed in exactly the right way. So the popular representation of OCD represents it as due to anxiety that goes from the eccentric to the extremely delusional, where it seems to overlap with paranoia and delusion.
Fletcher Wortmann is a recent college graduate. His website says that he is currently doing an MFA in Creative Writing. His memoir of his OCD, Triggered, is unusual because his problems do not appear to be primarily with compulsions, but more with obsessional thoughts, or as he calls it on his website, "Pure O." These obsessions disrupted his whole life, especially since he was troubled as a child but did not get diagnosed with OCD until 2007. They got so bad the he needed hospitalization. Through treatment, he got the problem under control. As usual with memoirs, it ends with optimism.
Wortmann describes his life in high school and college and his relationship with his family. He keeps his tone mostly light and occasionally darkly humorous. Occasionally he gets serious and talks about his inner life in more stark terms, but he rarely goes into much detail about what exactly his obsessions were about. Understandably, he does not like to dwell on them. But that makes it more difficult for the reader to understand them. He describes them in rather general terms, with references to violence, perversion, desecration, and there is a little about thoughts about anal sex with a dog. But he spends much more time on describing his social life, his romantic life, and his treatment. After seeing many different doctors and trying different approaches, he finally got effective treatment at the OCD Institute at McLean Hospital. His account of his experience with exposure therapy is informative and may be especially helpful to other people who are contemplating it.
To an extent, the interest of a memoir depends on to what extent the reader can relate to the life of the writer. Triggered goes into quite a lot of detail about undergraduate life at Swarthmore, and that may be of rather limited interest to most readers. Wortmann's jokey writing style is certainly competent, but it is not particularly engaging. Readers older than the writer may need some convincing that it is necessary to go into much detail about the life of a young man, but in telling the story of his battle with OCD, he does need to put in the context of his own history. Nevertheless, the book could have done with more editing. As an OCD memoir, Triggered has plenty to offer people looking to understand obsessions, so it is worth checking out.
© 2013 Christian Perring
Christian Perring, Professor of Philosophy, Dowling College, New York