Dahlberg’s debut memoir details his experience growing up with obsessive-compulsive disorder before OCD was a household term.
The author writes that nearly one out of every 40 Americans will be diagnosed with OCD at some point in their lifetimes, according to U.S. government statistics. Dahlberg, a self-described “math whiz” with hypochondria and a photographic memory, has suffered from OCD since childhood, but wasn’t diagnosed until late in life. He believes his “latent potential” for OCD was triggered when a fellow Boy Scout developed a tumor and died. “Suddenly cancer was everywhere,” Dahlberg writes—in the news, in the movie Brian’s Song, but mostly in Dahlberg’s own head. An overwhelming fight-or-flight response led to his first nightmarish encounter with OCD, the “disease of doubt.” Soon his obsession with reducing larger numbers into simpler ones grew to include “counting, images, names, rituals” and led to difficulties in social situations. The potential benefits of cognitive therapy, meditation and medication for OCD were unknown then, so Dahlberg survived instead through martial arts, school athletics and a number of jobs, and he discovered that an occupied mind could provide an escape. His first college roommate, a prolific Barbra Streisand memorabilia hoarder, apparently had OCD as well, and “might have been more bizarre” than Dahlberg was. But after Dahlberg suffered a few bouts of uncontrollable mania and some painfully awkward social interactions, he gained his own reputation around campus. After he had a breakdown as an adult, Jeffrey Schwartz’s book Brain Lock (1997) and Dahlberg’s wife, Judy, helped him realize just what he was up against. Today, the author feels that he can keep his irrational fears under control and “mental ambush” at bay. As tragic as Dahlberg’s disorder was and as inspiring as his recovery appears to be, the book lacks forward motion at times and ends rather abruptly, which may leave readers with more questions than answers. At times, it delves a little too deeply into an extraneous anecdote or Dahlberg’s difficulty with what he calls “dimensional analysis.” However, he stresses that the details of his own condition are personal and that OCD is different for everybody, and he does lend helpful advice to fellow OCD sufferers, such as taking up a sport that requires focus and attention.
An often brave but sometimes bland reflection of living with “pathological doubt.”