J. J. Keeler has written a wonderfully funny and woefully sad book. "I Hardly Ever Wash My Hands" is the story of her struggle from childhood with obsessive/compulsive disorder (OCD). She writes, "I know it could be worse; things can always be worse. I could be schizophrenic or delusional. I could have a disease where I feel compelled to eat buttons or one where I'm afraid of falling asleep. Still no mental illness is a picnic -- unless you tend to picnic in the depths of Hell."
Most of us think of OCD as the disease of people who compulsively wash their hands. True, there are people who do that because those are the rules their illness insists they must abide by. Keeler, on the other hand, is more apt to wipe off her hands on her jeans. What is overwhelming in her life is a sense of responsibility that has nothing to do with returning library books. Her fear is that either by action or inaction, she is going to do great harm.
Keeler's obsessions began with the usual childhood fears. Eventually they grew in proportion, leading to compulsive rituals that had to be rigidly performed. OCD victims understand that these obsessive notions do not correspond to reality, but feel they must act on them to fight off panic or dread. The compulsive action (constant checking and rechecking and then checking again the locks on the door and the burners on the stove, circling a block over and over to make certain that the bump in the road was not a run-over child, and -- despite the evidence of one's eyes -- never being entirely certain) is enormously time consuming and energy draining. She writes, "The coulds turn into likelihoods and, eventually, sure things." It is a world driven by WHAT IFï¿½?
Keeler has written for those who suffer with OCD -- her last chapter has excellent advice -- and for the rest of us who are fortunate to view this illness at a distance. She is a very gifted writer: intelligent, amusing and a fine story teller. And it is obvious that, not only is she supported by a loving husband, family and friends, she returns in kind.