Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Book review: I Hardly Ever Wash My Hands: The Other Side of OCD

I Hardly Ever Wash My Hands: The Other Side of OCD. By J.J. Keeler. Paragon House. 2012. 173 pages.

I was asked to read and review I Hardly Ever Wash My Hands: The Other Side of OCD, by J.J. Keeler, as part of a TLC Book Tour for the book.
This is a memoir that details Keeler’s experiences with obsessive-compulsive disorder. The title comes from the fact that Keeler’s OCD doesn’t manifest itself in what some may consider stereotypical ways, such as contamination obsessions and compulsive hand washing.
Rather, Keeler suffers from harm obsessions and compulsions.
In the first-person narrative, Keeler writes about the different obsessions that started when she was a child and the checking she does to try to resolve the anxiety.
In a chapter called “The Bomb in My Teddy Bear,” she writes about her obsession that a teddy bear she received as a gift had a bomb inside it. She doesn’t know what to do with the bear because she fears it blowing up and hurting others. And she can’t diffuse the bomb because she doesn’t know how: “I was eight years old and I knew nothing about diffusing bombs. My school system had failed me” (p. 29).
Keeler uses humor to discuss a subject that is obviously very serious to her. Throughout the book, she offers “Random OCD Facts” such as “OCD can interfere with the ability to sleep” (p. 59).
In “A Bump in the Road,” Keeler writes about her hit and run OCD, which leads her to drive miles and hours out of her way to make sure she hasn’t hit someone or to make sure there’s no baby in the abandoned grocery store cart she sees by the roadside.
In “The Belly of a Babe,” she writes about her efforts to keep the world safe for children, removing things from the environment that she thinks might be harmful and keeping a watchful eye even on children she doesn’t know.
Keeler knows that her fears are not rational: “But I couldn’t stop myself from wondering, What if? If we OCDers were all related, that saying would be on our family crest” (p. 143).
Statements like that ring true and had me nodding my head and feeling a kinship with Keeler as I read.
Keeler provides vivid details about what it was like to check for fire, for bombs, and for other harm that might come to not only her family and people she knew, but strangers. She mixes the description with anecdotes about her experiences.
The last chapter of her book suggests that she has gotten professional help for her OCD. Called “Dear Friend,” it offers very helpful advice.
In a section called “Ignore what you need to ignore,” she tells her readers to “listen to science, to doctors, to people who have dedicated their lives to studying mental illness, who have passed tests and received degrees in this field, and to those who have experienced it first hand” (p. 161).
In the section “Find therapy that works for you,” Keeler names cognitive behavior therapy as “one of the most widely used” (p. 163). She urges readers to look for a therapy that works for them if the therapy they’re doing isn’t helping: “It’s your brain and you’re free to fix it any way you want” (p. 163).
This book resonated with me, and I think it would with other sufferers of OCD. It would also be helpful for family members and friends of those with OCD because of the clear picture of obsessions and compulsions it gives.
I enjoyed the humor and the readability of this book. I felt like Keeler was talking to me as I read it.
She did an excellent job in describing what it was like to have the fears of OCD and the increasing anxiety brought on by giving in to compulsions.
I wish she had written more about how her OCD symptoms impacted her relationships, especially with her family as she grew up and her college roommates, friends and husband. I would also like to know when she sought treatment for OCD and what worked for her because I think that information would be helpful to the reader on his or her own journey.
That said, this is still definitely a book I highly recommend.

Note: I received a free copy of this book for this review. The opinions expressed are my own.


  1. Thank you for sharing the review. Blessings.

  2. Great review!

    I was asked to review the book too but I was afraid her obsessions about bombs and harm and such would get in my head and scare me. LOL so the OCD ruling was "No, you shall not read this book, Elizabeth."

    1. Elizabeth, thank you! I understand about triggers. Thank goodness, this book didn't set off any for me.

  3. Like you wrote I think it is a great book. I appreciate people who share something about their own life to help others and giving them advices. Great review.

    I also wanted to let you know that I have nominated you for the Liebster Blog Award:

    1. Sanny, thank you. I like books where people share their lives, too.

      Thank you for the nomination--I appreciate it!

  4. Thanks for sharing this review. One of my doctors gave me advice similar to what the author stated, in finding the therapy that works for you. I am pretty sure people respond differently to therapies, just as we tend to respond differently to medications depending on our chemistry. I know the professionals say "talk therapy" doesn't help OCD but I thought it did help me a little bit..though I would agree the combination of CBT, medication and ERP was what took me to a whole different level of living with OCD in a way I was not debilitated.

    1. Krystal Lynn, I liked the advice, too, because one size doesn't fit all. I do think CBT, meds, and ERP are a great combination, too.

  5. It does sound like an interesting book. Those sort of obsessions would be hard to handle.

    1. Thanks, Lisa. The author does a good job in describing what the obsessions are like.

  6. I'm glad to see you recommend this book as helpful to family and friends trying to understand a loved one's OCD - that is often a very difficult task and good resources can be hard to come by.

    Thanks for being on the tour.

  7. Thanks so much for being on the tour and for a great review!

    1. I enjoyed reading the book. Thank you for sharing your story. It will help a lot of people, I'm sure.

  8. Really great review! I waited to read your review until I posted mine. I didn't want to accidentally plagiarize you! ha ha I agree, I wish she had talked about her recovery. Maybe that is for book #2?


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.