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The Man Who Couldn't Stop by David Adam

The Man Who Couldn’t Stop is an intimate look at the power of intrusive thoughts, how our brains can turn against us, and living with obsessive-compulsive disorder. 

A true life account from David Adam, writer and editor at Nature, the world’s leading scientific journal, The Man Who Couldn’t Stop is full of wry wit and compelling scientific storytelling, guiding us through Adam's journey to understanding and healing. Exploring the latest neuroscience research, David Adam shows the devastating impact of our thoughts can have on us, and even more tragic, how they can turn against us.

“The average person can have four thousand thoughts a day, and not all of them are useful or rational. Mental flotsam comes in many forms. There are irrelevant words, phrases, names and images that flash unprompted into our minds, often as we perform some mundane task.”

It is when we cannot make these thoughts go away that they lead to misery and mental illness. It’s because obsessive thoughts are so often within various taboo or embossing subjects that so many people with OCD choose to hide them. David Adam acknowledges that strange thoughts, and seeds of obsession are everywhere, but only occasionally do they take root. And, the first step in the journey to understanding obsession is to see how this happens.

Russian novelist, Count Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy, also known as Leo Tolstoy, wrote the acclaimed novels War and Peace, Anna Karenina and The Death of Ivan Ilyich, and still ranks among the world's top writers. But did you also know that he also understood intimately the mind’s inability to repel unwanted thoughts. When he was a child, Leo would play a game with his siblings. To join a secret club called the Ant Bothers whose members discovered wonderful things, they only had to stand in one corner of the room and try to not think of a polar bear. As hard as they tried, they could not manage it.

In his 1863 book Winter Notes on Summer Impressions he wrote:
“Try and set yourself the task not to think of a white bear, and the cursed thing comes to mind every minute.”

Mental professionals refer to OCD as a secret disease and a silent epidemic. David Adam writes about compulsions, and how they can make obsessive thoughts go away, but only for a short time. One of the many cruel ironies of OCD is that the compulsions, the weapon that obsessed people reach for, make the situation worse. Compulsions act in the same way as thought suppression. An intrusive thought silenced with a compulsive act comes back. And, it comes back hard.

In May 2013, the American Psychiatric Association officially reclassified OCD as a different type of mental illness. It’s now one of the obsessive-compulsive and related disorders, and new group that includes a handful of OCD spectrum conditions: body dysmorphic disorder, hair-pulling, skin-picking and hoarding disorder. David admits that it may sound like a trivial change, but the implications are great – not just for OCD, but for the way we think about mental illness.

Told with an unflinching honest attempt to understand the condition, The Man Who Couldn’t Stop is a story of the personal nightmare and a fascinating doorway into the corners of our minds.  The Man Who Couldn’t Stop will challenge the way you think about what is normal and what is mental illness.

“This is not intended as a self-help book. But if it does help, if it connects to someone directly affected by the issues it raises, or helps someone close to them to understand, or if it can merely prise open the eyes of others, then I am glad. Something good will come from what was a frightening and miserable experience. My strange thoughts will finally have meant something.”