Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, commonly referred to as OCD, is a chronic and often debilitating condition that fundamentally alters the way a person perceives the world outside them. The illness causes an affected individual to develop intrusive, uncontrollable thoughts, known as obsessions, and repeating behavioural patterns, known as compulsions. Both sides of the disorder commonly manifest in daily life often severely disrupting the comfort of the affected person and those around them. People with OCD struggle with alienation and anxiety attacks, with their obsessions and compulsions isolating them from others. When misunderstood or not treated properly, it can manifest in overtly controlling behaviors, further worsening the issue. Consecutively, such individuals are in deep need of witnessing accurate representations of themselves in well-known media. Therefore, naturally, no representation can be more authentic then a first-person perspective of a narrator with the same experience. Such is the non-fiction book Rewind Replay Repeat: A Memoir of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder by Jeff Bell, reviewed in this paper.
The book is a memoir of Jeff Bell: a father, a husband, and a professionally accomplished radio news anchor. He is a successful performer, well-known in the industry, and a generally well-liked person with many friends and a family life. Yet, behind the façade, Bell’s friendliness and composure are cracking, as the nagging sense of doubt sneaks in on him in response to even the most mundane of activities. As an autobiography, the book is an insight into the author’s daily life that is, in this case, plagued by his debilitating disorder. OCD’s effects on Bell’s routine are evident trough a series of examples: him returning home multiple times to check whether the door had been closed or constantly washing his hands. Somewhat trivial at the first glance, these behaviors compile, metaphorically imprisoning Bell, who rests the remains of his emotional stability on the said rituals.
Both the purpose and the intention of the text are clear and even made deliberately obvious: Bell is sharing his personal struggle to connect with those who are ready to listen. His book aims to simultaneously signal to people with OCD that they are not alone, and provide an insight into what it’s like to live with the disorder to outsiders. The well-meaning, curious outsiders are, arguably, the main target audience of the book if one is to engage in comparison. A large part of the memoir focuses on capturing the disturbing feelings of an OCD-induced reality. Such detail and precision would not have been necessary if the book had been marketed to people with OCD exclusively or even primarily. Yet at the same time, the book is a personal story, rather than an educational manual, and it exists in contradiction with the outdated stigmatized depictions of mental disorders. Bell delivers a thesis of OCD being the persistent, chronic problem, that cannot be simply ignored or pushed aside, but deserves proper attention and treatment.
Analysis and Evaluation
Jeff Bell is a veteran of radio and television news, having worked in this area for over 20 years. He is currently an afternoon news anchor at the KCBS radio, the CBS San Francisco flagship. Bell is also a co-founder of the OCD support project YourGreaterGood that encourages those who suffer from disorder to seek appropriate treatment and facilitates the process. Consecutively, his credibility in the matter is close to absolute: Bell gives voice to people with OCD, which he is only able to do due to sharing the diagnosis with them.
His claims come off as deeply personal and based on a direct experience with struggle, fear and societal tendencies to dismiss any symptoms of mental illness as someone being capricious. Bell insists that OCD is a disorder that develops gradually, with the initial stages being easy to miss. He re-establishes, time and time again, that without proper attention and support network, simple tendencies might quickly spin out of control. This position lies in contrast to the dominant perception of mental disorders and illnesses in the U.S. and Western society in general. Even today the larger narrative often implies that a mental disorder is somewhat of a whim in the head of an affected individual. Hence, many subconsciously believe that one can simply and voluntarily stop being depressed, anxious or, in Bell’s case, obsessive-compulsive. The narrative of the book exists in opposition to this harmful notion, which led to the work being perceived as impactful in the field of abnormal psychology. One of the later sections of the paper discusses this topic in greater detail.
Efficiency of capturing an authorial intent is crucial to the overall impression the book leaves, since even the most compelling points have a hypothetical possibility to fall flat. Rewind Replay Repeat is not in this kind of danger: the book is memorable and engaging, while encouraging readers to engage in introspection at the same time. The key to the narrative efficiency of the book lies in its rich and disturbing sound imagery. As a radio industry professional, Bell is an expert in sounds and sensations those might convey. His expertise transpires the limitations of the written text by incorporating audial metaphors throughout the text. OCD-induced thoughts are compared to drilling noises a receptor is unable to ignore, “a shrill, high-pitched screech”, an “ugly wail” (Bell, 2011, 127-128). These thoughts follow and stalk Bell everywhere, which makes the repeated audible parallels incredibly effective. Sound-related imagery also gives origin to the titular metaphor of the book, as Bell can’t stop rewinding, replaying and repeating every stage of his day.
Audial imagery is of the main linguistic and rhetoric tools utilized within the text to effectively communicate the insides of living with OCD, but not the only one. Although for the non-fiction memoir the first-person perspective is largely a given, its contribution to the tone of the narrative is worth mentioning nonetheless. The first person in Bell’s narration creates an illusion of the proximity to the author, allowing the readers of the book to study the thoughts of the writer. Since the book depicts one person’s journey with OCD, and OCD itself is fifty percent compound of persistent and disturbing thought patterns, additional proximity to the subject is vital.
Despite impressive amounts of dark and occasionally hopeless imagery, the conclusion of the book is positive and inspirational. Bell reveals having been convinced by his wife that he is in need of medical care. After several unsuccessful attempts, Bell eventually receives proper therapy helping him manage the condition and significantly reduce the severity and frequency of symptoms he is experiencing. Furthermore, the author concludes the book by encouraging readers who think they might have OCD to contact relevant organizations and supporting the existing community members.
The only counterargument it is easy to think about when it comes to Bell’s conclusion and final claims bears financial grounds. Not everyone has decades of work experience in the broadcasting industry underneath their belt, and it is very much possible that for many people with OCD proper treatment or medication is not affordable. However even keeping in mind, that therapy sessions are a luxury, pointing this out against the ban of anti-trans laws is not, generally speaking, feasible. This argument works only as an illustration of the healthcare-related financial inequalities in America and Europe. It fails as a hypothetical attempt to discredit OCD as something not worthy of visiting a specialist.
Discussing the effectiveness of such fundamental parts of the memoir is, however, difficult, since the book’s high level of subjectivity is simultaneously its main strength and, perhaps, weakness. It is thus important to remember, when discussing any autobiography, that it is a form of diary that allows a writer to let out their personal doubts, insecurities, and internal question. The book’s subjectivity makes it memorable and relatable, but may be a source of trouble in certain academic contexts.
Impact on the Underpinnings of Abnormal Psychology
Generally speaking, the book aided in identifying and discussing the psychological conditions that occur in relation to or coexist with OCD. Such conditions include uneasiness, apprehension, irritability, paranoia or persistent state of fear. It is thus not uncommon for children with OCD to have extremely weird and niche phobias. In a way, it is a brain’s attempt to categorize and neatly process the contradictive and ever-evolving world outside it. It is therefore safe to logically continue, that on a similar note children with AHDH absorb certain tropes from popular culture and then attempts to recreate it.
For practicing psychologists, the book is a useful and unparalleled example of the inside patient’s perspective. With mental disorders in particular, understanding the specifics of the situation of each client is crucial, since so much of the condition resides in one’s head. By reading about OCD through the eyes of someone who has it, psychologists were able to widen their knowledge about the disorder and later incorporate the new information into their exercises. Furthermore, it allows the professionals to understand from another perspective the incompetence of certain psychologists in the sphere and the phenomenon of resisting treatment for a variety of reasons.
Finally, on the topic of abnormal psychology impact of the book, it is essential to examine one of the Bell’s final claims and its meaning for the disease perception. Despite the narrative largely being structured as a success story, there is a clear understanding that Bell had not been magically cured. In fact, he admits in his own words, that he will forever remain a person with OCD and have to face the relevant challenges of obsessions and compulsions in his daily life. The inevitability of the diagnosis and chronic condition, however, does not mean, that Bell’s treatment and daily practices have no value. The memoir shifts the perspective in the abnormal psychology discourse from the goal of providing a permanent solution to the importance of managing a chronic condition.
When a media personality with a platform decides to be vulnerable with their audience, the results are often meaningful and touching. However, Bell’s Rewind Replay Repeat: A Memoir of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is more than that. The book provides a full and detailed exploration of the internal thought processes of the OCD brain, as well as the external manifestations of these thoughts. While talking about his experiences with OCD, Bell describes the initial, comparatively weaker, compulsions that were easy to ignore, until eventually the rituals took over the author’s life and habits. It creates an interesting narrative effect, in which many small-scale examples are compound into a loud and fundamental truth about author’s life and, on some level, personality.
Bell’s career as a radio presenter and proximity to sound imagery enrich his memoir and present him with a variety of largely unique metaphors and parallelisms. The book is always a product of an author’s mind, yet in this particular case one might see how every experience or thought mentioned in the memoir affected its final state. This, overall, is the greatest strength of the book, that grants it the status of a relevant work even today despite there being almost fifteen years since its publication.
Overall, Rewind Replay Repeat: A Memoir of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is a detailed and disturbing portrayal of the disorder’s progression with a largely happy ending. It is written in motivational tone, likely due to writer’s connection to the disorder, avoids the honey trap of false optimistic promises. Bell has no illusions about ever getting rid of OCD entirely, but the existing medical facilities and the support of his family help him in condition management. The book is an authentic, gradual depiction of succumbing to the illness, and then reclaiming the agency again.
Bell, J. (2011). Rewind, replay, repeat: A memoir of obsessive-compulsive disorder. Hazelden.