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Nowhere Near Normal: A Memoir of OCD

Nowhere Near Normal: A Memoir of OCD by Traci Foust. Simon & Schuster Gallery Books. April 2011.

“When you’re on the bus, you’re on the plane or you’re in the movie theater and you’re feeling panicky and you’ve got OCD symptoms and they’re manifesting and you think everybody’s looking at you, I can guarantee you, they are not looking at you. They’re texting. They’re talking to their friends. They’re worried about their own clothes or their own shoes or their own hair. And that kind of thinking is so freeing, and I had to get to that point before I could write the book. But that’s the ultimate message”.

Traci Foust’s candid account of her struggles with obsessive compulsive disorder and other anxiety and behavioural disorders provides readers with an intimate look at OCD from the viewpoint of the sufferer. The quote above is from an interview on National Public Radio. Her book is receiving interest and high praise from many quarters.

Foust tells her story from the break-up of her family, and move with her mother and older sister and brother to a new neighbourhood when she is seven through to her mother’s death and the need to live on her own at age twenty. She describes her obsessions from making sure that all her Catholic saint statues point north to scrubbing her hands with bleach to eradicate germs and being unable to eat in certain restaurants because of the possibility of deadly bacteria on her food. She roams her home at night, licking the locks on the doors and windows to keep her family safe.

It is not until her pre-teen years, after locking her best friend in a hot car, that she receives any counselling and not for several years more that the OCD diagnosis is finally made. Not surprisingly, she becomes a teenage runaway in the hope that being somewhere else will make her somebody else

Fortunately for Foust, she was able to look at herself from the outside and see how bizarre the things she did were, then recount them with humour. She says that this helps to ease the stigma of having a mental illness. It also creates a story which feels real, uncomfortable and very honest to the reader yet hilarious at times. The humorous style commands the attention of the reader as it imparts the every day discomfort and intrigues of living with, surviving and hiding OCD. or

Agorafabulous! Dispatches from My Bedroom

Agorafabulous! Dispatches from My Bedroom by Sara Benincasa. William Morrow. February 2012.

Too frightened to leave her bedroom, Sara Benincasa was reduced to urinating in cereal bowls. As gross, upsetting and sad as some of the material covered in this memoir about her struggle with agoraphobia is, Benincasa says that she can't really tell her story without including it.

That particular experience, during her junior year at Emerson College, forced her to leave Boston and hide out at her parents' house in New Jersey. Because she went on from there to spend long days in bed with books of stories to which she could relate, she wanted readers to be able to relate to her book. The sad and upsetting information does just that.

The comedian and writer, admired for her stand-up comedy routines on stage and on the internet, avoided discussion of her mental health until she eventually created and toured a one-woman show. She basically, as she puts it herself, "workshopped on stage" before live audiences, finding successful material through their response. The show led to her book.

The book details Benincasa's desperate struggle to get out of her bed and on with her life. She would put Post-it affirmations everywhere to motivate herself to get up and out of her room by noon, including one to help her over her fear of the toilet. One, which embarrassed her teenage brother found when he opened the toilet, was a smiley face exclaiming "You can do this!"

The comedian’s sense of the absurd works well to communicate the serious subject. For her, the recovery process involved working for the Napoleonic gay owner of a New Age retreat and an AmeriCorps teaching stint in Texas, where one of her ninth grade students took Viagra on a dare and lived to regret it. Benincasa believes that illustrating her own freakiness helps to make other people feel more comfortable about their own freakiness because they figure it can’t be as freaky as hers. Privately she considers some of theirs to be really weird but says that everybody has their own normal.

Still constantly challenged by her agoraphobia as she travels to engagements in places unknown to her, she says, “Agoraphobia, like all phobias, is an outside fear that has very little to do with reality," she says. "By facing your fear you actually remind yourself, 'Oh, well, this isn't as bad as I thought.’”

Benincasa is thirty-one. She grew up in New Jersey and began taking medication for depression and anxiety when she was sixteen, but was twenty-one before finding anything that worked for her. Today, she writes, performs and speaks at colleges, exploring mental health issues and suicide prevention in her routines. or or Kindle eBook

The Panic Free Steps – New Resolutions for Panic and Anxiety Attacks including Agoraphobia and Claustrophobia

The Panic Free Steps – New Resolutions for Panic and Anxiety Attacks including Agoraphobia and Claustrophobia by Liz Speirs. Self-published eBook. 2012

After being offered medication and therapy every time she went to the doctor, simply because she had a history of panic attacks, Scottish author Liz Speirs felt that she would never get a proper diagnosis for anything physical or mental.

Her anxiety problems began at age eleven and doctors told her that it was hormonal. Eventually her panic attacks developed into agoraphobia and this went on for twenty-nine years. During that time, she tried every medical and alternative treatment available but nothing completely worked. She felt that they masked the panic attacks rather than curing them. On the eve of her fortieth birthday, while following a diet requiring her to cut out coffee, she noticed that the number of panic attacks decreased. Amazed she started to wonder what else might help and began to seriously look at her diet for answers and solved the problem. She cut back on all processed foods and soon went fully organic, then traced the few panic attacks she was still having to carbonated drinks.

She, eventually, found at least eight chemicals and additives that triggered panic attacks and other anxiety and stress symptoms in minutes. Others took longer and gave her panic attacks during the night. One sweetener, found in many foods and drinks, proved extremely reactive.

Speirs then began gathering together scientific evidence from controlled laboratory tests supporting the fact that chemicals and additives in processed drinks and foods were often the source of panic attack symptoms in contrast to the stress and/or anxiety generally diagnosed by the medical profession. Her own symptoms have all gone and she decided to publish her findings to help others.

Interestingly, she has included, with their permission, letters from airplane pilots from major airlines, who found that their drinks were setting off panic attacks while they were flying. This problem, apparently, has become so widely known that there was an unwritten rule in a pilot training school to only drink water on a flight, due to a dangerous mixture of air pressure and chemicals in drinks.

Speirs’s primary concern, in writing the book, is the many teenagers and adults who are diagnosed with stress related conditions and given prescription medicine and therapy with no consideration ever given to looking at their diet for answers. She feels that there is anxiety epidemic, especially among children, because of worsening diets and pollution, going so far as to say that the scientific evidence she has uncovered indicates that panic disorder will continue to increase because of modern diets and carbon dioxide levels.

Kindle eBook

Dancing on the Inside

Dancing on the Inside by Glen C. Strathy. iUniverse Publishing. July 2011.

This story of a young girl who wants to take ballet, but whose social anxiety prevents her from going to classes without having a panic attack won the Gold Medal in the juvenile fiction category of this year's Independent Publisher Book Awards. It also won the 2011 Reader Views Reviewers Choice Award.

The author wrote the book in hope it would inspire shy girls to have the courage to pursue their own dreams.

Twelve-year old Jenny has wanted to be a dancer ever since her grandparents gave her a DVD of Swan Lake. On her first day of ballet class, she suffers a panic attack and finds that she is terrified of dancing in front of the other kids.

Jenny refuses to give up her dream and finds ways to observe ballet classes without actually participating. She trains in the safety of her own room, hiding the truth from her parents. Then she meets Ara, an outgoing, spontaneous and accident-prone girl who loves dancing but has always been overlooked. Their friendship grows as they help each other discover their real talents. Ara's dancing improves and Jenny discovers she has a gift for choreography. The school's newest teacher helps the girls to bring Jenny's original ballet to the stage.

Glen C. Strathy started writing stories when he was 11 years old and too shy to have a life. He eventually found a life when he started acting in community theatre and discovered that the arts give people more freedom to be who they want to be. After spending time as an actor, teacher, and freelance writer, he has come back to his first love, fiction. Dancing on the Inside is his first novel. or or Kindle eBook

Just Like You

Just Like You by Darlene Wierski-Devoe. May 2012

Officially released on May 7th to coincide with Canada’s Mental Health Week, this is another book that raises awareness around the daily struggles of children with anxiety disorders.

It was seeing her own children’s difficulties with simple things like interacting with other children at school, going to the library and answering questions in class that inspired the author to develop this book and the toolbox journal that goes with it. She had struggled with anxiety herself, as a child and now that the same things was happening to her children, she wanted to help others to understand what anxiety disorders look and feel like.

The theme of the book is the “anxiety monster”, allowing readers to see anxiety as an it or a thing that is completely separate from themselves. The story-line teaches that worry, fear and panic are feelings that can be managed. The central character who is really just like you and has a toolbox full of ideas for controlling the effects of the “anxiety monster”.

The toolbox journal entitled Me works with the book provides children with the opportunity to create a toolbox of their own to help them recognize their options when they are feeling anxious. It gives them a sense of ownership and awareness of their emotions. Each page has an affirmation– an encouraging and inspiring phrase for the children to say out loud to help develop a positive mindset and provide a sense of empowerment.

The captivating illustrations in Just Like You and the toolbox journal, Me, are by Darlene Wierski-Devoe and her son, Ehren.

The Agoraphobia Workbook: A Comprehensive Program to End Your Fear of Symptom Attacks

The Agoraphobia Workbook: A Comprehensive Program to End Your Fear of Symptom Attacks by C. Alec Pollard PhD and Elke Zuercher-White. New Harbinger Publications. June 2003.

Beginning by explaining how agoraphobia develops, two of the top people in the field of anxiety disorders go on to provide a step-by-step treatment strategy with easy-to-follow directions.

They explain the components of agoraphobic fear as

  • External signals – feared places and situations.
  • Internal signals – sensations, e.g. fear, panic, anxiety.
  • Symptom attacks – panic, dizziness, fainting.
  • Catastrophizing – devastating fears, e.g. becoming insane, losing control permanently, fainting, crashing a car, losing a job.

The reader is taken through exposure and desensitization exercises, gradually working up to once-difficult everyday activities – leaving the house, driving, taking a bus or going to the mall. Tips on avoiding relapses, managing setbacks and finding help and support are also included. It is a well written, easy to understand self-help workbook that has worked for many people suffering with agoraphobia.

C. Alec Pollard PhD is the founder and director of the Saint Louis Behavioral Medicine Institute Anxiety Disorders Center and author & coauthor over 80 publications on anxiety disorders and mental health.

Elke Zuercher-White, PhD is a pioneer in the use of group therapy to treat panic disorder and has given numerous addresses and training workshops on anxiety disorders throughout North and South America. She is on the staff of the Kaiser Permanente Medical Group and in private practice in the San Francisco Bay Area. She is the author of An End to Panic. or

From Agoraphobia to Zen

From Agoraphobia to Zen by Marilyn Mendoza. Chipmunkapublishing. June 2011.

A true story of a woman’s lifelong struggle with panic attacks, agoraphobia and food addiction, From Agoraphobia to Zen follows the author’s decision to break the cycle of mental illness that destroyed her mother and was now threatening her own life. Both trauma and comedy capture the attention as Mendoza’a story moves from a Brooklyn housing project to the Hawaiian Islands. Following years of fear, she searches for the tools needed to bring about healing. The story is told with both passion and humour.

Along with her mother’s journal, she uses spiritual guides, imagination and hypnotism to expose the secrets and lies – both her own and her mother’s – of anxiety-ridden living and, eventually, accomplishes her goal in putting it all behind her.

This is a book which will appeal to anybody interested in women’s experiences in dealing with mental illness, as opposed to men’s. Mental health professionals and volunteers especially may find some enlightenment in the impact of abuse and disempowerment on a woman’s descent into agoraphobic life and empowerment and love on her journey to recovery.

Marilyn Mendoza was born and grew up in Brooklyn New York. Her memoir demonstrates her triumph over severe anxiety and truama through her own discovery of the core of the anxiety and subsequent reclaiming of her life. She has lived in Hawaii for thirty years where she teaches English. She has worked with homeless woman as an a Americorps volunteer and is now involved with organizations that provide survivors of mental health disorders a voice to end the stigma of mental illness. She writes and perfoms spoken-word poetry and dance. or or Kindle eBook

The Shyness and Social Anxiety Workbook for Teens: CBT and ACT Skills to Help You Build Social Confidence

The Shyness and Social Anxiety Workbook for Teens: CBT and ACT Skills to Help You Build Social Confidence by Jennifer Shannon LMFT (Author), Doug Shannon (Illustrator), Christine Padesky (Foreword) Instant Help Publications. June 2012.

Jennifer Shannon wrote this book when her own teenage daughter’s social anxiety prevented her from attending school. She is a cognitive behavioural therapist who specializes in treating teens and adults with anxiety, but knew her daughter would not want her mother to be her therapist. So she began to look around for books to help a teen with social anxiety and found that, while there were many for adults, there were none for adolescents. The next three years was spent writing The Shyness and Social Anxiety Workbook for Teens with her daughter’s help in keeping it teen-friendly.

Shannon’s objective was to help socially anxious teens, let them know they are not alone and that there are effective solutions to controlling their anxiety. As a CBT therapist, she naturally takes a CBT approach, beginning with an overview of social anxiety and explaining how distorted thinking creates social anxiety. Importantly, the fact that avoiding anxiety-producing situations can actually make the anxiety worse.

Readers are instructed to identify their values to show them how social anxiety prevents them from living with those values. They are shown how to evaluate their thoughts to see how they create avoidance or provide the means to attain individual values, then to cognitively re-develop thinking patterns to decrease anxiety. This is followed by instructions on how to gradually expose themselves to the social situations they fear.

Worksheets and exercises in The Shyness and Social Anxiety Workbook for Teens put all this into a practice format to help them to learn to handle social situations confidently, enabling them to connect with people and get to know them. Detail on CBT works is kept to a minimum to prevent information overload and keep the focus on the practicalities of how to change thinking and actions.

The book is written in a conversational style which makes difficult concepts easy to understand, and insightful illustration is used to keep teens’ interest.

Tips for finding a therapist, information on medication and other resources are included. Parents, teachers, therapists and other people involved with socially anxious teens will find the book extremely useful as a means to helping them find practical strategies to overcome their social fears.

Jennifer Shannon, LMFT, is clinical director and co-founder of the Santa Rosa Center for Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy in Santa Rosa, California and a diplomat of the Academy of Cognitive Therapy.

Doug Shannon is a freelance cartoonist, illustrator and the creator of the nationally syndicated cartoon strip Claire and Weber.

The writer of the Forewood to The Shyness and Social Anxiety Workbook for Teens, Christine A. Padesky, PhD, is a clinical psychologist and director of the Center for Cognitive Therapy in Huntington Beach, CA. or or Kindle eBook