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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 6 January 2017
This is a beautifully written and brave memoir of a woman who has struggled from anxiety for most of her life. As a child, Joanne Limburg was physically courageous (a champion tree-climber and daredevil cyclist) but socially nervous, and struggled to fit easily into groups at school, where she was bullied. As an adolescent, her fear spread to all sorts of physical things, she had trouble being accepted into friendship groups at her girls' school (though she was very happy in smaller groups, or chatting to one other girl) and her efforts to seek relief in academic achievement led to her worrying so much about getting good marks that she was unable to take pleasure in her work. She had a difficult time at Cambridge, where she struggled to find a subject that suited her, and to produce work good enough for her satisfaction, and had an unhappy love life. Her twenties were even more disrupted and confused than most people's twenties are, with various abortive attempts to complete a doctorate, to find a career that suited her and a home where she could be at ease. She also suffered several devastating bereavements. Eventually, in her late twenties/early thirties she fell in love, got married, brought out two books of poetry and had a son. But the anxiety continued... until one day her reading directed her to a study of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder...

Whatever other purpose this book will serve readers (and it's an example of superb writing for the most part apart from anything else) I consider it invaluable reading for any high-achieving academically-minded and insecure woman who had a difficult adolescence or a hard time post-university. Although I certainly had a better time (I think) at Cambridge than Limburg, there was a huge amount in her book that I could identify with - the struggle to belong in a big group, while being perfectly happy with friendships a deux or in smaller groups, the early romantic traumas, the sense of never being pretty, witty or clever enough, the belated teen rebellion post-university (this is a particularly hilarious section, though also very poignant), the constant sense of under-achievement, the happy relationship at the point when one had given up hope (Limburg's partner and mine are, by strange coincidence, both cat lovers with the same Christian name!). If my experiences are anything to go by, this book will certainly make a lot of women feel less alone - as Hilary Mantel noted in her Guardian review. And the fact that Limburg, however inadequate she feels, has achieved a great deal - two published volumes of poetry (and a lot of what she quotes in her book is very good), leading creative writing workshops, a happy long-term relationship, a degree in philosophy and I think, looking at her webpage, a finally near-complete doctorate - will certainly show readers how much one can do even when it seems near-impossible. And the writing is so good and so vivid throughout that, despite a subject that could be depressing, the book isn't in fact ever miserable, and is always very interesting.

The one thing I wasn't sure about in the end is how far Limburg's anxiety and emotional difficulties could be linked simply to a medical disorder. (To be fair, she makes it clear that she isn't, either.) Though some of her fears - walking down the street alone in case she got attacked or shouted at, or walking with her son by the river in case he drowned - were undoubtedly extreme, others seemed more natural (particularly after the series of bereavements she suffered). How much was the OCD a medical condition that she was born with and that needs pharmaceutical treatment, how much was it genetic (both Limburg's father, who died young, and her brother, who committed suicide, had depression) and how much was it down to circumstances, such as her being bullied as a young girl at school? And what is the best treatment for Limburg's condition - medication like Prozac, cognitive psychology or 'talking cures'? (Certainly, a life where one feels at one's best on Prozac doesn't really seem ideal long-term.) I also felt that Limburg perhaps under-estimated quite how well she does perform, even with this condition - publishing two volumes of poetry, caring for a child, a husband and two cats, teaching and studying while living with OCD is pretty impressive. But maybe the strength in this book is that it doesn't give simple answers, that it leaves you wondering how much of Limburg's fears are simply due to 'mental wiring' and how much due to life experience and temperament, and that it doesn't offer a single straightforward treatment for OCD, but shows what a wide-ranging condition it is.

In any case, I found this a brave, beautifully written and sometimes very witty memoir, completely devoid of self-pity, and constantly full of interest. I hope that Limburg increasingly comes to feel that she has her condition under control, and look forward to reading more books by her - and I hope that this book plus her poetry volumes and debut novel is the start of a distinguished career in literature. She is a brave woman and richly deserves success.
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on 15 April 2016
As someone with personal experience of OCD, I get extremely cross about the way it is misrepresented. OCD isn’t about being tidy and organised. OCD sufferers have intrusive thoughts and obsessions and often feel compelled to carry out an action, such as reciting something or touching something, in order to make those thoughts go away. For Limburg, OCD manifests itself in obsessive thoughts about the danger inherent in everything. She sees danger in normal everyday things and obsesses over it, unable to shake the thoughts, and this has a debilitating effect on her life – for example, she can only cross a road when it is completely clear in both directions, a fear that intensifies when she has to cross a road with her small son.
This book is honest, sometimes funny, sometimes depressing, reassuring, and incredibly well-written. The author is a poet, and her talents show in the writing. This makes the book strangely enjoyable to read as well as disturbing. The author comes across as a genuinely lovely person, and it is hard to read sometimes how her disorder has prevented her from enjoying many things in life.
This is such an important book because there are so many misconceptions about OCD. People still view it as something minor, but it can, and does, prevent people from living a fulfilling life. If you suffer from OCD, or think you may suffer from it, this book will offer reassurance that you’re not alone; if you know someone who suffers from OCD, then this book will help you understand what’s going on in their heads, and if you’re one of those people who arranges their bookshelves in alphabetical order and then proudly proclaims, ‘Oh, I’m just a bit OCD’, then you should definitely read this and maybe you’ll realise that it’s no laughing matter.
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Have you ever had a thought which kept going round and round in your head? Even if you know the thought or the idea is stupid you still can't get rid of it. There is no way you can reason with this idea and banish it so that you can get on with your life. All of us must at some time had the occasional idea or thought which won't be banished. But the author has lived with obsessional thoughts for the whole of her life and she has had professional help of various kinds over the years to try and deal with them.

The popular idea of OCD is of someone who constantly washes their hands or has to keep checking they've turned the oven off or locked the front door. This memoir may well help to dispel this idea. The author's main problem is obsessional patterns of thoughts. She sees excessive danger where most of us would see a normal everyday event. Crossing the road is only possible if there are no moving vehicles in sight from either direction. The author has visions of falling over and being squashed by a car when crossing the road.

Her fear of crossing roads intensified when she had a child of her own. She worries that she - or someone close to her - will be burned by a hot saucepan unless she ensures there is no possible danger. She thinks constantly about incredible sequences of events and wonders whether they will actually happen. She wouldn't ever carry her baby when walking on hard surfaces or down stairs in case she dropped him.

I found this memoir fascinating and horrifying in equal measure. If you do not have OCD or know anyone with the problem then this will open up a whole new world for you. Unfortunately you may recognise people in your own life who have some degree of OCD.
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on 9 February 2015
Comfortably familiar to the sufferer of this debilitating condition, this book is,insightful and written with a dry, self deprecating humour by the author. If nothing else, it will remind sufferers they are not alone. For everyone else, it illuminates the effects of acute anxiety and ocd.
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on 11 November 2015
Quite interesting account of a woman whose OCD takes the form of obsessive thoughts rather than compulsive actions.
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on 20 January 2013
Even if you are not aware of your OCD tendancies or feel you live a stress free life, Joanne Limburg will make you re-think the way you see yourself. This book is excellent therapy for anyone, Jewish mother or not, who has ever suffered anxiety or questioned how they survive crossing the road each day. I read it myself, then bought it for a friend.
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VINE VOICEon 15 August 2014
I picked this book based on a review in a magazine and admired what she had achieved in the writing process.
There are plenty of self help books on the subject of OCD but there are few books exploring the personal experience of the condition, probably due to the massive anxieties of exposure that the condition can give.
It's almost unbelievable that someone with a level of anxiety suffered by Joanna Limburg has been able to write such a book, as chapter by chapter she gradually exposes more and more of her neuroses and habits (and the shame surrounding them) which make her day to day life impossible at times.
One of the reviews quoted in the book comments that readers will ponder their own hang ups and I did. I have anxieties but I decided that they are normal ones and mainly controllable.
It's easy to imagine that a sufferer of this condition would gain comfort from reading this book, not necessarily to "cure" their condition but to get some peace of mind that others suffer too.
As the book goes on I found it increasingly difficult to engage with the author but was glad that I had read it to give me understanding of a serious condition suffered by many.
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on 23 May 2011
This is a must-read for any sufferer of OCD and their loved ones. Can be a bit heavy with the intellectual content (the writer is a very accomplished graduate of psychology theory), but is brutally honest, funny and a 'relief' to sufferers who will identify with the author in spades. I thank and admire Ms Limburg for this body of work. She set out to write an honest, accurate and helpful book and has more than achieved her goal. I'm currently re-reading the book and being amazed anew at how accurate, helpful and honest it is. She is a generous author who has bravely let her soul bare for the good of others. You can feel her perfectionism through her writing and feel just how much she wanted this book to help and inform. Thankyou JL. A marvellous book that I can't see my OCD-self sharing with anyone else - they'll have to buy their own copy! Clare, Reading
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on 8 March 2011
I found this a most interesting, absorbing and at times quite painful to read book.

Joanne Limburg is a poet, who suffers from OCD. She also studied philosophy, did an MA in psychoanalytic studies, and for a time worked on a PhD on psychoanalytical theories about creativity. This all makes for the possibility of an excellent and insightful book about OCD - precision of writing; the ability to take the personal and distil something more universal; application of analytical thought, a desire and ability to research meticulously and engage with the scientific aspects. Limburg delivers all of this.

I came across her book quite by chance, feeling dissatisfied after reading a book by another academic and poet, an American woman, writing a memoir of a very difficult period in her life, (nothing to do with OCD) who had taken a very different approach to Limburg's, and it had set me thinking about the approaches a writer might take to writing a factual book about their own particular journey. On the one hand, there seemed to be the relentless turn it all into an upbeat-shrug-off-the-pain-make-light-of-it approach (the American book), which seemed to me to lack a certain honesty, and denied feeling. The other polarity is an intense Deirdre-of-the-sorrows where the author opens her bleeding wounds for us to see, with excoriating honesty, - an Oprah confessional - and we all weep in sympathy for her pain - but maybe she can't stand outside, and assess objectively.

Limburg, in my opinion, has steered a pretty perfect middle way. She completely took me into engaging with what her condition might feel like, for the sufferer, bringing me into her mind, through her poetry (some of which is scattered through the text, illuminating the account considerably) so that I did imaginatively explore how 'normal' reactions and thinking/feeling processes could get stretched and expanded into something inappropriate. She does this through the quality of her writing but also because of the quality of her thinking, so that she can stand outside, and observe the process, and therefore write about it from within and without. I assume this is also a part of her history both through the experience of having had psychotherapy, and CBT.

She examines the changing theoretical understanding of what OCD is, looks at other conditions which may be said to be on the OC spectrum - Tourettes, for example, looks at theories of brain and mind in reference to depression and anxiety, and dissects treatment protocols, both behavioural and chemical.

A fascinating book. AND she avoids the 'wrap' ending where our plucky heroine rides off into the sunset as the triumphal music reaches a crescendo, or has us reaching for our hankies with a close-up on her tear-streaked face. She remains work-in-process. Life in process

Later edit - in case all this makes this book sound dreadfully dense and serious - she has a very well judged line in self-mockery and humour, measured in a perfect proportion within the seriousness of her subject matter.
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on 22 August 2016
I see that this book has had many good reviews, but I found it difficult to read and tedious. I couldn't understand the point of a lot of what she was saying, where she was trying to get to. I forced myself to read it for a couple of hours and then gave up (which is not something I do very often).
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