Sunday 10 April 2022

Book Review: Is Fred in the Refrigerator?: Taming OCD and Reclaiming My Life

Book Review: Is Fred in the Refrigerator?: Taming OCD and Reclaiming My Life

Review by Casey Douglass

Is Fred in the Refrigerator?: Taming OCD and Reclaiming My Life Cover

When I scroll down my word-processing document, the one in which I’m writing this review, the application hangs as I get to the part where I copy-pasted some details about Is Fred in the Refrigerator?: Taming OCD and Reclaiming My Life. It most often does this when I’ve accidentally pasted something that is trying to access the internet, usually an embedded picture. In this instance, all that I can see is stuff from the Amazon store page, the ISBN number, prices, and the blurb. No pictures. Is there a hidden element that the removing of all formatting didn’t reveal? Should I close and reopen the document? No, because this is exactly what feeds my Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), this need to strive for the certainty that things are “okay”. Instead, it just gave me a pretty great introduction paragraph for my review of a book about someone who knows the struggle of OCD all too well.

Shala Nicely is a counsellor and therapist who specializes in the treatment of OCD. Shala is well acquainted with the twisted ways in which OCD can warp someone’s life, as it has been her companion for nearly all of hers. From a very young age, after a particularly trying and nasty accident, a young Shala started experiencing intrusive thoughts and images that depicted her parents being decapitated by a guillotine. She worried that these thoughts meant something was wrong with her, that she was a bad person for having them, that she needed to “make them right”. Whenever the intrusive thought occurred, young Shala forced herself to replay the mental grisly scene again, but this time, she had to change what happened, saving her parents and protecting them in the arena of her mind. This had to be done every night. Over time, Shala felt that she had to pray to “tame the ever-morphing monster in my head”. This saw her attempts to fend off the upsetting images evolve into praying to God in a very particular way. The words and names had to be said in the correct order, and they had to “feel right”. If things didn’t feel right, she repeated the prayer until it did, which often involved landing in repetitions that ended in multiples of four, sometimes saying them as much as sixteen times before things felt okay.

Everyone has strange, violent, or sickening, scary thoughts. Everyone. Our brains are like pop-corn makers where every now and then, a piece of corn pops so high that it escapes and bounces onto the floor. When it was amongst all the others, it was unremarkable. Now, that piece grabs our attention, and if you have OCD or are just in a stressed, tired and depleted state, you begin to worry about it, which increases the likelihood that you’d react in the same way if it happens again. We become concerned, afraid, obsessed... and whatever uncertainty resides in the situation fuels it and raises the stakes even more. We might find an action to take that reduces the uncertainty, such as checking, reassurance seeking or something else, and when you’ve carried that action out, you may even feel some relief. Sadly, this is the compulsion part of OCD, and just reinforces the whole cycle of struggling. I fell into this cycle when I was ten years old, and had the (dis)pleasure of my OCD changing theme and morphing many times over the years. I know now that the theme isn’t important however, it’s just the gremlin that is OCD, attacking the things that I care about most.

I deliberately called OCD a gremlin, as that is one of the things Shala does so well in the book: she personifies her OCD. Initially, it is a monster whose name she doesn’t know. As she learns more about it, particularly when she starts to receive effective therapy, she gives her OCD form, seeing it as acting like a small child having a tantrum. When her OCD wasn’t worried, she “imagined it to be quietly knitting, miniature needles clicking away.” When it was acting up, she envisioned it as “a pathetic little creature waddling along behind me, whining about all the things that would kill us, dragging the tissue it used to wipe its runny nose.” This also leads to some funny moments, particularly when she is doing Exposure and Response therapy to expose to her anxiety. In one instance, she separated a sandwich into its individual components and laid them on the bathroom floor of her hotel room. She then remade the sandwich and ate it, causing her to be at a solid 10/10 in anxiety, but also so happy that she’d stood her ground: “I also felt joyous, as my OCD stood up and staggered, its eyes rolling into the back of its head, and passed out on the floor.”

Shala writes so very well, using different flashbacks and events to set the scene, describing the environment in a vivid way (OCD sufferers are Olympic level “noticers” after all) and never flinching from revealing things that would be hard for anyone to reveal. The honesty Shala embraced, for a therapist to reveal the new ways that her OCD infiltrated her own life while she was treating others, is amazing. She didn’t bow down to her OCD’s dire warnings of “People won’t want to be treated by you when they find out what you’re really like!” or the discomfort of carrying on anyway. I can’t speak for anyone else but I’d happily have Shala as my therapist! It’s just classic OCD, the way that it focusses on things that are important to you or that you are most afraid of. If you had a pencil that meant the world to you, and you also had OCD, your mind would find a way to worry about that pencil, about what might happen to it, how you’d cope if it was lost, stolen or broken, and what it means about you that you are so concerned. That’s how OCD operates. The ultimate propagandist. On the other hand, I can fully imagine someone with a the fear of winning the lottery. Maybe they heard about it rarely making people happy and decided they were happy enough as it is? Who knows! So they don’t buy a ticket. But then their mind says “What if you bought a ticket and didn’t realise it, and you’ve won, and there's a knock on the door one day by someone bearing an oversized cheque?” Now they feel that they have to start checking their pockets to be certain that they didn’t buy one. Then their mind says “What if someone buys you a ticket as a present? You’d better tell everyone you don’t want that... but don’t be too obvious about it, you don’t want them to think you’re weird!”... and down and down into the OCD spiral they go.

This isn’t a self-help treatment book, although Shala has co-written one of those too called: Everyday Mindfulness for OCD: Tips, Tricks & Skills for Living Joyfully, but a book in which you can see someone’s struggles laid bare. You can read about how Shala journeyed through the fear of wondering what was happening to her, the many failed attempts to deal with things and find the appropriate therapy. You’ll also see the friends and the other people that she talked to, and how she found a way to navigate her life and to bring what she’s learned to people who are also struggling. I read Is Fred in the Refrigerator? while in a severe period during which my own OCD was getting me down and for me, it was the ideal kind of book for that situation. As seems quite typical for a self-pressuring anxious person, I’ve read most of the “go to” books that get mentioned when it comes to OCD: Brain Lock, The Imp of The Mind, books about Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, CBT, and Exposure and Response Prevention etc. Sometimes however, you just need to see someone else going through the same stuff and coming out on the other side, even if the other side is still often a struggle.

If you struggle with OCD to any degree, I think you’ll find some welcome comfort and companionship in Shala’s book. If you have never felt the touch of OCD and would like to understand it more, in a quite visceral way, I think that this is also the book for you.

Visit Shala at her website and check out
Is Fred in the Refrigerator? at this link.

Book Title: Is Fred in the Refrigerator?: Taming OCD and Reclaiming My Life

Book Author: Shala Nicely

Publisher: Nicely Done, LLC

Released: May 2018

ISBN: 978-1732177000

Current Price: $14.55 / £11.82 (Paperback). $9.40 / £7.17 (Kindle).