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Book Review: Life in Rewind: The Story of a Young, Courageous Man Who Persevered Over OCD by Terry Weible Murphy

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Being locked in a small space one cannot get out of is probably number one on most people’s worst nightmare list. I imagine that it is not so much the small space that causes this fear. Rather, it is the mental anguish of knowing one cannot get out and will eventually have to face death in there — alone. How long will it take? What will happen to my mind? Will I lose it and become insane?

Life in Rewind: The Story of a Young, Courageous Man who Persevered Over OCD and the Harvard Doctor who Broke All the Rules to Help Him is a horrific yet hopeful tale of twenty-four-year-old Ed Zine who has progressively uncoupled from reality into his bizarre world of OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder). The fanatical commands within Ed’s brain are so urgent that he cannot perform even the simplest act such as washing his hands without first completing a host of unreasonably repetitious rituals. But Ed is intelligent. He is not insane; Ed’s will power, possibly due to lack of serotonin, is practically non-existent.

As an eleven-year-old, Ed loved his mother more than any earthly being. He was fond of his father but in a very distant way, because the man was unreasonably harsh when meting out physical punishment. After being beaten by his father one night, Ed sulked off to the safety of his room and tried to sleep. He heard loud groans coming from his mother’s room down the hall. Ed’s beloved mother lay dying of cancer. Creeping in the shadows to stand by her door, he saw and heard her “hiss” out her last breath. Fearing his father, the eleven-year-old went back to his room — in silence.

In Life in Rewind, Ed grows terrified of death. It will never claim him. No, not like it claimed his dearest mother. He would rewind life; one week, one day, one hour, one second at a time. Life in Rewind shows how Ed’s resistance to time progression literally brought his life to a complete halt. Caught in the grip of minor OCD rituals left him spiraling downward into a chaotic mental abyss. He became a prisoner in his own basement where for every active forward step he would ritualistically reverse himself. Bathing became impossible; eating became impossible; even normal toileting stopped because all those actions involved time passage, and that progression ended in death.

Psychiatrist Michael Jenike was no ordinary doctor. He made house calls. Jenike was a huge man who could stand most any condition. He had worked with many OCD patients, but nothing—nothing he had ever witnessed—prepared him for Ed’s basement prison where stench and filth sickened him—mounds of urine, body waste, and rotting food stored in plastic bags. Jenike began visiting Ed regularly trying cognitive behavioral therapy techniques to get Ed “unstuck” from his basement prison. One can only imagine working near someone who had not bathed, or shaved for countless months.

So severe was Ed’s deteriorating condition, that after months of therapy, Jenike could hardly consider getting Ed to mount the basement stairs to the first floor from his reeking dungeon any real success. One can only imagine the mental warfare taking place inside Ed’s mind as, little by little, he climbed the stairway backward one step — then forward — then backward — then forward innumerable times. All the while Ed kept his fingers knurled outward so they could not touch one another.

Walking backward stopped forward movement in time. Not letting fingers touch one another was merely a ritual, like the unending counting and redoing of each and every step, to keep Ed’s mind in a vicious loop — a time warp nightmare. Dr. Jenike waited, all the while encouraging his friend to keep moving — just keep moving and you can make it up here to the top.

Ed made it to the first floor. But seeing his frail sick friend standing concrete-like at the top of the stairs after hours of encouragement caused Dr. Jenike to burst into tears. Ed Zine also began to cry. When their tears ended, both men exploded into laughter. Both men knew the ridiculousness of the situation but only Ed knew he could not release his mind and end his compulsive torment to ward of death.

As terrible as this story sounds, this book is a must read for any person interested in the resiliency of the human spirit. Surely, Life in Rewind will make you uncomfortable. You want to end the madness taking place in Ed’s mind. After this incident, Dr. Jenike stopped seeing Ed. Above when he broke down and cried, he cried in utter hopelessness to help Ed. Yes, they kept in contact thereafter by phone, but some very extraordinary events began which changed Ed’s life forever.

It is for you the reader to find out exactly what happened to Ed, racked with mental torture. All of us want people who are suffering mentally to somehow be reached — somehow regain control of the neural firings and chemistry that has fractured their thinking and ruined their lives. Life in Rewind will surely paint an ugly but hope-filled picture that will make you a better person — if for no other reason, for your attempt to understand.

For certain, if you are a person afflicted with any — any obsessive compulsive behaviors or feelings, this book is for you. Please, please read it. What Ed Zine accomplishes on his own is nothing short of miraculous.

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