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Monk and What About Bob?

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Sadly, I have a job. I say sadly because it’s a dull job. Of course, it’s better than no job. But all things considered, I would rather still get the money and sit at home all day.

My job involves producing guides to healthcare. Often, we have to find case studies for our guides. One afternoon, we were looking for a case study of someone with mental health problems.

My colleague, cheerily, volunteered. “I have mental health problems!” she exclaimed. “Really,” I said, sceptically. “What problem do you have?” “COD,” she replied. “Hmmm… yes,” I said, “I think you mean OCD – Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Do you also have dyslexia?”

The ironic thing is that, unbeknown to my colleagues, I actually do have OCD. And anxiety. And panic attacks. In fact, I have pretty much any anxiety problem going. Oh, wait, with the exception of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. But I think, with a little work, I could develop that – not least since my psychiatrist reminded me I had once been in a building that collapsed.

Be clear: anxiety is a very annoying thing to have. So’s OCD. It means that lots of simple things become a big deal. And although, deep down, you know that you’re being stupid, it’s difficult to laugh at the situation.

Thank God, then, for What About Bob? and Monk.

I first saw What About Bob? ten years ago. In a nifty piece of scheduling that no TV network here in the UK has managed to repeat since, the film was on when I was very nervous – the night before I received some important exam results.

The film tells the story of Bob Wiley – played by Bill Murray, here in his goofy comic persona rather than the more serious persona seen in Groundhog Day and Lost in Translation) – a multi-phobic, OCDish, anxious kind of a guy. Coping with day-to-day life is proving virtually impossible, and previous psychiatrists – and his wife – have deserted him.

He gets referred to Dr Leo Marvin (played by Richard Dreyfuss in one of the 50% of his roles in which he manages not to annoy me), a man more tied up with his new book than with helping patients. He’s also a man about to go on holiday – an idea unthinkable to our buddy Bob, who needs constant support to avoid the mental health minefields that confront him at every turn.

So Bob tracks down the good doctor and his family. And while Bob might not be able to touch objects, he can touch people, and soon becomes a part of the family. He touches us too, and we sympathise – and laugh – with him, not at him.

The film also offers amusement from more subtle sources – namely, the satire of the psychiatric “industry.” Dr Marvin, frankly, has misplaced priorities. His preliminary interview with Bob is acutely accurate – complete with the silences in which you’re never quite sure if you’re meant to be speaking. He fails to understand how much hope Bob has placed in him and his treatment.

A more recent take on the OCD-sufferer-as-central character theme is the inspired USA Network series Monk. The small cable show has grown in stature and popularity – thanks in part to ABC’s shrewd decision to replay it to a wider audience, and to several well-deserved awards for its star.

Tony Shaloub plays Adrian Monk. Adrian was a detective, but was forced to leave the force after his wife was murdered, and he developed acute anxiety. He now acts as a consultant, providing insight into cases that simply cannot be provided by anyone else. Unlike Bob, Monk is forced to function, and to function in situations which are often acutely uncomfortable for him – crime scenes.

He is aided by his nurse Sharona (Bitty Schram, in a role for which she should get much more credit) who’s always there to hand over the anti-bacterial handwipes. The relationship between the two is central to the appeal of the series. In fact, we watch more for that, and to see how Monk is doing, than we do for the rather obvious crimes.

Shaloub spoke with many clinical psychologists prior to undertaking the role, but I suspect that the writers did too – or have personal experience of OCD. The lines and situations are so realistic as to be nothing short of hilarious – especially to a sufferer.

Monk: He’s in Zurich, isn’t he? At the Breinhoff Clinic?
Monica: How did you know that?
Monk: It’s the best hospital in the world for psychological disorders. I’d be there myself. . . but I don’t fly.

If laughter is the best medicine, then Bob Wiley and Adrian Monk might just cure me. If only I could focus on the story instead of where I put my antibacterial hand gel…

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