- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 2, 2009

First of two parts

In 1992, Ed Zine was a young, handsome athlete with a good throwing arm and a desire to take a spot on a college football team.

A few years later, he retreated to the basement of his father’s house, driven by his obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) to count, check, hoard and rewind.

Mr. Zine believed that to stop death or harm from coming to his loved ones, he had to stop time from passing. To do that, he had to track everything in his world and keep things exactly as they should be, morning, noon and night.

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People who care about someone with OCD will be fascinated by Mr. Zine’s tale, which is recounted in the new book, “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.”

People who are unfamiliar with this often-disabling anxiety disorder will learn a lot, too.

“The madness of OCD is that while the irrational mind is operating, its victim is able to observe and recognize this behavior,” said author Terry Weible Murphy, who wrote the book with Mr. Zine and his psychiatrist, Michael Jenike.

Thus, people with OCD know their behavior has no logical basis, but “without treatment, they are unable to stop it,” added Ms. Murphy, whose son was diagnosed with OCD at age 17.

In Mr. Zine’s mind, for instance, stopping time meant every action had to be done (or redone) until it was perfect.

For example, if a step was taken correctly, that was fine. If, however, while taking the step, some fingers accidentally touched each other, the mistake had to be fixed. This meant stepping backward, counting by even numbers to 16,384 and back again while touching and untouching the fingers, and then stepping forward again.

With these kinds of rituals, it could take Mr. Zine seven hours to walk from his bed to a door 15 feet away.

During his three years in the basement, Mr. Zine rarely bathed or brushed his teeth. His long hair grew matted. He rarely changed clothes. The basement became filled with items that were “place keepers” in time, so nothing could be moved or cleaned. His OCD-related rules concerning food and waste created a ghastly environment.

And yet Mr. Zine’s story shows that even in such extreme cases, there is hope.

OCD is a disorder of “pure suffering,” said Dr. Jenike, a professor at Harvard Medical School and founder and director of the Massachusetts General Hospital Obsessive Compulsive Disorders Institute at McLean Hospital.

As many as 7 million people struggle with OCD, he told me. It often appears between ages 18 and 22, but it can emerge as early as age 2 or as late as age 35. Men exhibit OCD symptoms earlier than women, but over time, the disorder strikes as many women as men. It is considered manageable, not curable.

OCD has many forms, including perfectionism, hoarding and “scrupulosity,” a condition in which the person performs endless rituals in an attempt to please God or avoid damnation.

OCD in children may first be noticed in school, said psychologist Eric Storch, who teaches at the University of Southern Florida and is a scientific adviser to the Obsessive Compulsive Foundation.

Rereading and rewriting can be big issues, he said. For instance, he knows a young man who is “a straight-A student” but struggles to take tests. “He can’t write things down perfectly so he keeps erasing until he finally gives up,” Mr. Storch said.

Other children avoid school because the textbooks are all contaminated or they can’t use the toilets or they have hard-to-hide rituals that must be done during the day, he said.

It’s easy to fall into despair when a loved one exhibits OCD. That’s why Mr. Zine’s story is worth hearing. After all, once he got out of the basement, a new life, loving wife, two children and good job were waiting for him.

Next week: Flipping the OCD script.

Cheryl Wetzstein can be reached at cwetzstein@washingtontimes.com.