30 September 2009

Fly fishing for sharks

A book about a man's life with obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Most of us have obsessive-compulsive moments (you know you’ve patted your pocket six times at the airport to check you didn’t leave your passport at home), and we all have "what if" irrational thoughts occasionally. We control these mad thoughts. But what happens when those thoughts control you? To find out, read Andrew Alexander’s Fly fishing for Sharks.

Fly fishing for Sharks is a memoir of life with OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder). "Far from being a misery memoir,’’ writes Jonathan Ancer (Cape Times). "It’s a profoundly moving account of Andrew’s life with OCD and in between there’s a smattering of psychology, a dash of philosophy, heaps of rage, dollops of humour, but most of all – there’s raw honesty. Fly Fishing for Sharks is a triumph."

Jane Raphaely is similarly enthusiastic. For her, Andrew’s memoir is "an extraordinary book" which reminded her of Jean-Dominique Bauby’s Diving Bell and the Butterfly. "Alternately funny and scathing, without a scrap of self-pity, Andrew Alexander takes us inside the hell of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and describes his personal experience with the disease, the doctors who don’t understand it and the few who do."

One of the doctors who does understand is Dan Stein, Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Cape Town. "You write very well indeed. You have something very valuable to say. I always look at patient memoirs to see how clinicians come across – I am sorry to learn that you did not always get good treatment. I always look at patient memoirs to see whether I agree with the lessons learned - I am glad for the good advice you offer at the end of the book."

The literary value of the book is commented on by Dr Margot Beard, lecturer in the English Department at Rhodes University. "You have a great gift for writing - it appears effortless ('appears' being the crucial word - what Byron called 'sprezzatura' - he coined an Italian word for he felt the English just didn't know or display the quality the word connoted - the concealment of hard work to produce something which appears effortless) and I was both compelled to read on and delighted by your sharpness of perception, your sense of humour and self-depracatory tendency to send yourself up which is a very attractive quality in a writer."

Not a niche read
"Some people thought this would be a niche read," comments the author. "But it has appealed to the widest spectrum of people. Here is just a sample of the emails I have received:
I found it riveting, very well written and very educative. I cannot but think that many others will learn similar lessons about those around them, and themselves, and appreciate better the diversity of humanity and the stresses under which we operate.

I picked it up and couldn’t put it down; all this OCD was new to me but I could see myself in some of it; that outside room, counting tiles, even bricks … and you’re funny.

It's beautifully written. I actually read the PS first - a brilliant idea to include it and I am sure so reassuring for other mothers all over the world - and in some ways so special to have two such insightful perspectives included in one book.

I have read case studies by professionals, but this was written in such an accessible way.

I finished your book yesterday and chuckled at your musing on the therapeutic powers of Table Mountain. I learned 100% more about OCD than I knew before, so from an educational perspective it makes for an excellent read. But of course it is your wonderful ability to express your basic humanity and your ense of humour that make it such a special memoir. I am so very glad that it fell into our hands.

About the author
Andrew was born in Cape Town, South Africa in 1976 but grew up in Zimbabwe to which his parents emigrated after independence in 1980. He was a promising scholar, a reasonable athlete and a well-adjusted young adult until OCD's insidious onset started to affect his functionality and eventually rendered him almost completely housebound. From diagnosis in 1995 after the illness forced his withdrawal from university in Cape Town, through major depression, suicide attempts, psychiatric hospitals and electro-convulsive therapy, OCD has led Andrew on a path that he would never have chosen.

At the lowest point in his life, with 10 stitches in each wrist, Andrew had nothing left but a story to tell – a story that helped him salvage something from his lost years and which he hopes will help other OCD sufferers by, if nothing else, offering the solace that comes from knowing that others like you are out there. Andrew now lives in Cape Town, two minutes walk from the same beach on which he took his first steps sometime in 1977.

The book is available at Exclusive Books, Wordsworths, Kalahari and Amazon.

(September 2009)


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