Jeff Bell's first book, "Rewind, Replay, Repeat: A Memoir of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder," described his life as a high-functioning sufferer of "real" OCD. That is, a sometimes crippling blanket of self-doubt and re-checking as opposed to someone who says "my silverware drawer has to be so organized, I'm OCD tee hee!" The response to his memoir was generally positive and, as a result, he's come back with a second book that focuses on the specifics of his coping mechanisms and the lessons that even us non-OCD sufferers can take away. "When In Doubt, Make Belief" is sub-titled "An OCD-Inspired Approach to Living With Uncertainty" and "Field-Tested (and Re-Tested and Re-Re-Tested) Strategies for Confronting Fear and Worry", and the book does exactly what it purports to do. Setting aside some of the outlier behaviors that OCD causes for him, Bell illustrates that many of his most common torments are severe exaggerations of the difficulties faced by you and me today and, thus, how his solutions can guide your own.
Of all the lessons to take to heart from this book, the core can be summed up as learning to have the courage to doubt and proceed. Bell describes his tendency for devolving so many situations into a series of negative conclusions from seemingly-neutral questions. I cannot see my stove, so it could be on. I remember turning it off, but that could be an old memory. I should go check... turn the car around. Well now, wait a second. I have a green light, but what if someone at the intersection runs the red; I could die! Best to idle here. (When will it ever be safe to cross under these conditions, you ask? Exactly.) His answer for himself is to embrace belief, which in his view is the opposite of doubt. Make no mistake, he tries to force himself to create belief (see the title of the book), which is no mean feat. Fortunately for the reader, Bell has taken great pains to break his methods down to four fundamental ideas: reverence, resolve, investment, and surrender. From these, he derives ten very practical pieces of advice that one can apply consciously; advice like "choose to see the universe as friendly" and "claim and exercise our freedom to choose." A large portion of the book is an exploration of his 10 strategies and how he has fought to employ them in his own life.
I found the book to be very readable and engaging - not being familiar with his first book, I also found the look into his life illuminating, something that may not be as true for those coming back to his work for a second time. His guidance for implementing his strategies is specific and repeatable, and by sharing not just his successes but his continuing struggle with many of his symptoms he provides an empathetic path that doesn't challenge the reader with perfection (this strikes me as particularly valuable for a book aimed at mitigating self-doubt). I highly recommend "When in Doubt, Make Belief" for anyone who feels that they can be their own worst enemy.
~review by John Casker
Author: Jeff Bell
New World Library, 2009
pp. 203, $14.95