OCD Obsessive Thoughts: One Small Thought Multiplies and Overtakes Reason in OCD

An encounter with a young woman that “…culminated in a bit of physical intimacy ending somewhere short of intercourse…” took place when David Adam was a college freshman. The experience planted a seed of worry that he could have contracted AIDS. That seed grew into an obsession that finally drove Adam to confront his struggle with obsessive compulsive disorder 20 years later, when he was with his daughter and “…felt compelled to lift her into and out of a swing 11 times to test whether she might have picked up a spot of infected blood from the playground…”

Adam reveals the inner workings of a mind, and a life, in the grip of OCD in his book, The Man Who Couldn’t Stop, reviewed by the New York Times in January 2015.

For those who think reason might erase the overwhelming power of OCD, consider that Adam is a writer for the science journal Nature who understood the irrationality of his obsessive thinking, but was still unable to eject OCD from his life with his own rational efforts.

Case studies of others consumed by OCD are part of Adam’s research. A review of The Man Who Couldn’t Stop by the British newspaper The Guardian points out that Adam discovered “…electricity pioneer Nikola Tesla's obsession with the number three. Tesla felt safe only in the company of pigeons because of his fear of humans and their germs. Then there is Hans Christian Andersen, so petrified of being buried alive that he had to leave a note by his bed pointing out that he was asleep, not a corpse.”

What finally turned the tide of OCD for Adam was a combination of treatment elements, including antidepressant medication, group therapy and cognitive behavioral therapy. Although his symptoms were not completely eliminated, they were reduced. Even so, The Guardian review points out Adam’s perspective, included in his book, on this complex illness: “Only a fool or a liar will tell you how the brain works.”


Stossel, Scott, “David Adam’s The Man Who Couldn’t Stop,” New York Times Sunday Book Review, Jan. 30, 2015.

Haig, Matt, The Man Who Couldn’t Stop review, The Guardian, April 20, 2014.

Gilbert, Aaron, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder Characteristics and Treatment, Boston Evening Therapy blog

Gilbert, Aaron and Michael Foran, BETA's video interview on Confronting the Obsessive Thoughts of OCD with the Aid of Therapy