An Obsessive Compulsive's 'Life In Rewind'

Cover detail of "Life in Rewind"

Because of his severe obsessive compulsive disorder, it took Ed Zine 16,384 precise movements to get from his bed to the bathroom.

Neal Conan talks with Zine and Dr. Michael Jenike, the psychiatrist who helped Zine find a way to overcome OCD and unlock his life. Their new book with author Terry Weible Murphy is called Life in Rewind.

Jenike is a psychiatry professor at Harvard Medical School and the founder of the OCD Institute at McLean Hospital at Massachusetts General Hospital.

Excerpt: 'Life In Rewind'

Edward E. Zine

hide captionEd Zine's OCD was so severe that he became unable to bathe himself for two years.

Mayada Zine
Dr. Michael Jenike

hide captionDr. Michael Jenike had to drive from Boston to Falmouth, about 75 miles south, to visit Zine because he knew Zine was far too sick to leave his house.

Carla Kenney

The piece of lint has been missing for nearly a week. Before its sudden disappearance, it lay coupled with the wilted brown leaf on the basement floor near the back door. Its absence is devastating.

Finally, at the end of a long, tedious search, the particle of fluff is discovered, attached to the delicate hind leg of a cricket that has found its way indoors during the rainy season. The exorcism of lint is done with great care, leaving the cricket unharmed. But reconstructing the comfortable universe where the piece of lint once existed with the brittle leaf takes many anguish-filled hours to complete.

Michael Jenike knows nothing of this as he dribbles the basketball and pushes through the sweaty bodies of the other players barreling toward him, their rubber soles screeching against the gym floor as he defends his turf. The tired but enthusiastic grunts of grown men meld with the pounding rhythm of the ball slamming against their hands, and briefly, they are able to recapture the carefree satisfaction that belonged to them on the basketball courts of their youth.

After the game, adrenaline still pumping, Michael drops his gym bag into the back of his new BMW Z3, slides his 6-foot-2-inch frame behind the wheel, cranks up some country music, and pushes the speed limit down Route 3 toward Cape Cod where, on this Spring day in 1996, his life will intersect with a seemingly impenetrable boundary, and he will be forced to confront pieces of his own painful past.

At the same time, the young man who meticulously extracted the piece of lint from the leg of the cricket sits in the basement of a modest raised ranch house, in a wooded, middle-class neighborhood on the coast of Cape Cod, Massachusetts. He can't get out, and he refuses to let anyone in. The seasons have changed, school children who board the bus outside his door have been promoted from one grade to the next, and each day, strangers pass by without giving a moment's thought to what's happening behind the closed door at the bottom of the thirteen steps on the side of the quiet house.

Isolated from friends who think he's away at college, he sits on the end of his bed, rocking back and forth, helplessly performing repetitive rituals of forwards and backwards counting, all multiples of even numbers that stretch well into the tens of thousands. The cable television guide that rolls on the screen in front of him is his only gauge for the time that passes, as he sits with his hands outstretched from his body, fingers spread, locked into position like the claws of an eagle, while his mind rages with the repetitive pounding of a terrible equation that will not let him go.

Time equals Progression, Progression equals Death. This is the mantra that keeps twenty-four year old Ed Zine living on the end of a mental tether with invisible tentacles attached to every muscle, thought, and spoken word. This tether is his safety net, rewinding and erasing every action that would otherwise propel him forward in time. When the rewind is complete, he is given momentary relief from the anxiety of the equation with which he is so preoccupied.

Ed's obsession is logic gone completely awry. While it's true that the timeline of our lives follows this sequence of Time equals Progression, Progression equals Death, few of us ever scrutinize each moment and each movement as a path to our certain end. Surely, such torture would drive us mad. For Ed, who suffers from severe obsessive compulsive disorder, the perpetual rewinding is a ritual; more aptly, a series of rituals within rituals, which temporarily relieves the madness his intrusive thoughts create. Assaulted by this logical, but paralyzing notion, his illogical mind creates a battle that rages within him every second of every day.

Early in the day, Ed began moving from the end of his bed toward the basement door in anticipation of Michael Jenike's arrival. It is a daunting task that takes him nearly seven hours to complete, and all the while he wonders if this is the one person who will release him from this personal hell.

Dr. Michael Jenike is a professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, and one of the world's leading experts in the research and treatment of obsessive compulsive disorder. He describes OCD as a disorder of "pure suffering," and brings to its treatment not only an extraordinary scientific mind, but a profound depth of compassion for his patients. The message from his secretary is simple: A young man is stuck in his basement and needs help. She knows that Michael's already busy schedule doesn't really allow him to take a full day to see a new patient, but she also knows that nothing she says will stop him from going. Someone is trapped, and that's really all Michael needs to know as he pushes his own life-clock forward, driving almost three hours to meet his new patient.

After brief introduction to the Zine family, gathered on the front lawn to greet him, amazed that he has come all this way to respond to their call for help — Michael walks slowly up the driveway along the washed out gray privacy fence as tentatively as he might test the ice of a newly frozen pond. He cannot see his new patient standing inside the basement at the bottom of the steps, but he does hear the instructions being issued through a small six-inch opening in the door. Ed will not allow Michael into the basement, nor will he allow him to walk into the 20-foot perimeter outside the basement door, which he describes as his "OCD Holy Ground." Before Michael can even breech that perimeter, he is asked to stop.

Excerpted from Life in Rewind by Terry Weible Murphy, Edward E. Zine and Michael A. Jenike. Reprinted by permission of the publisher William Morrow, an imprint of HarperCollins.

Books Featured In This Story

Life in Rewind
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

by Terry Weible Murphy, Edward E. Zine and Michael A. Jenike

Hardcover, 242 pages | purchase

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Purchase Featured Books

  • 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
  • Terry Weible Murphy, Edward E. Zine, et al

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