Cynthia Dyer-Bennet (cdb) Mon 5 Mar 07 17:04
Our next guest, Jeff Bell, is the author of "Rewind, Repeat, Replay," a personal memoir of his struggles with obsessive compulsive disorder. Jeff is a longtime veteran of radio and television news. He currently co-anchors afternoon drive at KCBS-AM, the CBS Network's San Francisco flagship and one of the most successful all-news radio stations in America. Prior to joining KCBS, Bell spent eight years hosting drive-time news programs at KFBK in Sacramento. On the television side, Bell spent several years as a writer for KTVU-TV's Mornings on Two, a ground-breaking and hugely successful Bay Area news program. Joining Jeff is Angie Coiro. Angie is an award-winning radio journalist and interviewer whose subjects have included Mike Wallace, Richard Clarke, and Martin Short. Salman Rushdie provided two of Angie's career high-points: first, her radio interview with him won the national Public Radio News Directors accolade as the best on local public radio that year. Second - and perhaps more notably -- he briefly pogo-danced in her studio following the broadcast. Welcome, Jeff and Angie. Glad to have you here, I'm looking forward to this conversation!
Angie (coiro) Mon 5 Mar 07 18:24
Thanks, Cynthia! Jeff, how wonderful to be together with you again, even if only via keyboard. Welcome to the Well. Jeff I first met each other when we worked together at Metro Traffic in San Francisco, many moons back. That voice! There are many advantages to this print-only, asynchronous interview format. One of the downsides is, you don't hear the voice of Jeff Bell that I first heard over a decade ago, and that all of San Francisco now enjoys on KCBS. In this business especially, we're judged by our voices. Jeff's is calm, warm, smart, avuncular. Modest but authoritative, reassuring and humorous. Nowhere in that voice over these many years, Jeff, have I heard a hint of the despair and insanity you so baldy hang out for all of us to see in "Rewind, Repeat, Replay". I never, never would have guessed at the painful and terrifying ride you were taking all through the 90s with obsessive compulsive disorder. And frankly - you had the choice to leave it that way, for me and for all your listeners. Surely it would have been easier to - as so many people in the public eye do - thank your stars that your public image was immaculate and intact, and keep quiet. Surely, I began thinking to myself before I was even through the second chapter, the cost of keeping quiet must have outweighed the cost of speaking out. So let's start there: what would it have cost you to NOT write this memoir?
Jeff Bell (jbellnews) Tue 6 Mar 07 01:05
Hmmmm. What a great starting question, Angie! It's one I, myself, have pondered many times over the years. Before I take a stab at answering it, allow me to take just a moment to thank you, Cynthia, David, and all the folks at The WELL for inviting me to join this Inkwell conversation. I'm honored. And I'm thrilled to have this opportunity to share the story behind my story. So, then... the cost of keeping quiet? I suppose the simplest answer would be: exhaustion. I spent the better part of a decade not only keeping quiet about my battles with OCD, but also going to incredible lengths to cover my tracks, lest anyone discover my deep, dark secret. I hid, I lied, I made excuse after excuse for my "quirky" behavior, and I got away with it, again and again. Not even my closest friends had any idea of what I was going through. I couldn't risk getting caught. So I parked my car blocks from therapists' offices, and snaked through alleys to avoid being seen. And I spent thousands of dollars out of my own pocket to avoid leaving a health care paper trail. If someone had tried to tell me back in the early 90s that I'd someday share my story with anyone caring to pick up a book, I'd have laughed out loud. Heck, it's a shame no one did hit me with that; I could have used a good laugh during those especially dark days. Shame and fear are powerful motivators, and they kept me quiet until they wore me out. Exhaustion is, well, ugly. But sometimes it can also lead to some good. For me, it led to what I've come to see as the single most pivotal moment in my life--the moment I committed to spend a full year logging (on 3 x 5 cards) my every obsession and compulsion and recovery triumph and setback. Just what I was going to do with these index cards I hadn't a clue. But I knew I needed to start being honest, if only with myself, about who and what I'd become. And I knew that if anything was ever going to give meaning to all the years I'd lost to my disorder, it was going to be these cards. I wanted--needed, really--to find that meaning, so I kept burning through index cards, hundreds and hundreds of them (neatly stacked and organized, as you'd expect from an obsessive-compulsive, by the way). For exactly one year, I documented everything. And then for another full year, I strung together my index cards into the form of a manuscript. And then for seven more years I edited and fine-tuned and checked and rechecked and re-rechecked every word. (More on that later.) Now, suddenly it's 2007 and my book is in print, and I can't fathom keeping quiet anymore. There's too much that needs to be said, not just about OCD and my own personal battles, but also about mental illness, in general, and the debilitating stigma that surrounds the whole issue to this day, exhausting and consuming so many sufferers. I'm ready to talk... and keep talking as long as anyone cares to listen. So... let's dive in!
Angie (coiro) Tue 6 Mar 07 10:25
You got it. Into the meat of the book ASAP, but allow me two more questions to set the scene first: Undoubtedly, some people will pick up your book based on your name and public image. "Oh, Jeff Bell, KCBS, of course." Radio sets up a peculiar version of intimacy between the listener and the air talent. The listener over time can stretch a whole perceived personality over the thin bones of what they hear on the station - attributing qualities, opinions, even solid physical attributes to this person behind the mic. Sometimes they're bang on, picking up on things about you you don't even grasp yourself. Sometimes they couldn't be more off the mark. Over the course of your illness and recovery, the specter of the listener pops in and out of your story. I see in the book first your battle to keep the cool, together, in-control construct of "Jeff Bell, KCBS" intact, while your own life was a disaster. Then your bated-breath decisions to open up to one person after another whose radio-based image of you could crash to the ground. Can you detail your own experience of that? Both as a guy with a capital-S "Secret" to hide, and the more universal dynamic of the whole-person air talent meeting the listener with the pre-conceived notions? And the second scene-setting point in the next post ...
Angie (coiro) Tue 6 Mar 07 10:41
You could stop most people on the street now and ask, "What's OCD?", and the chances are decent they've at least heard of obsessive-compulsive disorder. Not the case when your symptoms first started surfacing. With the caveat that you are NOT presenting yourself as an expert on the syndrome itself, but only on your own experience with it - can we get a quick, lay person's rundown on where OCD research was as you were discovering it in your own life? You're well educated, well read, but hadn't heard of it when your symptoms started manifesting in your adult life. Where was the research at that point? Was it an established diagnosis? And for those reading along who may not be familiar, let's lay out what OCD is, and isn't. Most of us could confess to some tiny ritual of reassurance. I'll come clean: after coming home one day to find I'd left a gas burner on in my apartment, I got into the habit of touching each control switch before leaving for the day, noting each aloud: "Off, off, off, off, OFF!", so I could get in the car with that verbal reassurance I wouldn't come home to burnt-out crater in the ground. OCD goes waaaaaaaaaay past that - how so?
Angie (coiro) Tue 6 Mar 07 11:06
Speaking of Jeff's listeners - and anyone else who might be reading along from outside the Well - your questions and comments are welcome at any time. Send them along via <email@example.com> to have them added to this conversation. Jeff's book centers on his own experience, and we'll steer clear of any requests for advice on personal situations that would be better handled by a professional. Aside from that, the, uh, phone lines are open!
Jeff Bell (jbellnews) Wed 7 Mar 07 05:07
How right you are, Angie, about the unique relationship between radio "personalities" and listeners. It's a relationship based on preconceptions and assumptions, really, and yet, as you point out, there is also a genuine intimacy to the whole thing. Throughout my career, I've always tried to "picture" the people I'm talking to (a mother driving her kids home from school, a guy shaving in the morning, etc.), and I know listners have their own images of me, as well. If there's one comment all of us in radio hear again and again, it's this: "Oh, you don't look a thing like I'd always pictured you..." (Angie, am I right?!!) Thing is, through the magic of radio, the image I have of a listener and the image he/she has of me "get to know" one another over the course of our daily time together. Now then, here's the twist in my own story: I too have always held an image of "Jeff Bell" (the me on the radio), and it's always been one of a pretty "together," "normal" guy... not at all like the off-air Jeff, who spent so many years hiding from people, and scrubbing his hands, and checking and rechecking everything. In the worst of my OCD era, I'd cling to my on-air image and make it a reality--at least for those several hours a day I'd spend behind a mic. In retrospect, I now see it was my own image of myself, every bit as much as listeners' images of me, that I was obsessed with protecting. I'll write more about this is future posts, and will also attempt to explain a few of the lessons radio has taught me about battling OCD... and confronting uncertainly, in general.
Jeff Bell (jbellnews) Wed 7 Mar 07 05:41
RE: OCD Awareness... Then and Now The OCD label is not a new one, but until very recently it's been a little-known and often misunderstood one. (More on the basics of the disorder in my next post.) Back in the early '90s, when I was starting my own downward spiral into mental illness, ignorance of OCD was so widespread that it existed deep within the mental health field, itself. I attempted twice to get professional help from psychologists who failed to recognized my challenges as part of a known disorder. Ironically, it was only through my own "investigative reporting" that I stumbled across my first exposure to the whole OCD label: I'd been seeing a traditional psychotherapist for many months, and she was off on vacation. I was fed up with answering her many questions about how my various compulsions "made me feel," and I knew there had to be something to the compulsions themselves. I was in a local bookstore, combing the Psychology section, when a book with a strange but alluring title all but jumped off the shelf and into my hands. "The Boy who Couldn't Stop Washing" it was called, and on its pages I discovered for the first time just who and what I am. It was an unbelievably powerful moment, and to this day I credit that book (by Dr. Judith Rapoport) with saving my life. FYI.. I shared my finding with the psychotherapist when she returned from vacation, and she all but dismissed the label outright. I, in turn, dismissed myself from her care. To her credit, though, she did call several days later to say she'd been talking with some colleagues, and, yeah, there was probably something to my bookstore discovery. I'd like to think that all this would play out very differently today, given the recent fascination with, and coverage of, OCD. Angie, you write that the average person on the street has at least some working knowledge of OCD. I wish I could tell you I'm finding that to be true. I'm not. In fact, I've been amazed by how many well-educated, plugged-in people I know in my own circles have confessed to me complete and utter ignorance of the disorder. This, by the way, motivates me more than just about anything in my drive to share my story.
Angie (coiro) Wed 7 Mar 07 10:43
Oops, I've made the very common mistake of assuming that what is true in my own circle is true societally. It's illuminating to hear OCD is still not widely known, let alone understood. I find myself wondering, of all things, about the effect of the TV series "Monk" on public awareness. Tony Shalhoub's character seems, from my limited understanding, to be presented with dignity and respect. I'd love to get your take on that.
Jeff Bell (jbellnews) Wed 7 Mar 07 23:42
RE: OCD Basics ME (speaking to a group of "normal" people at a recent book signing): "So, quick show of hands ... how many of you have ever backed your car out of your driveway, driven halfway down the block, and doubled back because you questioned whether you'd actually shut the garage door?" GROUP OF "NORMAL" PEOPLE (at said book signing to learn about OCD): Almost to a person, hands go up. Heads nod in immediate recognition. ME: "Okay, now then, how many of you drove away, only to again question yourself and again return to your house?" GROUP: No hands go up, though a lot of eyebrows do. ME: "So, not even one of you has made a third pass then? Or a fourth?" GROUP: Incredulous looks. Skeptical looks. A few "this guy's a freak" looks. ME: "Welcome to my world...." I share this snippet because it drives home what I'm coming to find out about OCD: EVERYONE has experienced a taste of its two core elements--obsessions and compulsions, though typically in the much more innocuous forms of "nagging thoughts" and "rational responses." Take the garage door...first from the "normal" person's perspective. Nagging thought: What if I didn't close the garage door? Rational response: I'll just double-check it... so as not to worry about it all day. Door checked. Done! Now let's replay this from an OC's perspective. Thought: What if I didn't close the garage door? Response: I'll check on it. Door checked. Thought: Did I really see the door closed, or did I just imagine that? COMPULSION: I should double-back one more time, just to be sure. Thought: That's crazy; I just checked it. OBSESSION: But what if I didn't close the door. Thought: But I did. OBSESSION: If I didn't close it, though, something horrible could happen (someone could steal something, a neighborhood kid could get hurt with tools on the workbench, yada yada). COMPULSION: I have GOT to go back and check on this thing again... Door rechecked. OBSESSION: Are you sure that wasn't the neighbor's door you checked this time? Can you REALLY be sure it's closed? [Trust me, I'm just warming up here...] This is OCD. In all its glory. While there are a wide range of OCD "flavors," the cycle is almost always the same: Horrific, what-if thought... followed my some kind of a repeated action aimed at alleviating the unbearable discomfort of that thought. For some people (like me), the primary compulsion is checking; for others, it's washing (to get rid of germs, for example). Some OCs develop various pattern rituals (requiring actions to be taken in certain groupings or sequences), and still others hoard or arrange in specific ways, in hopes of warding off their what-if thoughts. To be continued....
Jeff Bell (jbellnews) Thu 8 Mar 07 00:02
RE: OCD Basics, continued I am not a doctor, nor do I play one on TV (or the radio), and my own OCD Voice of Doubt demands that I disqualify myself from making any definitive medical statements about the disorder. But with that said... here are some things to keep in mind about OCD: >OCs are acutely and painfully aware of just how nonsensical their thoughts and actions are. >This awareness, unfortunately, counts for little in the throes of an OCD episode. >OCD tends to be chronic, but is almost always treatable to varying degrees. (We can tackle that in another post, as well...) >The vast majority of OCD experts view the disorder as biologically--and, more specifically, biochemically--based. >Brain imaging studies are now able to highlight problem areas within an OC's brain. FYI.. I'm fascinated by this stuff, and you've got to admit there's something pretty freaky about the whole concept of your brain attempting to process pictures of itself. Eh?!! >Researchers are making progress in identifying a so-called "OCD gene." >Some four to six million Americans are thought be battling OCD. >Far too many of them don't yet know why they do what they do.
Jeff Bell (jbellnews) Thu 8 Mar 07 00:13
RE: "Monk" Great show! You gotta love Tony Shalhoub's character! Is the OCD depiction accurate? There are holes, but excusable ones, as far as Im concerned Do I find it demeaning? Heck no. It's funny. OCD IS funny--painfully so far too often for those of us battling it. But I can tell you from experience that coming to recognize the absurdity of the disorder is a big part of the recovery process. Is "Monk" doing any good in raising awareness? You bet. If nothing else, it gives us a common starting point for conversations like this one!
Jef Poskanzer (jef) Thu 8 Mar 07 08:51
Speaking of funny... Do you know any good OCD jokes?
Michael Zentner (mz) Thu 8 Mar 07 09:00
>>> "Rewind, Repeat, Replay," a personal memoir of his struggles with obsessive compulsive disorder. Shouldn't that be "Rewind, Repeat, Replay,Rewind, Repeat, Replay,Rewind, Repeat, Replay,Rewind, Repeat, Replay,Rewind, Repeat, Replay,Rewind, Repeat, Replay ...." ? >>> ME: "Okay, now then, how many of you drove away, only to again question yourself and again return to your house?" I've done that once or twice, both time before going out of town for a while. I have a slight OCD involved with hand washing, which grew out of my childhood curse of bad excema.
Angie (coiro) Thu 8 Mar 07 09:46
<mz>, I'm curious to hear more about that - is that diagnosed OCD? What are your coping mechanisms around that? How obsessive does your train of thought get? What happens if you can't wash your hands? Meanwhile, Jeff - Your OCD first surfaced in your childhood, then took a break, then came back full force in adulthood. You were on the family boat with friends, and thought you might have done some damage to a nearby craft. The ensuing worry took on a life of its own. Did you realize as this incident evolved, over days and weeks, that something about your thought processes themselves had gone amiss? Or did it not register with you that the duration and depth of your worries about this other guy's boat were somehow abnormal? And before that all went down - would you have described yourself as given to stress and worry? What was your life, your character, like before the adult onset of OCD? Any hints of what was to come?
Sharon Lynne Fisher (slf) Thu 8 Mar 07 10:04
how did you treat it/are you treating it?
Michael Zentner (mz) Thu 8 Mar 07 10:27
>> is that diagnosed OCD? No. I don't really have any coping mechanisms. It's not really that bad. >>> What happens if you can't wash your hands? Well, the hand washing thing was to cope with my excema. I use lotion now. I used to lick my fingers a lot when I was a kid. I had another weird thing when I was younger that I had to count my footsteps in groups of 10.
mother of my eyelid (frako) Thu 8 Mar 07 14:02
This is all fascinating. I have many minor touches of OCD. As a kid while riding in the backseat, I remember needing to put my big toe on the car floor between telephone poles. So depending on the speed of the car, I was constantly touching the floor of the car when another telephone pole went by. Also around the age of 16 I developed trichotillomania, hair-pulling. That is under control, but I also have a need to put anything with a label "frontally"--placement of anything is hugely iimportant to me.
Eric Rawlins (woodman) Thu 8 Mar 07 15:13
Jeff, you mentioned that your old "traditional" therapist did not have the tools to help you, and then you mentioned that there are therapeutic techniques that do help. Can you say something about what methods seem to have the most effect? Pharma? Some kind of negative reinforcement?
mother of my eyelid (frako) Thu 8 Mar 07 16:43
I meant to ask that too!
Jeff Bell (jbellnews) Thu 8 Mar 07 17:49
RE: Getting started Hey Jef, Michael, Sharon, frako, Eric, et al... Thanks for diving in. I'm looking forward to chatting with you all!
Jeff Bell (jbellnews) Thu 8 Mar 07 17:50
RE: OCD humor Jef, You don't want to get me started. I've got a million. By the way, I think my favorite review to date is this one: "I enjoyed R,R,R so much, I want to read it again! ... (And again. And again. And again...)"
Public persona (jmcarlin) Thu 8 Mar 07 20:33
I've done that with some books - getting to the end and starting over again for several cycles. And some music has grabbed me and danced with me for days. Which leads to a question - how can we differentiate normal, temporary obsession with something and full blown OCD? Is it when the obsession interfere's with one's life and causes you to be unhappy? Also, how has your book changed how people interact with you? I can imaging reactions from acceptance to askance glances to "ah, now I understand what before was puzzling".
Jeff Bell (jbellnews) Thu 8 Mar 07 22:01
RE: OCD Treatment Typically, OCD is treated with cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT)--often with the aid of medication. CBT is a process by which a therapist helps an OC "reframe" his or her challenges as emotional and behavioral responses based on THOUGHTS (flawed thoughts, in the case of an OC), and not necessarily on reality. [You can read a much better explanation than my own at: http://www.nacbt.org/whatiscbt.htm] At the heart of CBT is something called "exposure/response-prevention (ERP). As its name suggests, the practice calls for a therapist to expose an OC to some "trigger" situation (say a dirty doorknob, for someone obsessed with germ issues) and then to prevent the OC from responding with a typical compulsion (say, hand-washing, in this doorknob example). Essentially the idea is to decouple the compulsive response from the obsessive thought. Sounds pretty straightforward, I imagine. But, trust me, for an OC, it's the hardest thing in the world. Because of this, medications are often prescribed to help un-stick the stuck thoughts. In my own recovery, I have been on and off various medications over the years, while pushing myself on the CBT front. Like many OCs, I struggled mightily with the notion of being "medicated," (another post), but I have to tell you, I have found that meds go a long way in helping me with the physiological aspect of looping thoughts. With this said, I will also share with you that I think medication treatment alone, is NOT the answer. It just strikes me that, one way or another, an OC needs to learn how to reframe the obsessions and compulsions.
Angie (coiro) Fri 9 Mar 07 00:21
Can you say more about what did and didn't work for you to "decouple" those responses? Is that how the character Doubt works for you - externalizing your compulsive thoughts? (Jeff has conversations with Doubt throughout his story.) In a book peopled with real human beings, I couldn't help but note that Doubt is practically your co-star, logging more time in the story than even your wife Samantha. (Speaking of Sam, that woman deserves some kind of award for her compassion and tenacity. Nomination for sainthood, maybe.)
Michael Zentner (mz) Fri 9 Mar 07 08:56
>>> Essentially the idea is to decouple the compulsive response from the obsessive thought Breaking the pattern as it were.
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