Monday, 25 July 2011
FLY FISHING FOR SHARKS by Andrew Alexander
This book is an honest account of a young man's battle with obsessive-compulsive disorder and with depression.
Andrew Alexander grew up in Zimbabwe, and was educated at various times in South Africa, so the story is largely set in these two countries. His symptoms first appear in high school when he develops an obssessive need to check some aspects of his homework. Various other obsessions emerge, most especially around HIV, which makes him fear infection from even the most unlikely objects, and around driving, when he begins to fear that he has unknowingly hurt someone with his car.
The stress of moving to Cape Town for university triggers a major episode, and he is finally able to tell his family and get some psychiatric help. OCD is not an easy disease to treat, and he does not seem to get the very best of medical assistance. He eventually feels well enough to move to the UK, but the stress of London is too much for him and triggers another episode. He eventually develops depression, along with his OCD, and attempts suicide twice.
The author's breakdown occurs within the context of the breakdown of Zimbabwe, and thus the book is also an interesting window into a certain historical and political moment. As with most middle class Zimbabweans of his generation he has lived in at least three countries, and thus the book has an easy cosmopolitanism. It is also, despite its serious subject matter, often very funny. One feels very intimate with the author, who clearly has thought deeply about himself and his world, and is at pains to share his knowledge with you as honestly as he can. The path to self-knowledge is a long and painful one, whatever your mental health status, and Alexander has clearly gone a good deal further down it than most.