Ed Zine suffered from one of the worst cases of obsessive-compulsive disorder one Harvard psychiatrist had ever seen. He believed that if he lived his life in reverse — rewinding all of his actions during the day in even multiples up to 16,384 — that he could stop time and protect his loved ones from aging, and thus dying. But his OCD became so overwhelming that he eventually locked himself in his dad’s basement for nearly three years, where he was kept prisoner by his own mind.
I wrote about Ed Zine in last Sunday’s paper, and you can read the article here if you’d like. And if Ed’s name is ringing a bell, it’s probably because you saw him on Inside Edition, 48 Hours and here’s a video of Ed on Good Morning America last week doing interviews plugging a new book about his life, called Life in Rewind by Terry Weible Murphy.
I had a chance to sit down with Ed in his Cape Cod home a couple of weeks ago, along with Michael Jenike, the world renowned psychiatrist who helped Ed lead a life outside of the basement.
Now you have to understand, all I knew of Ed prior to meeting him was the story about his OCD. The three years he spent alone in his dad’s basement in isolation. He repeated his actions over and over again, tens of thousands of times until it felt right. He defecated in Ziploc bags because a trip across the room to the bathroom could take all day. He walked, read, and spoke backwards. Honestly, I was intrigued to meet him but I was also a little freaked out.
That all ended the moment I walked in.
First of all, Ed Zine is big. Linebacker big. Professional wrestler big. Could tear your head off with his pinky finger big. Yet it took about 60 seconds to realize I was talking to one of the gentlest, kindest, sweetest guys on the planet. Philosophical pearls of wisdom tumbling from the mouth of a man who looked like he could kick the crap out of Mike Tyson.
And Michael, his psychiatrist/big brother from another mother, has a biting sense of humor that suited me perfectly. With a sense of humor as dry as the Sahara, I was cracking up listening to him talk about his “Brokeback moment” with Ed years ago in the basement. Ed hadn’t showered in years and Michael nicknamed him “gruesome” and told him to go “wash his ass.” But because it was so difficult for Ed to change up his routine, he asked Michael to be in the bathroom with him.
It’s safe to say these guys blurred the line of the traditional doctor-patient relationship. But that’s what’s so inspiring about them. They forged a friendship and helped each other get better. I don’t know about you guys, but most doctors I know won’t travel 2 hours for a house call, spend years treating a housebound patient and never charge a cent.
But that’s all background for what I really want to talk about today.
You see, Ed got married four months after he bravely fought his way up from the basement. And not too long after that, he and his wife Mayada were expecting. Now I’m a dad and I can clearly remember when MJ told me she was pregnant. So many emotions rip through your body: joy, fear, apprehension, confusion…a little bit of everything. I don’t suffer from any debilitating diseases (that I know of anyways) and I certainly didn’t lose years of my life to OCD. I’ve never been held hostage by my own thoughts like Ed. And yet I was still freaking out about being a father. Hell, I’m STILL freaking out.
But for Ed, I can only imagine how difficult it must have been to reconcile his OCD with becoming a dad.
When he explained his disease to adults, they could cooperate with him and adjust to his needs. Maybe they would have to say something to Ed an even number of times or not move something that’s supposed to stay fixated. But kids? Kids are nuts! They’re little tornadoes and they leave a wake of destruction in their path. They can’t comprehend the depths of Ed’s OCD. They can’t just stop what they’re doing because Ed is having a tough time with his thoughts. Kids go a million miles an hour and they’re messy. For someone with OCD — for someone who needs to have everything in it’s place at all times — having kids is nothing short of daunting.
Yet Ed is a great father to two girls now. He admits there were some trouble spots, but all it took was looking in his kids’ eyes to get him to buckle down and work harder. And he did. Now he has a house he built himself, he’s part of a successful book and he’s lowered his OCD repetitions to a manageable level. It’s not gone, but he’s dealing with it.
So whenever I start to get a big head and pat myself on the back for being Superdad, I now think of Ed Zine. A man who couldn’t even take care of himself at first, who now takes care of his family on an everyday basis.
When I left Ed gave me a hug. I have to say, normally i don’t hug the people I interview. In fact, sometimes they’re threatening me with bodily harm and ordering me off their property. But I had no problem giving Ed an embrace because I really connected with him. Sure he’s got interviews with national media outlets where millions of people see and hear him, but for 90 minutes on the Cape it was just two dads talking: one who happened to be a journalist and the other a miraculous survivor of a terrible disease.
Good luck Ed, and thank you. It’s nice to be reminded that inspiration can hit when least expected.
Remember, check out Fatherhood Friday over at Dad Blogs for some great writing and cool dads!