Because We Are Bad: OCD and a Girl Lost in Thought by Lily Bailey

“For as long as I could remember, I wasn’t me, I was we.” Lily Bailey, a British writer and model, had a sort of imaginary friend while she was growing up, but instead of a comforting presence it was a critical voice pushing her to be ultra-conscious of how her behavior appeared to others. She couldn’t stop thinking about how she might be perceived – everything from body odor to inadvertently acting snobby or selfish. Every imagined transgression was tallied up and given a letter abbreviation to remember it by. It got to the point that after any length of time spent around other people she’d have to retreat to write down and mull over her inventory of errors.

This went on for years at boarding school until Bailey was finally diagnosed with severe Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. As she explained to her mother, “I make lists in my head of everything I’ve done that might be wrong. Then I repeat them over and over again and analyse them. I have to be perfect. I feel like if I do this enough, then one day I will be.” But diagnosis was not the end to the struggle; far from it. Despite Prozac and CBT, Bailey later landed in a psychiatric unit. She captures her inpatient stay at Chesbury Hospital with great verve, recalling the chorus of the other patients’ voices and the different nurses’ strategies.

Because We Are Bad tracks Bailey’s life up until age 20, by which time she had moved past the worst of her mental health crisis and was making encouraging strides in her personal and professional life. There’s a bit of a pat ending; I thought the book would probably benefit from more hindsight – it had a small release in 2016, when Bailey was 24, and is now being given a full-blown re-release. However, like Elizabeth Wurtzel and Zack McDermott, Bailey gives a vivid sense of what it’s like to feel your mind working against you. Her recreation of childhood and the first-person plural sections are especially strong. I can recommend this to anyone who’s interested in learning more about OCD and mental health issues in general.

My rating:

Because We Are Bad: OCD and a Girl Lost in Thought is published by Canbury Press today, March 15th. It will be published by Harper Collins US in April. My thanks to publicist Emma Finnigan for the review copy.

13 responses

  1. This looks fascinating. My brother had debilitating OCD while he was in high school, so Bailey’s experience might help me understand what was going on in his head.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’ve passed this on to a close friend whose husband has OCD. I hope it helps.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Carolyn Anthony | Reply

    It must be torture. What’s CBT?

    Sent from my iPhone



    1. Cognitive behavioral therapy. Helping people change their thought patterns.


  3. That sounds really interesting. I read Prozac Nation at a VERY dark time in my life, which was a mistake, but I’ll pick this up if I come across it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I read that some years back. A similar book in some ways: both convey the frenetic thinking and sometimes self-destructive behavior.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Sounds harrowing, both for her and her parents. I can’t seem to make myself read any books that deal with any kind of medical or mental illness. I think, no, I KNOW, I am anxious enough in my real life that I don’t need any other things to worry about in my reading. But I commend your fortitude in this regard!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I completely understand and chime with this. There are some things I just cannot read about. Luckily for us, there’s a good variety of books here to read about!

      Liked by 3 people

      1. Thanks, Liz. An unfortunate preponderance of medical stuff on this blog thanks to my Wellcome Prize shadowing 😉 But I do hope I have something for everyone at some point.

        Liked by 1 person

    2. I can understand that, Laila. It’s not always pleasant reading. I like getting into other people’s heads and seeing what their lives are like, and I was also interested to see specifically how she would put the OCD experience into words. I think she did that really well. But I appreciate it won’t be a book for everyone.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. As I just posted on your latest review, I love the variety of books and find the medical ones interesting, and you are very good at assessing and passing on the gore level so people can decide for themselves. I probably have too many books on mine on running for some people’s tastes!


  5. This sounds quite interesting and I’m sure its telling will benefit many. I wonder, though, if this tendency to produce memoir-writing by relatively young writers works against that intent. It can’t seem to avoid the pat ending (because too much is unfolding yet) and many readers long for a sense of resolution but also realism. But I doubt the publishing industry is interested in waiting until she is middle-aged to hear her story.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, I did feel like it wasn’t a story with an ending, but had been given one artificially. You’re right that she’s young and pretty, so she’ll sell books. But I wouldn’t rate the book any higher, even though I thought it was well done, because of that vague air of immaturity / unfinishedness.

      Liked by 1 person

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