Thanks to our friend, Kit, for sharing this inspiring story, seen at CapeCodTimes.com
It all started when Ed Zine was 11 years old.
With his mother suffering from ovarian cancer, he crept down the hall to her room one night after hearing moaning. Zine entered the room just in time to see and hear his mother gasp her last breath.
Zine kept that secret for years, but the trauma of witnessing her death planted the seed for his eventual obsessive-compulsive disorder, and a fear of death that would eventually take over his life.
When Zine, a Falmouth resident, entered his early 20s, he began talking to himself a lot. Family members would notice him rocking back and forth, often repeating things but always an even number of times.
Just a few years later, Zine’s OCD would trap him in his father’s basement, where he would remain for nearly three years.
“Time equals progression, progression equals death.”
Zine believed that if he lived his life in reverse — physically rewinding all of his actions during the day an even number of times in multiples of up to 16,384 — he could effectively stop time and protect more of his loved ones from dying.
In the mid-1990s, out of work and completely housebound, Zine created a world for himself in which any misstep — any imperfection in his OCD universe — could have fatal consequences for the people he loved. He repeated every action until it felt right, and Zine convinced himself he had erased it from existence.
It was only after forming a special bond with renowned OCD expert and Harvard psychiatrist Michael Jenike that Zine would find within himself the strength to live a normal life.
Zine’s struggle with OCD is the subject of a new book by Terry Weible Murphy entitled “Life in Rewind.”
Out of control
At 6 feet, 2 inches and 255 pounds, Zine, now 38, could easily be mistaken for an NFL linebacker. But after some brief conversation and watching him play with his two young daughters, it’s clear Zine is a gentle giant who looks like a bodybuilder, but speaks like a philosopher.
“If you have OCD you should wear it as a badge of honor, not a badge of shame,” Zine said. “I do have some rough nights, but when I look into my kids’ eyes it’s all the reason I need to keep fighting it.”
That wasn’t the case 12 years ago, when Zine lost 100 pounds, didn’t shower for two years and was dependent on family members to survive.
He never really dealt with the D-E-A-T-H (Zine still has to spell the word or say “freath”) of his mother, and as a result he began his counting, checking and hoarding rituals.
“OCD takes your traumas and uses them against you,” Zine said. “The compulsions and the rituals are a way to lessen the anxiety.”
But these repetitive behaviors eventually began to get out control.
Shortly before Zine was completely housebound, he was driving with a friend from Falmouth to Hyannis to have lunch. When they approached the Airport Rotary in Hyannis, Zine asked his friend to let him out of the car so he could walk a straight line across the rotary, or else he would have had to navigate the traffic circle in reverse after going through it. But Zine’s friend refused and then drove back to Falmouth and dropped him off at his house.
Fearing something calamitous might happen, Zine proceeded to walk backwards from Falmouth to Hyannis. After rewinding his trip through the rotary earlier in the day, he returned to Falmouth, again walking backwards the entire way.
It was a 40-mile round trip, which took him more than 12 hours to complete.
“People with OCD know what they’re doing doesn’t make sense,” said Jeff Szymanski, executive director of the Obsessive Compulsive Foundation in Boston.
“But it isn’t about the behavior, it’s the need to get away from the crippling anxiety,” he said.
That anxiety would fully take hold of Zine in 1996, after his family had him involuntarily committed to a mental institution in Pembroke.
Following his release after a week, Zine felt betrayed by the very people who, in his mind, he was trying to protect. The notion that he had been dishonored by his family sent him spiraling even further into the depths of his OCD.
Desperate for help, Zine’s brother called renowned OCD expert Michael Jenike, who made the trip from Boston to Falmouth to visit with Zine in May 1996. Although Jenike ran a treatment center to help people with OCD, it only took one meeting with Zine to realize he was too sick to leave the house.
Zine had not showered or brushed his teeth for years. He was only eating four meals per week, with all food delivered in an even number of Ziploc bags and drinks in an even number of Gatorade bottles.
Zine would defecate in the bags and urinate in the bottles because a trip to the bathroom was a painstaking process that could take up to a day. His rewind and counting rituals were in the tens of thousands, and Zine taught himself to read and speak backwards.
It would be months before Jenike was allowed in the basement. But by sharing his compassion and brutally honest sense of humor with Zine — jokingly nicknaming him “gruesome” — Jenike began to earn his patient’s trust.
Almost two years passed and although Zine made small improvements during Jenike’s visits, he was no closer to living a normal life.
In March 1998, Jenike said he gave up hope that Zine would ever leave his father’s basement. Frustrated and heartbroken that he could not help the young man, Jenike broke down in tears in front of Zine.
“I had tried everything I knew and I didn’t think he’d get better,” Jenike said. “When I left that day I figured I’d go on talking to him on the phone and that would be it.”
Jenike never charged Zine a single penny despite years of treatment.
So where medications such as Luvox, Prozac, Zoloft and Paxil had failed, it was Zine’s desire to honor his doctor that proved to be the cure.
Zine said he was “pissed off at OCD” and he determined, in that moment, to make OCD his enemy.
Over the next year, he took small steps forward that turned into giant leaps, as part of Zine’s grand plan to show Jenike — who he refers to as “Big Brother M” — how grateful he was for the help. But to do that, he needed assistance at the local level which he received from some unexpected places.
Peter Mackiewicz, postmaster at the East Falmouth post office, first went to Zine’s house because the regular carrier was scared of Zine’s high-pitched shrieks to stay away from the house and his “OCD Holy Ground.”
Mackiewicz was able to talk Zine out of the house to receive a package one day. He said Zine’s appearance was nothing short of frightening.
“My first response was thinking ‘God does not want him to live like this any longer,'” Mackiewicz said.
But without knowing or asking what Zine was suffering from, Mackiewicz made it his mission to do what he could to help. He made it a point to personally deliver Zine’s mail and chat with him outside the basement whenever possible. In time, Zine began going to the post office with Mackiewicz’s help.
From there, Zine began lifting weights at the gym and occasionally going out for lunch. He got a construction job working on houses. The OCD was, and always will be, present, but Zine worked on reducing the number of repetitions and rewinds to a manageable level.
But he never told Jenike about any of his progress because he wanted it to be a surprise.
In spring 1999, nearly a year after he broke down in tears, Jenike returned to Falmouth.
As he walked up to the house, Jenike said he noticed a tan, clean cut, hulking man standing outside. When he introduced himself and asked the man if he was a friend of Zine’s, Zine smiled and embraced the confused doctor.
The comeback was complete.
“At first I wanted to be a surgeon because I like to jump in and fix things, but to hang in there gets really tough,” Jenike said. “It was very rewarding and that was the part I really enjoyed.”
Building a family
A few weeks after that reunion, Zine met a woman named Mayada at the Landfall restaurant in Woods Hole. They were married less than four months later. The couple keep most of the details of their relationship private, but Zine credits Mayada for being his inspiration to fight OCD on a daily basis.
Added motivation would promptly arrive in the form of his two daughters, Alexandria and Isabella.
Zine now has a family and a new home he built himself. He put his construction work and plans to go to art school on hold while plugging the new book on a media tour.
Zine’s OCD continues to manifest itself in ways, like his having to do things like exiting through the same door that he entered, but with Jenike’s help he is living a normal life.
The pair plan to deliver a keynote address at an OCD conference in Minnesota later this year, where Zine hopes he can help people in similar situations.
“If you really want to overcome OCD you can’t treat the disorder, you have to treat the personality,” said Zine, who is still off medication. “I used my mind and my heart to push myself. I used the strongest muscle in my body which is my brain.”