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Radio man battles OCD

Tue., April 6, 2010

Jeff Bell pauses for a commercial during a news broadcast at the KCBS radio studio in San Francisco on Feb. 18. McClatchy (McClatchy)
Jeff Bell pauses for a commercial during a news broadcast at the KCBS radio studio in San Francisco on Feb. 18. McClatchy (McClatchy)

Jeff Bell’s new book promotes service as coping skill

WALNUT CREEK, Calif. – For radio news anchor Jeff Bell, the greater good is being a face, a voice and an example of hope for people who suffer from obsessive compulsive disorder.

Now, the Benicia, Calif.-based writer, who can be heard on KCBS, wants to offer his voice to everyone who suffers from doubt or worry – he wants to help.

He wants to eliminate the stigma of OCD and other mental illnesses and he’s attempting to do so with his second book, “When in Doubt, Make Belief: An OCD-Inspired Approach to Living With Uncertainty” (New World Library, $14.95).

“That fuels me in a big way,” he says. “It keeps me in the right direction.”

Call it a mission or a do-gooder goal, but Bell is serious when he says helping people helps him.

A few years ago, Bell went public with his story about suffering from OCD and released a memoir about how the mental illness brought havoc to his daily life.

“Rewind, Replay, Repeat” detailed how Bell, a charming man with a smooth voice that is perfect for radio, was consumed by anxiety and worry. He constantly fretted that he would accidentally hurt someone, was once even terrified that he might have caused brain damage to a child he accidentally bumped into at a mall.

That wasn’t the only way Bell’s OCD manifested itself. He used to check and recheck his garage door to see if it was closed. Actions like that brought up his comfort level, he says, even if they didn’t make any sense.

Bell had suffered for years not knowing what was wrong with him. Finally, after working with therapists and other sufferers, he learned how to manage his complicated condition.

“Rewind, Replay, Repeat” was a hit with people who suffer from mental illnesses – and those who love them. Over time, Bell connected with the nonprofit International OCD Foundation, and its leaders asked him to be one of their national spokespeople. In recent years, Bell has traveled around the country speaking to people about the disorder and how he manages the incurable illness.

“Jeff Bell is a great example of a person who had very, very challenging OCD,” says Jeff Szymanski, executive director of the international foundation. “He gives great talks, and he’s very engaging and really entertaining. He’s also a really good advocate of the importance of getting good treatment – and how challenging getting the treatment is.”

While his first book was more a story of Bell’s life than a self-help/personal-growth book, “When in Doubt” gives readers tools to control doubt and worry. He distinguishes between what he calls “intellect-based doubt,” which can be positive, and “fear-based doubt,” which can lead a person into a cycle of unnecessary worry. Then he urges readers to make “belief” a term they can use to escape the sticky pit of negative thoughts.

Belief involves realizing you’re not always going to feel comfortable or assured, he says, and accepting your situation.

“Making belief, for me, is a willful process in which one chooses to accept the discomfort of uncertainty for greater good purposes,” he explains. “Greater good,” as Bell puts it, is service to others and the enhancement of one’s sense of purpose in the world.

“What I have found over the years, when I am stuck in doubt, (is) if I can find a way to be of service, I can break out of that state of mind, that shadow of doubt.”

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