Pulling the Trigger: The Definitive Survival and Recovery Approach for OCD, Anxiety, Panic Attacks and Related Depression is a book of two interlinked parts. The first tells the story of Adam Shaw, his struggles trying to manage his OCD, and how it was eventually conquered in therapy with the help of his psychologist, Lauren Callaghan. The second half takes those concepts introduced by Lauren and gives the reader a structured, easy to understand, cognitive-based recovery approach concentrating on three areas: accept, embrace, and control.
Adam and Lauren have also established a global charity, The Shaw Mind Foundation, to help people with mental illness. The charity is run alongside their publishing company, Trigger Press Limited.
RUTH F. HUNT: Hi, Adam, can I ask why you and Lauren decided to structure the book in this way?
ADAM SHAW: For me, this was perhaps the easiest decision about the whole book, as it felt the most natural thing to do. I took myself back to those dark days when I was really unwell and asked myself what I wanted and needed to see in a book that was going to help me recover.
In the midst of my mental health issues, I wanted to be able to identify with other sufferers in order to understand their journey, the challenges they faced, the impact it had on their everyday life, and how they got better.
However, a big part of me also craved the knowledge and commentary from a specialist who could explain why this was all happening and what needed to be done to address the issues around the sufferer. Therefore, a journey through the eyes of the sufferer and their specialist doctor in the first part of a self-help book felt perfect to me and is a format that we all believe will help sufferers greatly as they go into part two of the book, which is the recovery approach itself.
HUNT: Did you find sharing your story had any benefits for you and your family and the wider mental health community? Is it something you would recommend to others?
SHAW: What I came to realize during my recovery is that mental health issues manifest, grow, and thrive when you bottle them up and don't share or talk about them. It simply gives the mental health issue more fuel and therefore we are giving it more power and so the vicious cycle spins even faster.
For the majority of my life, I kept my mental health issues a secret. I was embarrassed, ashamed, and very scared, which ultimately manifested into me becoming suicidal. I felt I had hit a dead end, and there was nowhere else to turn.
My belief now is that as a society, we’re all collectively responsible and accountable for mental health issues. By not engaging in conversation about it, we’re giving mental illness more power than it deserves. By simply talking to, and being open with, our children, family, friends, and colleagues, we can begin the process of recovery from mental health issues without even consciously trying.
HUNT: Personally, I know coming to terms with my diagnosis was a major step. Was this the same for you, and why is acceptance so important in terms of recovery?
SHAW: I'd spent my whole life fighting my thoughts. I was looking for a magic pill that would take it all away so I could lead a “normal” life. I wasn't prepared to accept anything about my illness and what was going on inside my head.
Acceptance felt like giving in to my mental illness. However, when Lauren came into my life and explained that acceptance is the first part of the journey to recovery, I had no choice but to take stock.
Acceptance isn’t just about admitting to yourself that you’re unwell and that you have a mental health issue, it goes much further than that. Acceptance is about changing your strategy from fight to courage. We no longer fight our mental illness, we instead have the courage to accept it and face it. Let it be there in all its glory, we don't engage with it, we simply accept that we feel like rubbish and allow the thoughts to run around our head as much as we want. We don't avoid these thoughts and sensations, as it is this avoidance that serves as a fuel to mental illness. Instead, we simply allow it to be there but don't engage with it.
Initially, it feels very counter-intuitive, as we want to put up our fists and fight it or run away from it with avoidance rituals and techniques. True acceptance is about accepting your state of mind and the emotions that go with it in that particular moment. Knowing that to be in control of your mental health is to know that you can't control your thoughts, no human can.
In my view, acceptance alone doesn't provide total recovery, but it culls the growth in your mental illness as you are gradually becoming desensitized to the sensations and emotions around your illness now that you have accepted them and are no longer fighting or engaging with your thoughts.
HUNT: In the book, you mention the difficulty accessing NHS (UK) mental health services, which is why you paid privately for therapy. If someone is waiting for an appointment with a psychologist or psychiatrist, would you recommend this book and the PTT (Pullingthetrigger) techniques of accept, embrace, and control while they are waiting?
SHAW: This is the very reason this book was created. To help sufferers and their families at the point of need. Years of work and investment went into this first publication to ensure it is ergonomically designed to aid in the recovery of the sufferer as well as giving them a blueprint for hope and inspiration that recovery can happen, and that they can indeed reclaim their life.
HUNT: This book is the first to be released from the publishing division of The Shaw Mind Foundation, a charity you and Lauren both established. How did the charity begin and what are you hoping it will achieve?
SHAW: The charity is my passion; I reached that time in my life where I wanted to give something back, and I didn't want to recover in silence. I'm not really a spiritual person, but I had this overwhelming sense that helping sufferers and their families with mental health issues was what the next stage of my life was meant for. I now give 100% of my time to the mental health community through our global charity, The Shaw Mind Foundation.
The Shaw Mind Foundation is a dynamic charity, passionate about tackling the stigma that can accompany mental health issues. Our overarching goal is to support anyone who may have lost hope; both the sufferer and those who support them. We want to ensure treatment and support are made available to everyone across the globe. Working in the UK, USA, and in other countries, our awareness-raising program challenges many of the myths and assumptions about mental health issues. We believe recovery is possible for many who are currently not getting the help they need.
This is where The Shaw Mind Foundation makes a difference. We don’t want people to continue to slip through the net because they have to wait for care, don’t have funds to access life-saving treatment, or live in an area or country that can’t currently access mental health recovery programs. Mental health doesn’t discriminate; neither should geography or financial status
We ensure the charity is working as efficiently as possible and that all the donations we kindly receive are being used wisely, creatively, and reach as many sufferers and families around the world as possible. Our generous donors have many options open to them on how they can support our charity. We also let them choose which project and mental illness they wish to support. That said, a successful charity can’t just be reliant on public donations. Times have changed; the charity sector must start to be more creative to ensure funds are available to continue the good work they do. Our answer to this was to launch a publishing division that would provide the global community exceptional support and recovery books for all types of mental health issues.
We are so proud of our books. Each book produced in the PTT (Pullingthetrigger) range is derived from unconditional attention and focus through years of research and drawing upon expert resources from all around the world. We are confident that the books will help change lives through helping the reader to recovery, but just as importantly, all the books have a philanthropic element to them, which supports The Shaw Mind Foundation.
HUNT: Some mental health service users have criticized the recovery industry and even certain aspects of CBT as only offering “quick fix” solutions. Why is this book different, and why are the techniques contained in it not simply a Band-Aid, but a way to embrace life with a new set of values?
SHAW: I used the Band-Aid technique all my life to deal with my mental health issues, through avoidance techniques, through coming up with rituals and compulsions, through fighting my thoughts, and so on. These were all measures that worked temporarily until the day they didn't work anymore.
The term CBT, to me, is very ambiguous. As a sufferer, I saw and read many discussion threads about how CBT had worked for some people and not others.
I wasn't a believer in CBT until I met Lauren. I had no appetite for it nor did I have confidence that looking at things cognitively would somehow make me recover. It seems that lots of sufferers and indeed professionals have different interpretations of what the definition of CBT actually is and how it can help people with mental health issues.
I'm a strong follower of science; science is validated by evidence, so evidence-based cognitive behavioral therapy now makes absolute sense to me. As someone who recovered from severe mental health problems through a cognitive approach, I am, therefore, of course, an advocate for CBT and the benefits it can have in turning around the lives of mental health sufferers. However, CBT isn't a pill which works to get you better whilst you do nothing. CBT requires commitment from the sufferer. It requires patience and time, but make no mistake, using the correct type of cognitive therapy can have outstanding results, and I am proof of that.
The success of CBT is also down to the correct type of cognitive approach being applied, which, fortunately, Lauren introduced me to through her own unique and innovative style. It wasn't just a way of recovering from mental health issues—the picture of recovery was much bigger than that for me. I was able to use this approach in my everyday life and began to embrace life with a new set of values. It really has been life changing for me. We don't want sufferers to simply stop at recovery; we want to show them that there is even more out there than recovery. Recovery is just the beginning.
HUNT: At first glance, the title of the book, Pulling the Trigger…, can appear quite provocative. Can you tell the readers of GFT Press the meaning behind the name itself and how it relates to tackling OCD and related conditions?
SHAW: From my personal point of view as an ex-sufferer, the title was just an absolutely perfect fit. It promotes an innovative style of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and a compassion-focused approach. We believe this approach encourages sufferers to address and face the unwanted “trigger situations,” which can sometimes activate sufferers’ responses and intrusive thoughts (cognitive, emotional, physiological, and behavioral responses) in any given situation. It’s a crucial element in sufferers addressing and recovering from their mental health issues.
We want people to talk freely about our name, and we want it to open up debate. This is how the war on mental illness will be won: by us all engaging in conversations about mental health. The stigmas we attach to the illness give mental health problems more power than they deserve. Through misconceptions, incorrect negative connotations, and fear, we’re providing the illness with all it needs to continue to thrive unchallenged. By talking about mental health, we can all play a part in ensuring society as a whole can begin to build a platform for recovery. By not talking about mental health and running scared from a simple name, sentence, or words, we highlight one of the main problems that we, as a society, have.
By maintaining an ongoing, intelligent dialogue, we can pull the trigger on mental illness. By not fighting our mental health problems, but instead having the courage to embrace them, we can pull the trigger on our fears and live a life with purpose.