Most people picture a person with OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) as someone with tidy living quarters where every item inside is geometrically aligned. Others may picture the complete opposite: a hoarder living amongst the mountains of items he/she is too afraid to part with.
While both examples depict symptoms of OCD, they are only two of the many others that exist. Apart from a “clean freak” and a “hoarder” (laymen terms, of course), there are also the “checkers, counters, touchers, tickers,” etc. Yes, such labels sound like they belong in a zombie based video game, but those diagnosed with OCD usually use them to describe the utterly complex thought possess’ that they constantly endure.
What is it like to have such a mindset?
As hard as this question is to answer, this article will try to explain a specific OCD-fueled thought process as best as it can. The following explanation is from the point of view of an individual who describes himself as a “counter.”
“Let’s suppose there is a scenario that stirs up negative thoughts in my mind. Whether it be worrying about a loved one dying, not achieving a goal, a religious worry, etc.
The thoughts happen so frequently (many are now on my mind constantly) that I begin finding ways to cope with them.
For me, numbers and mathematics trigger these thoughts. They also settle them.
My main numbers range from 0-31. Certain numbers on this number line represent negative outcomes, while others represent either positive or neutral ones.
Thus, almost every activity I do is counted in some sort of way in order to make sure that my current mindset, and even my future, isn’t affected from one of these “bad” numbers.
For instance, let’s suppose I’m playing a song on the CD player in my car. I’m cruising down the road toward my class when my mom calls my phone. If I don’t answer now, she’ll keep calling me until I pick up, and my phone only has so much battery life.
Now I have to pause my song and reach for my phone. Right before pressing accept, I notice something that is staring at me in the face: I paused the song at 3:06.
SCREW THE PHONE CALL. Two of these three numbers are my personal “bad” numbers!
Wait, hold on. It may be okay because the 3 is followed by a 0, and 3 x 0 = 0, right? So if 0 is a neutral number, then there’s nothing to worry about.
OH BUT WAIT. WHAT ABOUT THE ‘6?’
Yes, it is a bad number, but, at the same time, 6 = 3 x 2. In other words, 6= another one of my negative numbers (in this case, 3 x 2).
Now I relate this to the mathematical rule that a negative times a negative equals a positive. Yes, this wouldn’t really make sense because the situation isn’t -3 x -3. However, seeing as 3 is “bad” or “negative,” I can use this rule to help justify this situation. In this case, a number that leads to negative outcomes counted twice cancels out the negative situation.
Thus, for this situation, the 6 is not a threat because I have now made it a “positive” or a temporarily good number.
To simplify that (if it’s even possible), just as a negative number times a negative number equals a positive number, this “bad” number of mine multiplied by itself is now “not bad” anymore, thus not affecting my current mental obsession in a negative way (even though it was technically multiply by 2, not itself).
Ahh, yes. That’s much better. Now time to call my mother back…
Did that make sense? Chances are you’re saying “no…” That’s fine! I’ll give you another example.
Let’s suppose I’m enjoying an ice cream cone. I begin licking it at a certain pace, planning on reaching a “good” number of licks and stopping. Suddenly, my friend interrupts me mid-lick to tell me about some Vine video he saw, causing me to only lick the ice cream 9 times instead of 25 times!
That’s an easy fix! All I have to do is lick the cone another 16 times, then I hit 25. Problem solved, right?
Two reasons: First, 16 is one of my bad numbers. Second, in order for this ritual to actually work, I MUST continuously lick the cone 25 times at a certain pace! If I get off speed or if there is too much of a gap of time between licks, the ritual is compromised!
Okay, okay. Well then can’t I just start over?
NO. THE NEGATIVE SITUATION MUST BE CANCELLED OUT.
If I would have landed on 8 licks before my “friend” interrupted, then I could just start over. That’s not what happened. I landed on 9. I can’t just stop there. The only ways I can cancel out the negativity of this is to either lick the cone 9 times again (this goes back to the ‘negative x negative = positive’ theory) OR I can just continue where I left off and count my licks from 9 up to 31. Once I reach 31, the system resets (because I say so) and I can try again.
So I choose the latter and carry on. Now the system has reset and I can try to lick the cone 25 times continuously again. This time I succeed in doing so.
Now I have just achieved a “good” situation. However, the previous attempt at this was technically a negative one. A negative x a positive DOES NOT equal a positive.
SO NOW I GOTTA DO IT AGAIN!
This time, I succeed in licking the ice cream 25 times non-stop. All is well. Any worries I had are now gone…for about 5 seconds.
Rituals like these are so common to me now that they become second nature. The steps I take, the number of times I blink, the number of words I use in a sentence, etc. All of them are counted according to this system. This is a large part of my reality.
Most of the time, I can agree that it’s all ridiculous. Giving in to these does not maintain universal balance.
Then there’s that one thought. That one voice in the back of my mind that asks, ‘but what if you do?’
Nope, never mind! What was I thinking? It’s not worth the risk! Anyways, better get back to pressing my iPhones display button 8 times…
These are VERY simplified examples of the countless rituals that take place within the obsessive-compulsive mind. Many times, such rituals are not noticeable. Other times, they make you stand out like a parrot in Antarctica. The severity of the symptoms varies from diagnosis to diagnosis.”
Some may find these compulsions strange. Others may find them “quirky.” However, most sufferers have described them as one of their “personal hells.” To believe that such minuscule tasks must be performed in order to live a normal life must get pretty old after a while.
So the next time you notice someone turning each page in their book a certain number of times, do them a favor and don’t interrupt them by asking what they’re doing-or at least wait until they’re done.