“I Count Everything” Club

I count often during the day. I count steps whether I’m going up or down, I count how many steps it takes to get to the laundry room, and while I sit on the toilet, I count how many tiles line the bathroom floor. I don’t remember the numbers; they’re irrelevant, I’m not measuring or keeping track. I have a constantly-multitasking abacus mind. It must be connected to the part of my brain which accurately guesses the time within ten minutes. Counting helps me in physical challenges like walking or during monotonous projects like fringing t-shirts and it can calm me down me during times of pain.

When I gave birth to my daughter, the doctors in an effort to be fast pulled out my epidural as they transferred me onto a gurney before they rushed me for an emergency caesarean section. After a round of “Oh shit!” from every nurse and doctor in the OR, they moved forward knowing they had 30 minutes before the anesthesia wore off. I stared at the clock and counted to 60 at least 30 times until I heard a healthy cry. I never felt a thing.

Recently I mentioned my counting compulsion to a friend and she gingerly suggested OCD as a partial culprit. I laughed it off. Sure, I’ve suffered from anxiety and panic disorder for the last two decades, but OCD didn’t appear on my crib sheet of mental health challenges. I firmly declared hypochondria as the instigator/antagonist of my mental health story and now OCD is trying to rear its ghost-like head and emerge as the wizard behind the curtain. The day after this conversation I read an article about someone with OCD where she discussed her untraditional symptoms. She didn’t wash her hands 100 times, but she compulsively “checked in.”

When I read this, phrased in this particular way, I paused and re-evaluated.

I had a difficult pregnancy, in which I threw up for nine months straight. Ever since then, my life has suffered the aftershock. I’m perpetually nervous the nausea will creep up on me. I found myself waking up afraid, even though I was no longer pregnant and felt fine. I subconsciously began “checking in” to make sure I was really OK. I coined my neurosis “pregnancy nausea PTSD.”

The persistent checking-in didn’t help. It was like my lip twitch which lasted for a month before I had to force myself to avoid mirrors for two weeks and it finally went away. I was focusing all of my negative energy inward rather than dissipating it. There was no real medical problem and no need for checking in, but like any bad habit, it was hard to break.

One day I tried counting how many times I “checked in.” I made tick marks with a sharpie on my arm, mimicking a jail tattoo, to prove to myself how ridiculous I was. Essentially I tried to shame myself, hoping for a low number. 

I checked in 12 times, five of them by 1pm. Every time I noticed the marks, I checked in to see if I was really checking in or just checking to see if I was checking in. The whole test was faulty. It worked as effectively as trying to hypnotize myself.

9 thoughts on ““I Count Everything” Club

  1. I do exactly the same thing! I count everything. I also “check in”, just to see if I’ve done everything I need to do and more, and that everything is okay. I think it’s very closely aligned with wanting to control everything. I sometimes think I’m a bit OCD but I don’t throw the term around because I know it is a real disorder and I’m not trying to devalue it’s seriousness and “get in on it”. It’s reassuring when I read a lot of your writing and find it so relatable, it’s nice to know that I’m not the only one, but then at the same time I kinda feel sorry for the both of us.

  2. Yeah it’s helpful to find out you’re not alone and it somehow legitimizes my neurosis as I call them. I try not to throw around the hefty clinical terms either, but I know I’ve been legit diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder and panic disorder (the worst). The OCD I’m avoiding dealing with b/c I don’t value medical treatment anymore and think all shrinks are useless on me because I tell them more than they tell me. I just need the secret programming switch to my brain to shut it off. In the meantime, I’m wondering how many words it will take to knock the sense into me! Glad there’s another one in my corner half way around the world. Keep writing!

  3. Me too re not valuing medical treatment anymore. After this whole year with my physical health journey, it turns out at the end of the day the medical professionals still don’t know anything and I’m left to figure it out. I don’t even dare to let mental health professionals have a go determining my sanity or competency, nobody is sticking a misunderstood label on my file! I had an emotional health check up and even after I walked away with a piece of paper telling the dr I should get a mental health care plan and get counselling, I filed that piece of paper away and haven’t let it see the light of day. As soon as the counsellor queried whether I had tried massage, yoga, meditation… nope, I do not need to spend $170/hour for a professional to tell me to relax, thank you very much!

  4. I’ve gotten drug prescriptions for anything you can think of but I don’t like the pharmaceutical stuff. Also, I’ve been told therapy (useless), biofeedback (fruitless), meditation (couldn’t even keep up with the app), yoga (fine for stretching but my mind still goes), and a whole range of holistic shit. Truth is all of our bodies are completely unique and all treatments work differently on different people but they have a one size fits all approach. Sometimes I think back to when my mind was “most sane” and it was when I was busiest at work, a single mom, dating and sleeping 3 hours at night. I didn’t have the chance to focus on my neurosis. But we are working on it, on us … and I believe at least it won’t get worse. Fingers crossed!

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