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.