Counting became another way of easing the anxiety of my death thoughts. I had to do EVERYTHING in even numbers to prevent mom from dying. Eventually I just automatically counted things evenly without an intrusive thought—it became an all-consuming habit.
I loved even numbers. Uneven numbers felt off balance or incomplete. My thoughts and activities were always in evens—two steps, four drinks, or six bites of my food. Even!
• The number of bites I took had to be even
• I flushed the toilet 2 times (after wiping with 4 pieces of toilet
• I would eat 2 sandwiches with 4 slices of meat, 2 tomato
slices, and 6 squirts of mustard. I would eat it in 12 bites and chew each bite 6 times. I would also have 12 grapes and 2 glasses of milk
• When I entered or exited a building or crossed any type of a threshold, I always had to step in, back out, and back in again. This would count as 2 times in and out
• I touched everything an even number of times
• I opened and closed doors 2, 4, or 6 times
• I looked at certain things an even number of times
• Blinking was done in increments of 2
• On, off, on, off went the light switches, 2, 4, 6 times (like a light show at a concert)
Counting made me feel quite uncomfortable in many situations, such as taking steps or touching something a certain number of times. These were rituals that others could notice and made me feel odd. Counting things in my head was less noticeable to outsiders, but it would cause me to lose focus of things I needed to be attentive to, such as classes in school or listening to someone speaking. My mind would be in ‘numbers mode’ which made it difficult to concentrate.
Reading was almost non-existent for me for approximately thirty five years of my life. I did not read more than a few pages of any book from sixth grade until I was about forty four years old.
You are probably thinking, “How is that even possible?”
To read a page in a book could literally take me hours. I would constantly break words down into a certain number of letters or split a sentence into so many words; sets of four, six or twelve.
The d/og cr/osse/d the/ road /to vi/sit t/he fa/rmer.
Notice there are four letters in each group-my head would do this for me automatically, which certainly distracted my reading and totally interfered with comprehending what I was reading.
I would also have intrusive thoughts while reading and would have to read pages over and over until I was allowed to go to the next. Sometimes, I had to read each page an even number of times… all of these rituals made reading anything but enjoyable. I was never really reading, I was just performing OCD rituals, so I pretty much stopped reading all together. I remember in high school when I had to do book reports I would read the back of the book, and always received poor grades.
Excessive hand washing soon joined my list of rituals. As a child, it was normal for me to wash my hands a minimum of 50 times a day. It started out less, but continued to worsen as my OCD took more control over my life. The hand washing escalated at night when I lay in bed left alone in my head. The thoughts of death took over, and I washed my hands every time a bad thought occurred. The thought of someone dying transformed into contamination on my hands, so I had to wash them so death would not get on the things I touched. I was up and down for sometimes an hour or more-washing, drying, and washing again, until finally my body gave out because of pure exhaustion. The voices did not tell me to wash my hands. There was just a powerful sense that I “had to” wash; A deep penetrating “must” that lived in my being. The stress of trying to sneak back and forth to the bathroom without anyone noticing me was overwhelming as well. I would have been so embarrassed if anyone noticed my odd behavior. I had to be very quiet, sneaky, and ready with a quick response, such as, “There is something really sticky on my hands,” if someone questioned me. My hands were like rare meat, bleeding and sore from all the washing. The skin on my hands was cracked and dry from the soap and water and from the nail biting (another nervous habit, which to this day I have not yet been able to conquer).
The voice of death was holding me captive in my own head, in a world I refused to allow anyone into, a world I did not understand. I only knew I had to obey these conflicting demands. These demands crippled my childhood and took away the worry-free, fun-loving life every child is entitled to. Instead of playing and socializing, I was saving the lives of the ones I loved as my young years became history.
For the remainder of grade school I obeyed the voice in my head and did what I was supposed to, like the good little girl I was, my mind and body fatigued at the end of each day. I always minded everyone in my life; my verbally abusive father, my teachers, and society. I did what was expected of me, without dispute, never questioning anyone.
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