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Counting All the Time This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

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   One,three, six, ten .... not being able to focus on anything but counting has reallyconcerned me lately. Why do I do this, and what causes it? Counting has become aneveryday, normal part of my life. I do not just count numbers, I also group themand add them up in my head. In school I usually count and add the numbers on aclock, or I group and add the number of people in my class. In a car, I count thenumbers on license plates, the letters on billboards, even the white dashes onthe interstate.

My problem became clear to me two years ago while watching"Dateline." I discovered I am not the only person with this problem,and that it has a name: Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD).

OCD is ananxiety disorder that may have genetic origins and is believed to be caused by animbalance of

serotonin in the brain. Serotonin is a chemical that acts asa messenger between the orbital cortex (the front part of the brain) and thebasal ganglia (deeper structures of the brain). When the serotonin levels areunbalanced, messages that go from one part of the brain to another get messed up,resulting in repetitive thoughts. These intrusive impulses are called obsessions,and they drive people with OCD to act out time-consuming rituals or habits knownas compulsions.

My time-consuming rituals finally had a name and reason.My counting was not because I was insane, but because of a chemical imbalance inmy brain.

People suffer from different types of OCD. Obsessions arethoughts, images or impulses that occur over and over again out of a person'scontrol. They feel disturbing and intrusive, and a person usually recognizes thatthey do not make sense. Excessive worries about dirt and germs and being obsessedwith the idea that they are contaminated, or may contaminate others, are majorconcerns of someone with OCD. They may also have obsessive fears of havingaccidentally harmed someone, even though they usually know this is not true.Obsessions are accompanied by uncomfortable feelings such as fear, disgust, doubtor a sensation that things have to be done "just so."

Peoplewith OCD typically try to make their obsessions go away by performingcompulsions. About 90 percent of those with OCD have both obsessions andcompulsions. Compulsions are acts a person performs over and over again, oftenaccording to certain "rules." Each person has their own set theyfollow. For example, someone with an obsession about contamination may wash theirhands until they become raw or even bleed. A person may count objects over andover because of an obsession about losing them.

Counting is one compulsivedisorder, others are washing, touching, arranging, hoarding, saving and praying.While my compulsive disorder, counting, seems to have a reason - an obsession - Iam not sure what my obsession is, because the fear of losing something is not myproblem.

Oh, wait - as I write this, my

obsession has become clearto me! I have an obsession with even numbers. I count and add all the time to geteven sums. To me, even numbers are the only ones that are "real." Icannot stand odd numbers; they almost terrify me. This is going to sound reallyweird, but odd numbers do not have friends, and even numbers do. At some time Imust have felt I needed the comfort of knowing someone was always there for me.

This problem must have started with my parents' divorce; they split upwhen I was in first grade and I started counting soon after. It is estimated thatone million children and adolescents in the United States suffer from OCD, whichcould mean three to five children with OCD per average-sized elementary schooland about 20 teenagers in a large high school.

Treatments for OCD vary.It can be treated with a mild anti-depressant, and behavior therapy is effective,too. A combination of these two helps most sufferers find relief.

When Ifirst realized I had OCD, I did not think it was that bad, but then I startedrecalling everything I count. I amazed myself; not only do I count people,letters and numbers, but also pictures on the wall, windows in my house, chairsat a table, doors in a building, lights in a room, icons on a computer screen.The list goes on and on. You would think doing this must exhaust me, but thetruth is I barely notice. I will be in the middle of counting something, andrealize, Oh, I'm counting again.

I'm debating treatment. It is scary tothink that counting and adding are not normal. If I were to get treatment I wouldhave a lot more time to concentrate on more important subjects. I guess I willjust have to wait and see what feels right.




This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.




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This article has 4 comments. Post your own!

stampschick said...
Jul. 25, 2012 at 10:50 am:
Thanks so much for this article!! It is comforting to know that I am not alone in my wierd obsession to count all kinds of things--even the shapes of the lines on people's faces--while they are talking to me! I count any shapes that happen to be around, and like the writer of this article, the count MUST add up to an even number, like 4, or multiples of 4, such as 8, 12, 16, 32, 64, etc. I had an accident once and toataled my car in a parking lot because I was counting the light poles! A dan... (more »)
 
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chelsrose11 said...
Dec. 17, 2010 at 7:44 pm:
OMG I literally, I mean literally have the exact same "problem". For as long as I can remember I have been counting letters and numbers and even conversations with other people. I even went to two years of therapy, which seemed to not solved anything except my germophobia. I have yet to decide if this is a gift or a curse. Totally feel where you're coming from!
 
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debbiect said...
Feb. 8, 2010 at 3:00 am:
I meant to say "I do not have the capacity" and I am 56
 
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debbiect said...
Feb. 8, 2010 at 2:58 am:
I do have the capacity to expand on numbers as you do but I have been counting numbers all my life. I have been able to a point so it is a "habit" but not overly obsessive. I didn't realize until a few days ago when I walked upstairs that I still do it. I'm not trying to be funny but I just thought it was something I just do til now when I have been self-analysing myself. I know I need help in this as in other parts of my brain. So I will try to embrace it. Blessings
 
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