OCD: Living by the Rules: Numbers: Counting in Sets (Topic#028)

Fun with Numbers! (Part 2 of 4)

Counting in sets



So, counting in sets. This one started early in elementary school. I used to count objects in sets of two. All day, every day. A year later, it turned into sets of three. How or why, who knows. Sets of three is where it remained to this very date.

These were good numbers. I don’t know why, but I liked the numbers two and three. And four. All good numbers to me.

Anyway, I’m trying to think of how to explain counting things in sets. Have you ever been in a waiting room and wanted to occupy your mind somehow, so you looked up and started counting ceiling tiles? I don’t know if that’s common or not. But let’s just say you’ve done that. 😉 Well, it’s like that, except with a lot of pressure riding on the outcome.

In the ceiling tile example, I would not be counting to a high number — I would only be counting sets of three. So, I’d count three ceiling tiles, then three more, three more, etc. In the end, the anxiety would build and build until… there were no remaining ceiling tiles and it broke evenly into sets of three. But say there was an extra ceiling tile? Anxiety. I’d have to start counting them over and over again, in the hope that I had mis-counted the sets and really they were divisible by three.

I wonder if this is making sense in text?

I did this at school, at home, in public. Everywhere I went, I was counting things in sets of three and feeling very anxious. It has the same feeling as if, if this doesn’t add up to three at the end, there will be a moment, that moment of realization that there’s a remainder of ceiling tiles, where I might die. The monsters (or whatever) might come in and kill me. I don’t know how to explain it.

And of course, as is common with OCD, my mind did find ways to make it harder on myself. After a while, it was also anxiety/bad-luck-feeling if the sets were too symmetrical. They couldn’t be all in a row. That was too easy. They had to be in varying patterns. So, one poster from here, combined with two posters from there. Patterns like the knights of a chess set worked wonders.

As I got older, I learned work-arounds. At some point I learned, when I was not sleeping and was counting my wall & ceiling posters over and over and over and over again, that the ceiling posters weren’t divisible by three but if I tagged on the group of wall posters on this wall, together they were divisible by three. So that’s how I “solved” that. There’s still a moment of anxiety when a set has remainders, but I just move my eyes to another group of objects and count those and … eventually, I WILL get to a “complete” set of objects. It can be letters in a word, or words in a sentence. It can be pieces of wood along a door frame. It can be handles on the shelves, combined with the metal latch piece. It can be marks of dust on the metal. It can be anything and everything. It can be a combination of magazines in that pile plus coins on this shelf. It can be anything combined with anything and everything. It’ll be even eventually.

Nowadays, that’s how I handle it. Also, if I find myself counting sets, and DON’T KNOW how many are left to count in a group, I will close my eyes. If I don’t know how many are left, and I can’t see them, and I forget the number I’m at, then the anxiety can release too. Because it could very well have been divisible by three. I’ll never know and that’s okay.


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