Number OCD

Four is the magic number.

I know why this is, and I know Number-OCD is a problem like all the others. I just find it hard to not let it control me.

I count things that I do obsessively, such as the steps I climb. If it’s not four that’s cool, but I much prefer even numbers.

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This is not ‘Just Right OCD’ (or Tourettic-OCD) for me personally.

If it was Just Right OCD, I would need the steps to be the right number for it to feel just right in my mind. Similar to Tourette’s, with more of a pressure that needs to be released instead of reversing an intrusive thought.

Instead this comes as a result of uncomfortable, intrusive thoughts that I want to put right, not an uncomfortable mental itch that I need to scratch.

Why is the number four so important?

I have associated the number four with my immediate family ever since my father passed in 2013.

Growing up, my home consisted of my mum, dad, sister and myself.

After my dad died, I started to do things in groups of four because I began to associate each count with a family member.

A family shape cut out of paper in front of a blue wall

An example would be if I was at the store, I couldn’t just buy three products. Although I live alone and I am not buying things for my family, I would associate each product with a family member.

Not buying a fourth meant I was leaving someone out.

For whatever reason, my OCD would tell me:

You’re only buying three things? There’s four of you in your family, who are you not thinking of?

Is it your dad? Do you not care about him now he’s passed?!’

Since then I have had this obsession with doing things in four. I know it’s crazy, but the anxiety and guilt wins most of the time.

What if it’s not possible to do things as a four?

If I’m walking down a path and there’s three steps in front of me. I’ll count them. And because it’s three I get uncomfortable. I want it to be four.

Because I can’t make it four, I’ll do a fake step in my head at the top. I will tap the floor again with my foot to make it feel like another step.

I can also think of my dad with a good thought, rethinking a nice memory of us doing something together. That usually works.

Southbank is a nightmare for stair-counting OCD

Southbank is a brutalist concrete jungle on the south side of the river Thames. It is littered with stairways winding down boring grey walls, leading to more colourful bars and restaurants.

This staircase has 32 steps altogether. I counted it.

The view of the stairs leading down

17 steps in the first flight, 15 in the second. On their own, an odd number would have my anxiety rise. But because together they make 32, I am more content.

Even numbers are better than odd

If it is more than four steps, an even number of steps is better than an odd number. Six is better than five. 12 is better than 11.

This is because in my head, an odd number is leaving someone out entirely. I picture numbers in rows of two, with each row hopefully being in a pair. So when there’s an odd number, one goes without a pairing.

It is isolated, abandoned.

A visual description of how even numbers are better than odd

I picture the white circle on the left as one of my family members. Usually my dad, as my OCD convinces me I don’t care about him anymore since he passed. But I can associate it with my mum or sister too and have feelings of guilt.

The two white circles on the right are together, which is much more desirable. They aren’t entirely alone.

Sometimes the odd numbers feel uncomfortable without the intrusive thoughts

I don’t always have these intrusive thoughts with odd numbers. Sometimes I just feel dirty with an odd number. This ‘dirty’ feeling is commonly associated with mental contamination.

I try not to have this obsession. But I just feel myself counting along in my head. It happens almost without any effort and this is why it is so tricky to stop.

As I mentioned earlier, it isn’t always with stairs. It can be the amount of doors I walk through in a corridor. I could even be the amount of sips I take of a drink.

The lack of effort it takes to count in my head makes Number OCD so difficult to tackle.


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