Sein, 24, Philadelphia, USA

I needed to keep the count at 3. 5. 7. Even shaking hands became an aversion to me

Sein Picture
When I was around 8 years of age, one of my teachers asked why I was always always pressing my fingers into my palms. I vaguely remember telling her I enjoyed doing it or something similar. But I knew that I felt quite distracted by it, quite forced into it. I received excellent marks/grades but the teacher noticed that I would have days where I couldn’t pay attention at all. These are the days when I could not stop pressing my fingers in this way. She concluded that I had developed a bad habit. Except with a habit like picking your nose you have the ability to learn quite quickly what are the best places to let a habit “be” or not. In a way, you can “situate” or contextualise your habit, where the situation constrains the triggers necessary to stop the behaviour or persist in the action usually through carrots (rewards) and sticks (punishment). My teacher soon learned that no matter how many times she told me to sit my hands flat or to apply “sticks” as negative reinforcement, I couldn’t stop. She noted it down as misconduct because I was obviously lacking the right application of control that she felt was adequate for children of our age. Mind you this was also a school of uniforms which had made itself a hallmark of being strict and extremely formal. A few times after attempting to forcibly flatten my hands into a shape of a high five, I remember that as soon as she would turn away, I would quickly go back to pressing my fingers. But not just any fingers. I had somehow developed a logic for pressing my fingers together which had given me temporary relief and an essential resolution.


I would spend hours ensuring that my middle finger was properly pressed against my palm 7 times.


Then I would ensure the 2 outside fingers were pressed against 5 times.


The outside 2 (thumb and pinky) would need to be pressed against 3 times. The key to ending correctly was either doing the middle finger last and keeping it pressed on the seventh or pressing all of them with 1 left off of each so that I could press all of my fingers against my palm and go on about my day.

This meant I couldn’t do anything without risking getting stuck in this. I had realised this and it began affecting all of my decisions. It would literally stop me in the middle of fencing practice causing me to concede and take a break while my instructor would also attempt to correct me.

Press. Press. Press.

Press. Press. Press. Press. Press

Press. Press. Press. Press. Press. Press. Press.

It was getting in the way of task that required me to focus. Especially physical tasks. When I would read I would have to hold the book weirdly so that everything was “ok” or neutral for the count. I needed to keep the count at 3 5 7. Even shaking hands with others became an aversion for me.
This was getting out of hand (no pun intended) , because it wasn’t just my hands.. It slowly began to invade other areas of my life, first extending to my feet. No stepping on cracks. Only walking in chunks of 7. Restarting if I couldn’t get to my destination without ending on 7. Yes walking on cement with ordered lines was fine. But try wood floors. Try walking to your house which just so happens to be a 45 minute walk on a dirt road. The time was double, triple and sometimes longer for me. I was creating structures based on 7 literally out of sand.

Step. Step. Step.

Step. Step. Step. Step. Step.

Step. Step .Step oops.

Start Over! Start Over! Start Over!

Step. Step. Step.

Step. Step. Step. Step. Step.

Step. Step. Step. Step. Step. Step. Step.

I started getting very intense about having windows rolled all the way up. I began having recurring thoughts about falling out of the window or my head being battered off. I began to stare so intensely and hold on so tight. I’d become like a turtle. I would stuff non-pocket based food into my pocket to ensure it wouldn’t fly out. I would sit on my books so they couldn’t fly out. I would sit in a car on a hot day and keep the windows up so that I could feel ok that it was unlikely that I or my things were going to fly out the window, at least not on this trip.

I became extremely antisocial. When parents would try to give me a ride home I would say no because I thought they would keep the windows down. I didn’t want to be with friends because I became quite known for running like a fairy and being quite scared of everything they were just fine with.

I became increasingly anxious. I remember not wanting light to shine through the blinds. It was like nails on a chalkboard. I would cover my blinds with a thick blanket but sometimes it was too bright so I would just stay out of my room until it wasn’t as bright and I could cover it. My grandfather would take it down after awhile and then I would be forced to deal with it again. I remember waking up in the middle of the night screaming because the light pattern was on my skin and I remember wanting to be in my closet which meant a lot since I’d been afraid of the closet for as long as I can remember.

After a few too many public break downs (that I won’t get into many here), the people in my life began to take it seriously; my piano teacher talked to my grandparents about my conditions saying that I wasn’t able to advance because when I practiced I would have to stop every 2 minutes or so, pressing and then counting. My teachers had had enough of my defiant acts and finally I was sent to a psychologist. It took him all but a couple months to diagnose me with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.

I’ve come out today to shine a light into just a small part of the complexity I’ve had to deal with while having a disorder like OCD.

Like many mental disorders, there is no perfect formula to cure it but it can and did get better. I am not without my tendencies but I have been given the tools to deal with it. It fades in and out of my life and I don’t always know what causes it. I can see it in the monk months I have reading books for 12 hours a day for months at a time with little food or working on a project to the point of becoming sick. I see strands of it, some thick some thin, lingering in my life and I have to do my best to notice when they are “getting disorderly”. But I am 200x better than I was because it came to the attention to others that there might be more to this than bad habits. So I was able to get a grip on it. I am fortunate where others have been less fortunate. We need to make sure that we don’t confuse bad habits with mental issues as well as redevelop our collective empathy for the diversity of the human condition. I think this is essential to help people get better and become more realistic about their situations. It starts and ends with empathy. So take today to remember that!

Categories: The Wall

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