William Smith By the numbers

One, two, three, four. Oh, don’t mind me; go on with your reading. I was just counting the words as I type. Let’s continue. Twenty-five, twenty-six.

Several years ago I mentioned to a friend my ability to memorize music albums and play back the songs in my head in order. To which I was told, “Yes, a lot of people with OCD have that ability.” A sudden awareness I’d not had before struck me. “I have OCD?”

That night I researched this condition (long name: obsessive-compulsive disorder) and found a definition similar to this one: “an anxiety disorder in which people have unwanted and repeated thoughts, feelings, ideas, sensations (obsessions), or behaviors that make them feel driven to do something (compulsions). Often the person carries out the behaviors to get rid of the obsessive thoughts, but this provides only temporary relief. Not performing the obsessive rituals can cause great anxiety.” Bingo! Well, that was a relief. I had always thought I was crazy.

For as long as I can remember, going back to age 5, I have needed to count things, such as the number of seconds it took to brush my teeth, to walk across a room, the number of footsteps on the half-mile walk to school, and so on. I feel the compulsive need to close drawers that have been left even slightly ajar by members of my family (I always fully close them). And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Obsessions I’ve had range from the slightly odd to some very irrational, unwelcome thoughts that are almost terrifying. I have read that many people report having obsessions that are quite violent. A common trait in a person with OCD is that the thoughts are difficult to manage, but the actions are, with minor effort, completely controllable.

As a young child with no frame of reference, I simply thought that everyone was this way. The condition is not all that difficult; it just gets in the way. For example, there is a song playing in my head every moment, from the time I awaken until I fall asleep. It works pretty well if it is a piece that I enjoy; otherwise, the only way to get it out is to replace it. Once “Funky Town” tortured me for an hour when I was struggling to debug some nasty piece of software at work. There is always someone inside my cranium with a boom box — I have no quiet time. Sometimes I long for a complete silence that I will never have.

I don’t care for loose ends and want everything to be in a neat and tidy state. I lose sleep over lost friendships, disagreements that were never dealt with or left uncorrected, and unfinished tasks that await me at work. I suspect that this is not a learned behavior, but is inherited. My father exhibited numerous OCD characteristics, and I have observed them in one of my daughters. The National Institutes of Health says there are about 2 million of us in the United States, which is about one in 100 people. Other websites claim more than that.

A short while ago I made the choice to enjoy my OCD. I now call it “obsessive-compulsive delight.” Sometimes it drives my wife crazy, so it can’t be all bad. Additionally, the abbreviation is all wrong — it should be CDO. That places the letters in the proper order, as they should be.

Five-hundred-eighty-two, five-hundred-eighty-three …

William Smith lives in Frederick with his wife, two children, and cat, all of whom are smarter than he. When he grows up he hopes to retire and ride his bicycle full time. smithiums@hotmail.com