I grew up feeling out of place but hearing from adults that I would grow out of my eccentricities and the elements of my self that seemed anomalous.
There were things that I did on a regular basis without even realizing that I was doing them, reading the words on signs forwards and backwards, for example.
My younger sibling pointed one of these habits out to me.
“Did you just touch that dresser twice?” they asked. I had not even realized that after my finger grazed the surface of the piece of furniture as I walked past it that I had reached out and touched it a second time with the same index finger of my hand.
These were simply things that I did, and I did them so often that it had not occurred to me that they were not a regular part of my peers’ patterns of behavior.
It would be a bit arrogant to imagine that I am all that different from most people. I am still only human, after all. Isn’t that what they say?
But when I started inquiring into the habits of my friends in my early twenties, I began to realize that I really was nowhere close to the culturally accepted definition(s) of what it meant to be normal.
As an adult, I began paying closer attention to these patterns. There were times when I felt like they might drive me to madness.
Having to make sure that when closing my the closet doors in my bedroom, the two doors clicked shut at exactly the same moment and then repeating this action to make it an even number. If I closed them shut simultaneously once only to repeat the action with each door clicking shut just out of sync, I had to close them out of sync a second time and then repeat the synchronized ceremonial shutting of the doors. In order that each action be taken in an even number. Why else? Isn’t that what any normal person would do if put in a similar situation?
The notion of simply leaving the doors open was simply not an option.
There was a specific way to fold my socks, underwear, and bras. T-shirts and pants had their own system as well.
Turning light switches on and off; walking in and out of rooms; opening and closing doors and drawers; last glimpses into rooms as I left them before shutting the door—these rituals all had rules.
They say rules were made to be broken, but try as I might, I could not seem to stray from the rules of any of these rituals without a deep discomfort that was often so strong I would go back and engage in the ritual in order to alleviate the duress that was created.
I asked a therapist I was seeing in my late twenties if I had OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) and was relieved to learn that I possessed all but the “D.” Yes, I engaged in these behaviors. Yes, they could be frustrating and often spiraled a little more out of control during times of increased stress. But I was aware of them and was not so far gone as to allow them to completely inhibit my ability to function in my daily life.
In fact, I was beginning to find ways to simplify the behaviors so as to regain some of my control and sanity.
Instead of placing the long narrow portions of my socks and rolling them one over the other, I simply folded them in half. I stopped folding my underwear altogether and simply lay them one on top of the other. I still needed to ensure that the tops were all lined up; I still placed them into the drawer, lifted them out, and placed them neatly in the drawer a second time (you know, so it was even); but it was a step closer to some semblance of managing whatever it was in my unconscious that was encouraging me to engage in all of these patterns in the first place.
The only person in my life that I found solidarity with in these strange rituals was my father.
Several years ago, I described some of these behaviors to him.
“Oh yes. I do that,” he responded.
“Really?” I was so relieved to not be completely alone. Most people looked at me like I was crazy when I asked them if they read things forwards and backwards or counted the items they saw on the wall or on a person’s body (that was is really weird and I only recently shared this long-kept secret for the first time) until the items all added up to an even number.
If I start thinking about it, most moments of the day are filled with one of these behaviors. But I still leave the house in the morning and head to work, so I guess I am not completely lost to this world. Maybe, just a little. But I am who I am, and I am used to being my self. And I am not alone.
Much of what I do seems to be related to making things even. I really like things to be even. I thought my thirties would be a real struggle until my partner shared the brilliant discovery that when the integers of every number of the thirties are added together you get an even number. Thanks the gods!
Here is a list of what has been/continues to be like to be me; some behaviors I have managed to overcome, while others remain:
If a muscle on one side of my body twitches, I have to twitch the matching muscle on the other side of my body to make it even right knee
If a finger on my hand taps another finger on the same hand, I must repeat the action.
I told you about the closet doors, lights switches, etc.
If I see a Stop sign, I will read the sign “Stop Pots.” Sometimes, I will count the components on the sign until I reach an even number of items.
Stop = 1
The sign itself = 3
The pole the sign is attached to = 4
The nails in the sign = 5 (even though there are two, they are the same item, so they could be categorized as one item; unless, of course, I reach an uneven number of components on the sign. It is as this point that things can begin to get more complicated and unmanageable. I might count each individual nail and even go so far as to count the letters in the word as individual entities.)
A Yield sign will be similar.
If there is an arrow on the sign, I will label it accordingly–arrow going up to the right.
The list goes on, but I fear I may have lost you at the point, and I am hungry and ready for dinner and a glass of wine.
Wishing you a peaceful and stress-free evening, whatever your own eccentricities may be.