I’m a self confessed OCD counting addict, where did it come from!
Often as a young child, I would dread attending another clinic appointment for assessing my hearing. I was in a constant state of anxiety, every six months I would have another check up, never knowing if this appointment was going to be decided for another ear surgery. My first surgery was when I was five and I dreaded it, with my whole being. It wasn’t just the vaccinations that I had a deep fear of, because I was re-living the trauma from having my MMR vaccination, a powerful memory I could never forget. There was more.
Every 18 months or so, I would find myself in another hospital bay, awaiting another surgery, for another attempt to fix my weak hearing range? I personally preferred the silence, the distorted sounds that affected understanding and decoding language. I’m deaf to certain tones, which affects how words are absorbed. Added to this, is the attention deficit that was also integral to my development and now, tinnitus. Due to growing up and becoming accustomed to having long periods of silence, when full sound was restored, I found life distressing and disorientating for a few days afterwards, which I was incredibly sensitive to. The subtle sound of the humming refrigerator, the buzzing fish tank, we’re akin to sitting beside a speed train! The noise level that I had to re-accustom to, was phenomenal and painful. I hated surgery passionately, because it made me hypersensitive to real life sound, when I had been coping and learning to live without sound, preferring to follow the sensation of vibration, rather than the sound of distraction.
Very early in life, I developed a chronic fear of future surgeries. The trauma of re-living the experience of the gas mask and being held down due to my hysterics and anxiety, to mask this fear. The journey to the theatre took forever. It felt like miles away from the ward, in truth, it was right around the corner, as a child, the distance was huge. I hated surgery, mournfully. To try to cheat or beat the darkness and fears associated with operations, I taught myself to count. I started to focus my attention when a hearing test was requested. I started to count the gap between each pitch, with acute precision. When a pitch was getting weaker, I would count to the lower pitch and hit the button. I studied the audiologist face for movements, the forehead and how often the hands moved to changed the dial, when I couldn’t hear anything, every time I employed my count down, I successfully escaped further trauma and surgery. I had taught myself to cheat the hearing tests, and further re-traumatisation. I remember a couple of times I failed to hear the doctor when he was about 3 foot behind me, that’s when I knew my game for survival was finished!
I guess at the time, I was creating a defence mechanism, curiosity – obsession! It was a paradox I created, but had no awareness of? I had made counting a defence, a life saving defence, but crippling in equal measure.
(I would count in boredom, count in anxiety, count the dips in the radiator just for something to do! Honestly, my obsession was my friend!). My counting was crippling me in my personal and romantic life. I was easily distracted and to stop myself counting, I would daydream myself out of there.
It worked. My counting enabled me to cheat my way out of surgery, often extending the time to up to three years. The bad news is that my ear drums have been so damaged by surgery, my last op was aged 21. My ear drum now is weak to perforation, due to the inverted ear drum. I was lucky the last perforation healed. I have 24 hour tinnitus, a white noise, rushing over my head constantly. Variable sounds and unusual pitches screech intermittently throughout the day. I have two hearing aids to enhance my hearing capacity. I hate them, because they increase the sound level too much and this makes me hyper sensitive and overwhelmed to all sound. I find the noise level unbearable!
I learnt to escape the headaches and changing frequency through mindful meditation and chakra cleansing. There are so many holistic practitioners out in the community that are skilled at healing energy blocks and inner restrictions.
My counting in the silence also taught me to overcome my fear of water. I had unknowingly put myself through exposure therapy at age 12. I was so embarrassed that I could just about swim a couple of strokes, but i was paranoid and terrified to put my head under water, due to my earlier trauma of drowning.
I started by jumping of the first board. I positioned myself at the side and assessed that I would take about three breast strokes to swim to the side.
My heart was thumping in my chest, I was scared but I knew this was the safest place, there were professional lifeguards that could help if things went wrong?
‘It’s gonna be ok.’ I told myself, ‘you’ve got to do this! People are looking so pretend you’ve done this before?
My throat felt dry and I looked behind me at the queue of people, waiting to jump or dive off. Can they see I’m scared?
Ready….one, two…I closed my eyes and pinched my nose, then willed myself with every ounce of my being to jump…..as I leapt into the deep water, I gasped an intake of air and held my breathe. I felt myself plunge, deep down into the water, I opened my eyes and looked up, to see the top of the water, clear and obscure with bodies walking at the poolside. My heart was pounding and I paddled up to the surface ferociously? My mind was shouting ‘quick, quick swim up’, as I pulled with my arms and kicked with my legs to the surface level counting….one two three four five.
My head burst through the water level and , I exhaled quickly and gasped a quick In take of breathe, I quickly and swam three strokes to the pool side, reaching forward I clasped the ladder as my heart thumped furiously in my chest. I did it, I went underwater and it took five counts to surface to air. (Which was fast counting as I remember panicking and wanting to complete the challenge.)
A smile started to form as I realised what I had just done. I beamed to the tiles on the pool wall, holding onto the metal ladder. I did it, I really did jump and put my head under water. I was overwhelmed with a sense of pride and achievement. I put my foot on the metal step and climbed out of the pool, absorbing the reality of my courage.
I sat on the pool side bench and watched the divers climb up the ladder to the second and third board. My heart still pounding, only this time it was excitement that was fuelling me.
That’s what I want to learn next!