I think it is safe to say that after 18 months of treatment (and 10 years of effort), my obsession with cancer has been reduced by about 90 percent. I still check myself out, but much less frequently and without the panic feeling of a compulsion. What I do now seems just beyond sensible. The thing is, as my cancer obsessions and compulsions have gotten better, my counting behavior has returned more and more. It is now at a point that is very familiar to me, one in which I count everything so frequently that I don’t even consciously think about it anymore.
It’s not just counting. It’s even (as opposed to odd) numbers, especially eight and its multiples, and symmetry. What one hand does, the other has to do. What happens on one side must happen on the other. Even numbers also provide this sense of symmetry. Even without consciously counting, I can tell when I’ve done something an odd number of times, no matter how many times it occurs (such as the number of steps I take when walking around the block) and I have alter my pace slightly so that I arrive on my doorstep at a multiple of the number eight. Symmetry is necessary even if the event is something painful like bumping into the door frame. The whole process is internalized and as familiar to me as my sense of self. It’s the thing that has always been. And I wonder, will it always be?
Is the purpose of OCD treatment to “solve” the problem or merely to move its focus to something less troubling? The symmetry obsession (which, I believe, is the purpose of the counting) does not bring the same anxiety as the cancer obsession, but it is equally obsessive, and its compulsions are carried out at a greater frequency. Have I been cured of an anxiety problem only to return to where I started my obsessions? If this is the case, I can live with it. My quality of life is so much better now that the past few years seem like a nightmare from which I am finally waking. I’m simply at a point at which I am trying to, as medical professionals love to say, “manage my expectations.” In short, is this it? Have I arrived at the end of the effectiveness of my treatment, which is exactly the same place I started many years ago?
Like many others, I started treatment expecting nothing to ever get better. That has not been the case at all, as I’ve just explained. I’ve written numerous times about all the ways I thought OCD was somehow linked to my identity, and how I was afraid I wouldn’t know what to do it ever went away. I’m now starting to believe that this is a problem I’ll never have to face. I think it is just who I am.
I am symmetry. I am the number eight.