Internal Counting Games: A Widespread Obsession?

Two-schoolgirls-count-on--009

I recently read this blog post written by an individual who has a tendency to count everything. Excited to find a kindred spirit, I moved on to the comments underneath – and discovered there are loads of us weirdos. Those responding seemed to be equally overjoyed to discover they were not alone in their pesky little habits, so I thought I’d add my voice to the story.

The admission came about completely by accident. In fact, so did keeping it a secret – I never meant to not tell my husband that I like to count things, there was just never any particular reason to bring it up.

We’re falling asleep and I mumble: “Thanks for the box of Ferrero Rocher. They were lovely. I had two. I couldn’t just have one, and three would have been too rich. I ate a grape, though, to make it an odd number.”

He makes a noise that suggests confusion, and I realise I’ve been foiled: “Oh, yea, I never told you I like to eat things in odd numbers.”

Now that’s come out, I might as well disclose all. I’m facing the wall and our bedroom suddenly feels like a blacked out confession booth. I sigh. I’ve also got a thing with numbers in words. How do I explain this, I wonder. You remember old fashioned phone keyboards – like this?

virtual-keyboard-phone-number-entry

Well – A is 1, B is 2, C is 3, and D is 1, E is 2, F is 3. That means that the word ‘Bus’ is 2 + 2 + 4 = 8. I can make the game even MORE exciting by counting the lines in the resulting number – so eight is made of one complete line, making it one. And we’ve created a full circle.

Husband seems utterly bemused. There’s a long pause, I can hear the cogs turning in his brain (no, I’m not counting them) and then he whispers seductively in my ear: “Xylophone”. I get where we’re going with this. Mississippi comes next, and drearily we play the game until sleep catches up with both of us.

As the writer at ‘Last Word On Nothing’ explains, the habit of counting has no implication upon my daily life. I don’t harbour any concerns that some negative situation will arise if I fail to count. I don’t do it in conversation (much) and it doesn’t bother me. It’s more like an internal, self-powered game of Snake or PacMan that keeps me amused when nothing else is particularly occupying my mind.

I replaced the phone-word-number game for some time when I was studying solo for shorthand exams. I already had a job as a newspaper journalist, but I risked losing that if I didn’t pass Teeline, despite no formal training (I did agree to this – my own fault). I’d write the outlines for words that I thought or said in my mind. And yes, sometimes I’d count the lines in the resulting outline. That was actually quite useful, and perhaps helped me at least get my 90wpm certificate (Teeline = nightmare, I’m still mad at myself for never getting to 100wpm).  I still write shorthand in my head, but I prefer the counting game.

Aside from my now confused (and slightly amused) husband, the only other person I’ve mentioned the counting phenomenon to out loud is my mum. She’d no experience of such a funny habit. The closest familial reference I’ve heard came from my Dad. That’s interesting, because visually, despite obvious differences my Dad and I share much the same face and in many ways the same temperament.

Anyway, my Dad once told me he liked to tap in time with the ticking of the clock. My memory is a little fuzzy, but I’m pretty sure if sufficiently bored he said he’d create sub-rhythms to accompany the tick. Strange, since he’s always admitted to being the antithesis to musical, a self-confessed school band triangle player.

Indeed, despite my joy in counting, maths has never been my strong point. My natural leaning is to words, theories, debate, not numbers. I dwell in grey, rarely in the black and white of facts. It’s all very odd.

Odd. 3 + 1 + 1.

Odd, but satisfying, in no way life affecting – really just a personal geeky game that keeps my brain busy when the alternative is white noise.

900px-Galton_number_form.svg

One commenter on the initial article confirmed that similar habits can indeed be a form of Synthethesia – when: “stimulation of one sensory or cognitive pathway leads to automatic, involuntary experiences in a second sensory or cognitive pathway.” Further investigation reveals there is indeed a specific ‘number form’ of this. It’s good to know that other people do it, perhaps we should all get together and hold a party.

Party. 1 + 1 + 3 + 1 + 3. Banging.

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