Trigger Warning: This can cause a trauma response.

When I was little and helpless to escape my abusive environment, my brain formed a rather amazing coping strategy to distract me from the fear and pain. It is a form of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) called Arithmomania.

For me, it has morphed over time. Back then, I organized and counted spaces around me. I made the counting end symmetrically. It’s too complicated to explain, as it often is for those that formed this type of trauma response.

Today, I put digits in numerical order. Like addresses on mailboxes, digital clocks or license plates.

*See other interesting examples I’ve heard of at the bottom of this post.

OCD is in the Flight Category of the 4Fs

I have Complex PTSD from childhood abuse and ODC is a trauma response that falls under the Flight category (out of the 4 F responses: Fight, Flight, Freeze, Fawn), according to Pete Walker in his book “CPTSD From Thriving to Surviving”.

It is considered a Flight response because it is a means of distracting the mind from an unbearable reality. While the body was not able to escape, the mind could —through distracting mental processes like Arithmomania. (Note: this can also manifest through compulsively thinking about, organizing and compiling letters and words.)

The Prevalence of OCD

The National Library of Medicine states that OCD is suggested to impact 1-2% of the population. However, my own experience and research say that percentage is much greater.

OCD has many forms. Some forms are noticeable in others, such as compulsive cleaning or checking. Some are very disruptive to one’s life. Those are the instances that get counted in the population.

Other forms of OCD, however, like Arithmomania, are usually not detectable because the processes are happening within a person’s head, and because those processes are often complex, they’re hard to describe to others. Many who have tried to describe them report getting blank stares in return. Eventually, attempts to describe are abandoned. Many cases of OCD are mild to moderate and don’t require outside intervention. Those are the instances that are not counted.

Medications That Help

Fortunately for me, my Arithmomania is not severe enough to impact my quality of life. I simply notice that I’m doing it and let it happen. It can be comforting during times of stress. Some people even consider it a great skill or superpower, coming up with cool names for themselves like “The Code Cracker.”

However, if this or another form of OCD is creating hardship, there are medications that seem to help, according to studies and testimonies from those I’ve spoken with.

  • Anafranil: This drug is a tricyclic antidepressant specifically for OCD.

  • NAC (aka: N-Acetyl Cysteine): Studies show that OCD is caused by a “glutamate dysfunction”. NAC is a glutamate modulator that shows promising results in the few studies performed to date.

  • SSRIs: I have been on several kinds of SSRIs and can personally report that my OCD is definitely dulled while on these drugs.


The bottom line, the brain is absolutely fascinating, particularly in the ways it works to protect! While OCD may have formed as a program to shield a person during a particularly difficult part of life, it doesn’t necessarily just go away when the danger is gone.

If needed, medication can be helpful to reduce any negative impact it may have on daily life.

Otherwise, it can be seen as an innocuous way of coping with mild to moderate stress. Many reports are simply awed by the way their brains work to solve complicated mathematical operations or complex word games automatically.

For me, it’s just a special part of who I am. Like Count Dracula. Ahh Ahh AHHHH!

*Examples of Arithmomania:

“I count the steps I take within a concrete block without stepping on cracks. I also count the steps every time I walk up them. I know how many there are but I do it every time.”

“I count stairs every time I’m on them. I also do this counting/pattern in my head of my age.”

“I know someone who writes numbers in a notebook over and over. I asked them why they do it and they said they didn’t know why, they said they just really liked doing it.”

“I do this with words and letters. I am constantly rearranging letters in my head to see how many other words I could make with one particular word or by putting letters of a word into alphabetical order.”

“I used to take all the digits of any grouping together, like dates or barcodes or addresses, and find the operations necessary to make them equal 8, my favorite number.”

“I’m a counter, in 4s.”

“For many years, every word I heard or spoke, I would have to work out in my head how many letters on the QWERTY keyboard would be typed with each hand.”

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