I’m sure I wasn’t older than eight when I first noticed my obsession with numbers and patterns. When doing the dishes I had the overwhealming compulsion to ensure that the red and yellow plates and cups were stacked in a way that each stack clearly showed a pattern. It was a challenge to come up with different patterns, especially as we did not have an even number of each colour. It was also a time when I would adjust my steps to ensure I had taken exactly an even number of steps; I always began with my right and finished with my left. Going even further with the steps I had to take an even number of steps (and the same number of steps) within each square of sidewalk, without cheating and stepping on a crack. Finally I figured that an odd number was just like a palindrome, and with great effort, I weaned myself from the very stressful compulsion of counting my steps. I can definitively announce that I no longer count my steps, and that as all of my dishes are white, I’m not plagued with the need to make patterns.
My high school math teacher, Lorna Shaw, was a hurricane. We always entered that first period class a little bleary-eyed and exited 75 minutes later dizzy. She amazingly re-taught us the previous years’ math to fill in all of our obvious gaps from junior high in addition to covering our entire curriculum for grade 10. (Then when we had her again for grade 11 we didn’t require remediation — somehow, however, the class’ pace didn’t seem to slack.) She was very demanding and it was a hard transition for us. I typically fell asleep, pencil in hand, with my math book open, only hours before my alarm would ring and start the day again. I became obssessed with numbers as I now saw all the ways in which they were interconnected. Every time I looked at a digital clock I couldn’t look away until I had calculated a relationship between the numbers, and even now I still seek patterns or number sentences in phone numbers. Interestingly enough, the time on the clock I saw exponentially more than any other time was 5:27. That was an easy one: 5+2=7, but to this day when I glance at the clock at 5:27 I remember high school. I don’t remember when or how I kicked that habit, but I believe it faded with the hurricane of graduation, work, and college.
I’m sure there’s a good reason as to why at some points in my life I’m more succeptible to these compulsive behaviours than others. Both instances of math obsessions came shortly after our family had moved, the first to a new house within the same school district, the second was back up to the Yukon. Both times were at pivotal points of my developing independence. During these shaky times I turned to math for comfort, and when I felt comfortable with my new situation, I turned my attention to breaking the habit and living free.
We all have our own neuroses.