By Carolyne Mitchell
There are 15 lampposts between my house and the train station, five stops before I have to get off for work, three bus stops between the station and work and 72 stairs up to my office.
I used to count them out loud but mum said I sounded mad so I started counting in my head.
When I first started counting I’d sometimes get distracted and get muddled. The panic would rise quickly and take over all of my senses until I felt like there was electricity pulsing through my body. My breaths would come fast and shallow. I’d be on the edge of hyperventilating. I’d have to stop and lean against a lamppost or a shop window. Most people just walked past me. They probably thought I was drunk. Or that odd person you don’t want to sit next to on the bus. Care in the community. Move on. Avoid contact.
My therapist helped me through those early days. She taught me how to slow my breathing, how to gather my thoughts, gave me coping strategies. She didn’t try to stop me counting, thank goodness.
Once I’ve sat at my desk I have to touch everything to make sure the cleaner hasn’t moved anything. It all has to be just right. There’s not much – keyboard, mouse, mousemat, two screens and headphones. No need for a pen – we’re a 100% digital office, paper-free with a clear desk policy. My mug and spiced chai teabags are the only things in my drawer. Each morning, once I’ve checked everything on my desk is in the right place, I pop a teabag into my mug and head for the kitchen. Thirty-five steps to the kettle in the kitchen, unless I stop for a chat at Jude’s desk. There are 12 steps to her desk. I can never decide whether to start at 13 once we’ve had a chat or start at one and count the remaining steps to the kitchen as a separate trip. So I mix it up and do it turn about. But then I stress if I can’t remember what I did last.
At home it’s much easier. Three steps from the bed to the wardrobe. Another three from the bed to the window. Six from the window to the bedroom door. Three steps to the bathroom – once I’m in there, everything is pretty much one step. Another three steps to the living room or four to the kitchen.
I’ve noticed recently that I’m sometimes losing count and not freaking out. In fact, sometimes I’m not counting at all. I still count in the house but sometimes when I’m out it dawns on me that I’m not counting at all.
When I think back the silences in my head probably started when I met Max. The day I met him I knew my life was about to change but I had no idea how much. We met a few times. Took things slowly. Got to know each other. Five weeks later he moved in and that’s when the counting began to calm down. Max filled my head instead of numbers.
Max is handsome. He has a calm and beautiful soul. He has given me my life back and broken my counting habit.
Max is my guide dog.