I’m hoping that my friends here in the blogging world can help me understand a symptom I’ve been experiencing for nearly two decades. Some of my psychologists and therapists have attributed it to OCD, others to PTSD, and others just say they don’t know. None have been able to treat it or help me manage it much. Usually I am just told to “try really hard to resist the urge” or “distract yourself”. These things have worked on rare occasions, but usually I just can’t help but do it.
The symptom is what I call visual tracing. It first began when I was a child. I began to feel this compulsion/urge to visually trace the frames of pictures on the wall. That soon expanded to having to trace the line where the wall meets the ceiling, the outlines of windows and doorways, the contours of the mountains outside, and clouds. After I turned 16 I noticed I had to trace the outlines of buildings, billboards, and clouds as I drove—miraculously and thankfully I have never rear-ended anyone or caused any crashes because of it.
It happens with objects on my left more often than objects to my right. And my neck can get really sore from turning my head repeatedly to trace. It causes a lot of tension and pain in my face and head as well, causing terrible headaches.
The times I notice it most are when I’m jogging (gets dangerous), reading, on the computer, watching a movie, driving (more dangerous), in class, or talking to people.
Like most mental illness symptoms, its worse when I’m really stressed or really tired. And its worse when I am somewhere unfamiliar or less-safe feeling.
Sometimes it even happens when my eyes are closed (like when I’m falling asleep), and I have to trace things I can’t even see. My brain just still feels compelled to turn my closed eyes to the left and trace unseen lines.
When it’s really bad, I also have to add my tongue—tracing my gums and the inside of my teeth along with what my eyes are tracing.
Sometimes I go a long time—weeks—without having to trace anything (or at least not noticing it), other times it happens all day long.
I have tried to notice any thoughts/obsessions that could be driving the visual tracing, but usually I don’t notice anything preceding it.
Do any of you experience anything similar? Or do you have a friend with a mental illness who experiences these things? Please spread the word. I won’t take it as authoritative medical advice, I would just love to know what disorder this might be part of, and what people’s psychologists have taught them that helps with it. Send me a message if you or anyone you know could shed some light on this for me. Thank you!