Mental Health A-Z: Q is for Quantity

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I’d always hated maths. I despised the boring simplicity of finding the one correct answer; using theory after theory to calculate the size of shapes I didn’t care about.

The end of year 11 meant maths was nearly over, and lessons were a case of scraping through the exams. Revising numbers and shapes started off as complete and utter boredom, lacking anything to spark my interest.

But then the numbers started to blur into something else: something obsessive and controlling.

As the compass measured an imperfect circle, thoughts curled and clawed their way into the classroom around me. Numbers emerged in my head; counting how many people were smaller than me. Counting how many girlswere talking about dieting over the summer.Noticing how many boys joked about the girls being fat.

Without me consciously realising it, numbers weaved their way around the entirety of my summer. Once all the exams were done, numbers were my new way of ordering something, almost as a substitute for revision. I finally felt in control of something.


Suddenly an entire year was absorbed by quantities.


How many mouthfuls of dinner.


How many skinny pairs of legs walk past.


How many late mornings.


Eventually, the next two years became smothered with numbers; calories, minutes of exercising, hours of revising.

It was exhausting. Day after day of endlessly writing down numbers in order to have some sense of power over myself. I kept on like this for so long that it became my own definition of normal.

It wasn’t until I recognised the disordered quality of my thinking that things began to change. Gradually the notes on my phone became revision checklists, shopping lists and cinema times; rather than a space for calculating burned and consumed calories. I stopped working at 7ish every night and just relaxed with my family, rather than overeating or over-revising to the point of mental exhaustion.

Now I’ve learnt to replace numbers with words. Although words can also scar and torment; they can also heal your wounds from obsessively counting and memorising quantities. Writing, in particular, soothes the need to organise and regulate every element of my day.

For, as F. Scott Fitzgerald said, ‘A well chosen book saves you from everything, including yourself.’ And although some weeks are still difficult, eventually writing gets me out of bed and into the real world.


Charlie Collett

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