Freelance battles fear of numbers

Asking Gareth Salter for two minutes of his time, or whether he envisages starting a family with 2.4 children is likely to cause distress and anguish for the 37-year-old.

Not that your questions would be too personal, but rather because the freelance from Peterborough suffers from obsessive compulsive disorder - meaning he cannot bear the numbers two and four.

The bizarre condition is particularly troubling for Mr Salter because he has suffered from OCD since his University days, to his current status as a self-employed writer, the Daily Mail reports.

The troubles reportedly started when as a student in Nottingham he drove to his parents’ house in Buckinghamshire and passed a male cyclist on the way, later becoming convinced he knocked him over causing serious injury.

“By the time I arrived home, I was hysterical and begged my parents to ring the police to make sure everything was OK,” Mr Salter said, reflecting on his sudden “irrational fear.”

Since then, the freelance says his daily life has been restricted endlessly, ranging from not being able to select supermarket items on the second and fourth shelves, to finding it difficult to watch BBC2 and Channel 4.

Attempts at buying his favourite Special K cereal have also proven difficult, until inflation or special offers fluctuate the cost away from its price tag of £2.44.

And even during those times of supermarket promotions, Mr Salter is challenged by ‘twofirs’ - two-for-one-deals as they are commonly known, most of which remain out of bounds.

Using car parks is another tricky practice that sees second and fourth floors shunned, while the practice of finally parking the car compounds the situation if Mr Salter happens to see a two or a four displayed on the mile reader or dashboard.

But the condition causes more problems in his professional role as a freelance writer.

“If someone asks me to meet them at 4pm, I’ll suggest another time. If the car radio is at volume 22, I have to turn it up or down,” he said.

“I know it sounds ridiculous, but when I’m having a bad day I think if I do anything connected with these numbers something bad will happen to me or someone I care about.”

Medical research suggests insufficient levels of serotonin, the mood-enhancing chemical, is to blame for OCD but the specific cause is not clear.

The most visible symptoms tend to include washing of the hands, other forms of repetitive cleaning, endless counting and the irrational fear or worry of causing – or having caused, physical injury to others.

In Mr Salter’s case, OCD has led him to sessions with a cognitive behaviour therapist and a prescription of anti-depressants.

Although his condition has improved, the freelance continues to battle with the disorder, which experts warn could have fatal consequences for some individuals.

A spokesman for OCD- UK described the condition as “completely debilitating, leading to depression and sometimes suicide.”

He added everyone is a victim on a micro level, such as when people repeatedly check passports before leaving for the airport, but conceded Mr Salter’s phobia was quite rare, despite the number four being quite a regular occurrence for suffers.

OCD leaves people feeling isolated with their problem, the spokesman said, but people are now starting to feel more supported, as the stigma of mental illness begins to fade in society.


7th November 2005

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