This is an odd condition in which you are constantly drawing outlines of visible shapes with your eyes.
You may be sitting there at home, perfectly at ease, thinking about something or other, only to find that all the while you have been repeatedly tracing the outline of something, perhaps the lines of the wall around the windows, or the entire area of the ceiling. Sometimes the shapes you draw are so big that you move your head rather than your eyes.
That’s it. ‘Disorder’ may be the wrong word – it may be entirely benign. I am curious about this condition because I have been doing it for many years, probably all my life, certainly since I was at school 30 years ago. The action is so frequent and automatic that usually I am not aware I am doing it. In recent years I have become more self-aware and, on consciously checking, find that yes, indeed I have been drawing these outlines all the while, and, strangely, find that I have a clear memory of doing it as if I was perfectly conscious of the action at the time.
This picture shows some typical outlines I might trace in a room.
Walls seem to obsess me particularly, especially the outline that things make against the wall, but that may be because I am most often indoors. Outside, it obviously happens less because shapes are constantly changing, but it still happens at every opportunity. My brain immediately seeks out and latches onto the shapes of things against surfaces and starts tracing them as if it is the key to some kind of discovery. I have a distinct preference for certain types of shape – they have to be irregular and ‘interesting’. I would not be interested in tracing the simple rectangular outline of the television, for instance.
I am the first to admit this is not entirely normal though I am in two minds whether it is pathological. It may well aid concentration – akin to jiggling the leg or pacing up and down. On the other hand, it is mildly annoying to catch myself doing it constantly, and the activity must be taking up cognitive resources (as it were a portion of computer memory), that may impede concentration on other tasks, even significantly. I don’t know.
There is no discernible anxiety connected with this. It doesn’t seems to happen more in tense situations than in others, but all the time, with any static scene and in the most relaxed environments. At the very least, it seems to indicate an over-alert mind, and may go hand in hand with a number of other obsessive-compulsive disorders, such as compulsive counting or restless leg syndrome, though I think (thankfully) it is much less intrusive than those. Perhaps I am the only person in the world afflicted by this outline tracing condition, but somehow I suspect I am not alone.
One thing I’m not interested in is talking to a doctor about this. I have never yet met a doctor who, when it comes to subtle areas like phobias and allergies, have much of a clue and I’ve met plenty who have been downright harmful with their ill-informed speculation. Even a specialist in OCDs, I suspect, will have little clue how to deal with this, if the specialist advice I have already come across is anything to go by. So please spare me that suggestion.
I have set up this website and coined the phrase Outline Tracing Disorder because I can see no mention of it in the medical literature and hardly any mention of it on the internet. The only reference I have come across is here: Mentalhealth.net where a few individuals mention tracing in combination with compulsive counting.
The aim is to pool available experience on outline tracing. It would be interesting to try to establish, among other things:
- Whether the action is disruptive to normal everyday activity
- Whether the action has any hidden (constructive?) psychological purpose
- Whether it is linked to other conditions (such as headaches or anxiety attacks or the inability to concentrate) which together form a kind of syndrome
- Whether there is anything can be done about it (I suspect not, beyond a lobotomy)
First though, is there anyone out there who recognises this condition? It would be interesting to hear from you. Just click on ‘Leave a reply’ below.
By the way, this WordPress theme apparently doesn’t automatically show the replies at the foot of the page – you have to click on the “replies” link below to see them (there are some). I’ll see if I can fix that sometime.