Are You Normal or Nuts?

Are You Normal or Nuts?

Who, aside from those of us allergic to self-reflection, hasn’t ever wondered whether our nutty behavior means that we’re, well, nuts?

For me, the moment of doubt arrived several years ago when I found myself in a conference-center ladies’ lounge, anxiously unwrapping a whole smoked mackerel. I can’t — that is, won’t — reveal any more, except to say that the mackerel offered little guidance to my dilemma at the time, and I wrapped it up again. Then, neither more enlightened nor less composed, I returned to the conference.

My point: None of us is quite as sane as we seem, but neither is every weird thing we do irrefutable proof of insanity. In fact, a lot of our quirks prove that we’re just that — quirky, not certifiable.

How to tell the difference? Start by reading the letters below, submitted by readers just like you, which have been analyzed by our panel of psychiatrists, psychologists, and other therapists. Recognize anyone?

NORMAL OR NUTS?

Lately, after I read an unusual name, place, or phrase — Reince Priebus, Burkina Faso, schadenfreude — I often can’t get it out of my head for days, sometimes weeks. I silently repeat the words to myself, often spell them, and even wake up in the night with the words ringing in my head. Is my brain on the fritz?

VERDICT:
Compulsive but normal

That sounds like a minor obsession, say our experts: Your brain feels that for some reason it must repeat these words. “But compulsions aren’t abnormal in and of themselves,” says psychiatrist Franklin Schneier. So unless this one is taking up more than an hour of your day or truly interfering with your life, Schneier would consider it “an annoyance but not serious.”

To stop the compulsion, embrace it. “Accept that it’s happening,” says Schneier, and that it’s not the world’s worst thing, just a personal idiosyncrasy. “If you say, ‘Oh, my God, there it goes again! I’ve got to stop thinking about that word!’ that’s not productive.” (And then try not to obsess about the word idiosyncrasy.)

Should the Zen strategy fail, try a more aggressive approach, says Schneier: Set aside ten minutes a day to repeat the word over and over again. Make a mental tape loop of it, and play it 100 times a day. Do it so many times that you finally get sick of it.

As an added benefit, you will probably learn these new words very well, says Schneier. You’ll stun dinner guests with your erudition in describing a recurring dream in which you’re overwhelmed by schadenfreude when Republican Party head Reince Priebus declares Burkina Faso to be his favorite Italian dish. “So maybe there’s a silver lining,”
says Schneier.

NORMAL OR NUTS?
I sometimes have strange dreams when taking a nap, and I think they’re real when I wake up. Then, as I come around, I realize they aren’t. Is there something wrong with me?

VERDICT:
Not nuts!

What’s wrong is that you get to take naps and most of us don’t! But are you unhinged? The unanimous consensus among our panel: no. We all have wild dreams, and it’s normal, upon waking, to be fuzzy for a little while or even not remember where we are, especially if we wake up someplace unfamiliar, like a hotel. (Or a crater on Mars filled with unfinished Spanish homework.) Confusion is “normal because it lasts only a few seconds,” says psychologist Margaret J. King, who studies behavior across cultures to see what’s universal and what’s not as head of the Center for Cultural Studies & Analysis in Philadelphia. “What’s abnormal is if you don’t snap out of it.” Since you did — at least long enough to write a letter — you’re fine.

NORMAL OR NUTS?
I just turned 50 and am having trouble recalling names — even those of people I’ve worked with for years. Recently, I drove to work, parked my car in the lot, and at the end of the day couldn’t remember where I’d left it. Should I be worried?

VERDICT:
Perfectly normal

Worried about what? Oh, right, forgetting things. That’s par for the course for someone your age, says psychologist Alan Hilfer, chief of psychology at Maimonides Medical Center in Brooklyn, New York. “That’s why people in their 50s and 60s start calling everybody sweetie or champ or buddy. Because they have no idea what the person’s name is.”

Forgetfulness is not even a sign of impending dementia, Hilfer says, unless you can’t remember where you put your shoe “and you open the refrigerator and it’s on the first shelf.” When something like that happens, you should consult a neurologist.

As for not being able to remember where your whatchamacallit is — the thing with wheels, that you drive? That’s so normal, it has become sitcom fodder. “Didn’t you ever watch Seinfeld?” asks Hilfer.

If you don’t remember who Seinfeld is, then maybe it’s time to see one of those guys who wear a white coat and a stethoscope.

NORMAL OR NUTS?
When people are eating, I can’t stand the sound of a fork or spoon clanking on a plate or bowl. I get chills, nauseated, and a headache. I’m also sickened by the sound of people chewing with their mouths open. Is there something wrong with me?

VERDICT:
Possibly nuts
It’s tempting to suggest there is something wrong with everyone else you know. How come they don’t eat with their mouths closed? At the least, you are overly sensitive to minor irritations, says psychologist Pauline Wallin — a sensitivity she understands too well: “When I hear Diane Sawyer’s voice on TV,” she confesses, “I have to run and turn it off, it’s so annoying.”

Minneapolis internist Archelle Georgiou says you may also be suffering from an obscure malady called misophonia. First described in 2001 by Emory University scientists Pawel and Margaret Jastreboff, the condition is characterized by a loathing of a range of sounds, such as those made by trains, musical instruments, and people (their breathing, for instance). According to British support group Misophonia UK (misophonia-uk.org), people with the disorder can feel an overwhelming desire “to escape the vicinity of the sound at all costs.”

Try refocusing your attention away from the irritant, Wallin suggests. Concentrate as hard as you can on something else when you eat with your friends: the music in the background, the scene out the window, even — what a concept! — what they’re talking about. You may be able to train yourself to be less bothered by the noise.

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42 thoughts on “Are You Normal or Nuts?

  1. So we should all change our ways so you nuttty folks can be more comfortable? No,,, I am so tired of being forced to accept everything from your strange little sound quirks to gay marriage blah blah blah… Hide in a hole if you have to do so.

  2. Oh my goodness, here comes the ever-present hoards of perpetually offended.
    Why don’t you people grow up.  If you had lived 50 years ago before the scourge of “political corectness” you probably would have all killed over in your collective anguish.

  3. Ok, I just have to comment about the person who doesn’t flush in a public restroom.  This person may not be “nuts”, but they are rude and selfish.  Don’t they realize that someone has to flush their waste, namely the next person into the stall.  How many times have I gone into a restroom with my young children, and had to clean up after someone else before using the facilities?  It is disgusting.

  4. “I sometimes have strange dreams when taking a nap, and I think they’re real when I wake up. Then, as I come around, I realize they aren’t. Is there something wrong with me?”

    I have dreams that are so vivid sometime this happens.  For me it’s almost always a ‘smoking’ dream.  That is, that I’ve started smoking again.  I feel sooooo guilty.  Then I realise that I haven’t.  I think it’s my brain keeping me sane when I REALLY want a cigarette.

  5. My question (for anyone). Am I nuts? When I look at two faces, I can tell them apart, but if I look away for a minute, the faces start to bleed into one another, and if the two people have similar hairstyles, voices, and heights, I won’t know who is who.

    It’s pretty embarrassing, whether I call someone who I’ve known for a long time the wrong name or if I watch a movie and mistake Ralph Fiennes for Arnold Shwarzenneger.

  6. Cee Mac: Look at what the article is titled. Yes misophonia is a real condition, they aren’t saying it isn’t. All they are saying is that it’s not a “normal” thing for someone to have. If anything they’re pointing out that “hey, if this is happening to you, you don’t have to just ‘deal with it’, it’s a condition and seeking professional help might do you some good”… I will agree, “nuts” is not the greatest term to use when refering to something that is essentially a form of mental illness, but then again the term mental illness in itself gets some people up in arms. Try replacing “nuts” with something like “not very common”. Are you still offended?

  7. Don´t be a drag! People with neurological problems ca and should, if they have a stable selfconfidence, laugh about it, too. This is the way to make it half that bad and taking the panic from it.
    I even heard people with MS (multiple sclerosis) laugh about books (and their content), written by an author who suffers from MS himself. That is the right way to handle a disease, in my eyes. It´s a disease – however annoying or bothering -, not the end of the world. If yes, try a new religious faith. I can recommend the catholic, but any other that helps you getting your feet on the ground is well, too. Or begin calling such people who make strange and annoying noises names (in your mind), such as coffin nail.
    People who do not understand black humour: “Ite domum!” This article was most likely written for “normal” people who know somebody with a spleen, this is not a scientific health professional’s journal.

  8. How stupid is it to write about some rarely understandable terms, without any significant research, and defining them as nuts with absolute certainty. The more problematic is the suggestion, which the writer thinks misophonia is easily avoidable. Every moment we “try refocusing our attention away from the irritant” and this action didn’t worked for  decade because some neurological processing is beyond our control. Just wondering if the writer has knowledge about the science of psychological disorder. . 

  9. The author of the article does not seem to know, or care, that Burkina Faso is a country in Africa, adjoining Ghana.  It is not an Italian dish.  duhhhh

  10. Agree with everything said below except for Jay. Disappointed RD hasn’t done an article on this condition. It’s bad enough we have to educate our doctors on this affliction. I can guareentee that the only thing any of us wants is a cure.

  11. Agree with everything said below except for Jay. Disappointed RD hasn’t done an article on this condition. It’s bad enough we have to educate our doctors on this affliction. I can guareentee that the only thing any of us wants is a cure.

  12. Don’t fret….I’m sure the author is the one at the table eating with terrible manners (with her mouth open).  I think the people that smack their lips, chomp their gum, breath loudly, and shout on a cell phone while shopping are the NUTS with a complete disregard for others.

  13. Don’t fret….I’m sure the author is the one at the table eating with terrible manners (with her mouth open).  I think the people that smack their lips, chomp their gum, breath loudly, and shout on a cell phone while shopping are the NUTS with a complete disregard for others.

  14. RD, I respectfully ask that you please do better research on 4S/Misophonia before referring to it as “nuts.” As an individual who struggles with this condition, I implore you not to shame those of us who are desperately seeking answers and coping methods. I believe I can speak for many of us when I say that we have tried to “train” ourselves out of this disorder by concentrating on other things. The choice to use “what a concept!” as a way of communicating a suggestion is disrespectful and shame-ridden. As a sufferer for over ten years, I have confessed to only a handful of friends and the rest of the people I encounter daily don’t know that I struggle. One of my primary skills is listening to people, which is evidenced by my job and my numerous healthy, deep friendships. Clearly I have been successful in “concentrating on something else.” However, this change of focus does not fix the problem. Re-training can cover symptoms and work to temporarily prevent an outburst, but the root problem is not so easily resolved. I still struggle daily, secretly. So do many others (for example, the 359 members of a steadily-growing Facebook group). Please respect us, as we respectfully request a more thorough discussion and accurate presentation of misophonia.

  15. I would strongly suggest that RD refrain from the term “nuts” when referring to people’s “quirks, tics, foibles, and zany habits.” The word “nuts” defines a person, giving she or he an identity or label according to something he or she perhaps does not know how to put into words, whether due to shame, feeling alone, or negative past experiences. This article gives support and encouragement to some while leaving others with a sense of being at fault.

    1. this was exactly what I wanted to say on here, but worded far better!  How can an article use the term ‘nuts’, ie suggesting it is light hearted and flippant, then go on to discuss each example as though it is science based, stating psychologists and psychiatrists have made the responses.  Once upon a time, anxieties, phobias and compulsions would have been termed ‘nuts’ or worse, but are now understood and normalised.  It seems that it is whatever the ‘experts’ are challenged by, ie anything new in definition and classification, is ‘nuts’. 

    2. this was exactly what I wanted to say on here, but worded far better!  How can an article use the term ‘nuts’, ie suggesting it is light hearted and flippant, then go on to discuss each example as though it is science based, stating psychologists and psychiatrists have made the responses.  Once upon a time, anxieties, phobias and compulsions would have been termed ‘nuts’ or worse, but are now understood and normalised.  It seems that it is whatever the ‘experts’ are challenged by, ie anything new in definition and classification, is ‘nuts’. 

  16. Are people who cringe at the sound of fingers on a chalkboard ‘nuts’? That is exactly what we feel when hearing our trigger sounds, be it gum poppers, popcorn crunchers, or something else. Should we ridicule people who cannot stand the sight of blood? or spiders? or birds? or heights? or open spaces? or social situations? or flying? et cetera et cetera et cetera

  17. Are people who cringe at the sound of fingers on a chalkboard ‘nuts’? That is exactly what we feel when hearing our trigger sounds, be it gum poppers, popcorn crunchers, or something else. Should we ridicule people who cannot stand the sight of blood? or spiders? or birds? or heights? or open spaces? or social situations? or flying? et cetera et cetera et cetera

  18. The article was fantastic Dr. Wallin was great in her response, the rest of you need to get over your poor self-esteem and easily offended selves.    Read the entire article the name of the article is entitled “Normal or Nuts”.  The 3 of you are going to make a neurological argument in a readers digest article entitled “Normal or Nuts”.  Seriously!  You people are seriously “nuts” and neurotic if you have nothing better to do with your time than to take a “READERS DIGEST” article and treat it like a piece from a refereed journal.  

  19. The article was fantastic Dr. Wallin was great in her response, the rest of you need to get over your poor self-esteem and easily offended selves.    Read the entire article the name of the article is entitled “Normal or Nuts”.  The 3 of you are going to make a neurological argument in a readers digest article entitled “Normal or Nuts”.  Seriously!  You people are seriously “nuts” and neurotic if you have nothing better to do with your time than to take a “READERS DIGEST” article and treat it like a piece from a refereed journal.  

    1. So what are you so angry about?  Why are you upset that people with this condition want to educate the RD readership (and potentially 1000’s of others who don’t know they are not alone) of it’s cause and why telling people to “refocus” their attention doesn’t work? How exactly does this impact you that you need to stoop to name calling?

      1. Heidi, I think we hit a nerve…  I hope and pray that Jay is not a Misophonia sufferer… maybe he’s an editor and his low self esteem and easily offended self just couldn’t take the hard, cold facts. Who knows?? 

    2. We comment because Reader’s Digest is a widely read, respected and viable resource for many people. Misophonia is a legitimate neurological condition. Those of us who have commented are doing the best we can to get the word out to people who have not been informed of the clinical aspects of this condition. There are people who are affliced so badly that they consider puncturing their ear drums to rid themselves of the audible torture. If one of our comments helps someone who doesn’t know their condition has a name, then where is the fault in that? Please respect us as you would anyone else with a more widely known physical condition. Perhaps Dr. Wallin should contact Dr. Marsha Johnson at the Oregon Tinnitus & Hyperacusis Treatment Center to ask another professional their opinion and help us instead of disregarding current research, discovery and progress being made. I believe that the more the news of this gets out, the more we will find there are thousands of people who have this condition but just don’t know it has a name. Thank you.

    3. “you need to get over your poor self-esteem and easily offended selves.” , ” are seriously “nuts” and neurotic if you have nothing better to
      do with your time” 

       fyi, Dr. Wallin would call this “projection”

    4. Jay you are nothing but a Jackass. No one appointed you as God. Well I think that you are  Normal  but thats just NUTS.

  20. To the person who posed the question to RD:  you may also have hypercusis given your nasuea to the spoon clanking.  Some but certain not all people with Misophonia also have Hyperacusis, for instance, I have it with florescent lights.  But many only have just one or the other, and they are quite different. So you may want to do some research on what if anything you can do about Hyperacusis, which is also being studied.

  21. To the person who posed the question to RD:  you may also have hypercusis given your nasuea to the spoon clanking.  Some but certain not all people with Misophonia also have Hyperacusis, for instance, I have it with florescent lights.  But many only have just one or the other, and they are quite different. So you may want to do some research on what if anything you can do about Hyperacusis, which is also being studied.

  22. I’ve struggled with misophonia for over half of my life, at least since I was 12. It is not a condition where I can “train” myself to be “less bothered.” It is a condition that cripples my daily life to the point where I can’t eat dinner with my husband or enjoy a trip to the movie theater because of the physiological reactions that occur with exposure to sound triggers. The fact that you advise people to “concentrate as hard as you can on something else” quite frankly illustrates that you have done absolutely no research on this neurological disease and don’t have the foggiest idea how our lives, our loved ones, and our daily activities are affected. And including the phrase “what a concept!” reveals your true intentions as to this article–obviously your meant to belittle and demean sufferers, driving the point home with your verdict of “possibly nuts.” You should be ashamed of yourselves for printing this article. I’ve enjoyed reading Reader’s Digest over the years, but unless a correction is printed apologizing for this story, I will no longer be reading. For those misophonia sufferers who read this article and are struggling even more as a result, please search for the Yahoo group on “misophonia” and come join thousands of caring people who encourage discussion and seek to promote scientific research into the causes and cures.

  23. RE: When people are eating, I can’t stand the sound  . . .
    As a person with Misophonia I have struggled since childhood to try to live a somewhat normal life. Misophonia is a hereditary neurological disorder. It is not a psychological issue nor is it learned behavior and it is certainly not “Nuts”.After 45 years I found several thousand others who like me have been suffering in silence and we have used our numbers and our resources to begin educating as many people as possible. I’m sorry to inform you that you completely missed the mark on this. Please do some legitimate research and see for yourselves that this is a hard-wired neurological disorder that deserves research, not disrespect and derision from a widely-read publication like yours. Please print a correction so that any Misophonic readers who were misinformed will have a name to use for this disorder. If they have a name for it, they can join us in our on-line community and join in our quest for research and eventually a cure.

  24. This entire post is so offensive in so many ways. First of all, people who are diagnosed with neurological problems are not “NUTS”. Neither are people with psychiatric disorders … there are all sorts of treatments for all kinds of problems, but to brush off some of these issues by saying “train yourself to be less bothered” or “refocus your attention” is pure blasphemy against the science behind these diseases. You should NOT be giving advice to people when you don’t even know what you’re talking about!! 

  25. This entire post is so offensive in so many ways. First of all, people who are diagnosed with neurological problems are not “NUTS”. Neither are people with psychiatric disorders … there are all sorts of treatments for all kinds of problems, but to brush off some of these issues by saying “train yourself to be less bothered” or “refocus your attention” is pure blasphemy against the science behind these diseases. You should NOT be giving advice to people when you don’t even know what you’re talking about!! 

  26. Please do your research regarding misophonia before writing it off as “nuts”. This is a real physical condition caused by a miswiring or misfiring of the brain. It cannot be gotten over and the sounds cannot be dismissed. It’s disappointing that a magazine I have long respected could be so flippant regarding something that is a living torture for those who are afflicted with it. There is sound research verifying this and again, I strongly urge you to look into it. I would also welcome RD doing a legitimate article once you have taken the time to become enlightened discussing, in a more scientific and professional manner, the condition known as 4S, or misophonia. The New York Times would be a place to start, then take a look at a piece done by Good Morning America.

    1. I couldn’t agree more with Cee Mac. It can be a debilitating condition that leaves you exhausted from trying to get away from and work around the triggers that causes suffering in those with Misophonia. There’s always going to be another trigger. This condition has stolen my life. I am nearly a hermit, no friends, I can’t make commitments out of fear that I’ll end up in a situation I can’t get away from. Some of the triggers are noises from the mouth (chewing, whistling, popping gum, breathing); others are dogs (barking, cleaning themselves); silverware hitting plates or bowls; music or bass from other’s stereos (especially the loud car ones! and the vibrations); also movements (wiggling legs or feet or rubbing feet together); and motors humming, buzzing, etc) and there are many more. So to refer to us as nuts is unforgivable. 

    2. It was actually the Today show.  Couldn’t agree more with everything you said!

    3. It was actually the Today show.  Couldn’t agree more with everything you said!

    4. Thank you Cee Mac!  I have this condition and relatives on one side of my family have it, too.  It is a living hell and you can’t “talk yourself out of it”  I am mainly sensitive to eating and other mouth noises.  I have lost relationships because of it. Public transit and restaurants are torture and it’s all I can do not to become enraged at times.  It’s gotten to the point where I can’t even look at people eating without becoming also enraged.  What a waste of my energy!  It’s like my issue grew to encompass not just the auditory but the visual part(s) of my brain, too.  I take earplugs with me everywhere I go and I become very anxious if I forget them.  (I’ve made side trips to drugstores just to pick up more).  I consider myself extremely lucky that, if I’m in a large group and I’m eating, too, I’m usually not bothered too much.  If it weren’t for that, I probably wouldn’t have very many friends since so many social events involve food.  I wear earplugs AND listen to loud music through my headphones at work unless no one else is there as singing, humming tapping and finger snapping also make me crazy.  I’m kind of glad I don’t have children as I wouldn’t want to pass on this condition to them and I wouldn’t want to inflict my sound sensitivity on them anyway.  I could go on and on about this…  I will definitely look into joining some support groups and would even be willing to be a research subject for misophonia/4S. 

    5. Thank you so, so much. I’m glad to see that commenters jumped on this because I was so distressed to read how RD dismissed a condition that is destroying and controlling my life. If I could ignore the sound, I would, but there is simply no way to handle it.

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