Are You Normal or Nuts? 2013 Edition

Calling all neurotics, paranoids, and phobics! Our panel of experts says you might not be as loony as you think in this fan-favorite feature.

Are You Normal or Nuts?
Illustration by Serge Bloch

The query: When I speak to someone, I often wonder how they might react if I slapped them.

The verdict: Normal, but we’re going to avoid you anyway. You know very well how someone would react if you slapped them mid-“We had the best guacamole last night.” That’s why you don’t actually do it. But as for why you’re fantasizing? You’re bored.

Your mind is wandering, desperately trying to keep itself amused. It’s not crazy, says therapist Cinéas; it could just be a way to occupy yourself. We all have an active inner life; we’re busy making remarks, silently snorting, and imagining scenarios. The only time the slapping fantasy becomes a problem, says marriage and family therapist Merrett Sheridan, is when you act on it.

The query: When I’m walking around my city, I’m constantly making sure I have all my bags, my necklaces are on, my cell phone is in my pocket, etc.

The verdict: Probably normal, with a touch of OCD. If you live in a high-crime city, the cops would agree that it’s not crazy to be cautious. But what you’re describing may be a bit of OCD, obsessive-compulsive disorder, says David Solly, a psychology professor at University of the Rockies.

The “obsession” is the anxious belief that something is about to go wrong. The “compulsion” is the need to do some activity, over and over, to make sure it doesn’t. Simply because you repeat some behavior several times a day doesn’t mean you have clinical OCD. For instance, washing your hands a lot during flu season usually represents nothing more than trying not to get sick, says Dr. Reiss. It’s only OCD if you feel compelled to keep doing the activity, sometimes on a schedule, or feel anxious when you miss a round.

Try this to allay your anxiety: If you feel compelled to count your bags every ten minutes, tell yourself that today you are instead going to do it every 20 minutes. Then watch what happens next, which is usually … nothing. The world doesn’t end, and your brain takes note of this wonderful fact. A few days later, do the possession-check every 30 minutes, and then wait longer and longer. This may be hard to do on your own, especially if you have OCD, so consider seeing a therapist who can lead you through these exercises. Often, no medicine is necessary, just practice, says Dr. Reiss.

Next: What it means if you can’t handle silence.

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