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

Sometimes you feel like a nut, sometimes you don’t. That’s true for everyone, not just candy bars. The problem is that when you do feel like a nut, you can go even more nuts worrying about it: How nutty am I on the nut continuum? Almond Joy? Fruitcake? Jif Factory?

We asked experts to analyze questions from our readers about the behaviors, thoughts, and fears they worry about. The results are below.

Generally speaking, if you’re aware enough to ask about your quirks, you haven’t snapped (yet). But ask yourself this: Is my idiosyncrasy interfering with my ability to go about my life? If it is, says Alan Hilfer, director of psychology at Maimonides Medical Center in Brooklyn, “that’s worth exploring” with a professional.

If it’s not, your issue isn’t psychiatric. You’re merely one of those lovable, loopy creatures we call humans. In fact, says David M. Reiss, MD, a psychiatrist in San Diego, “If you think you’re doing everything perfectly, you’re probably deluding yourself.”

The problem: Why is it that, when I’m trying to fall asleep, I feel compelled to solve problems like: “If someone jumped off the Sunshine Skyway Bridge, how fast would he be going when he hit the water?” No joke. I actually had to get out of bed and grab a calculator.

The verdict: Not nuts, just exhausted. Ironically, that bridge thing is exactly the kind of math puzzle that used to put most of us to sleep. But even if it’s odd, it doesn’t make you crazy, says psychotherapist Tina Tessina, author of Money, Sex, and Kids (three things you can worry about all night long).

The crux of the matter? “You’re using your brain as a memo pad,” she says. We all do this during the day—Remember to buy birdseed! Remember to buy birdseed!—and it may interfere with our concentration, but it doesn’t stop us from sleeping. At night, it does. Just as you’re drifting off to sleep, you come up with something that your brain—now drowsy and illogical—feels it must solve before it forgets. But if you keep a pad and pencil next to your bed, you can write down the problem and something like “Do this in the morning.” And that little note should allow you to relax.

“Once you know you’re not going to forget it, you don’t have to keep reminding yourself or take action,” Tessina explains.

Next: Is it crazy to imagine your child’s funeral?

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