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: I can’t handle silence. If I’m around someone who’s quiet, I’ll ramble on about anything just to fill the void. I can’t sleep without the TV on, and just in case that’s not loud enough, I have a noisy fan going. Funny thing is, I used to live for those precious moments of silence. What changed?

The verdict: Not nuts, but possibly in need of a tune-up—or a friend. The question you ask is exactly the question you have to answer: What changed? What happened that you don’t want to think about? Because clearly you no longer want to be alone with your thoughts.

“I would guess that there was some event that triggered it, a loss,” says Julie Hanks, a psychotherapist in Salt Lake City. To get to the bottom of this need for noise, you have to face it head-on. “Sit in silence, and see what comes up, emotionally,” says Hanks. “Do you get lonely? Scared? Do you start crying? Notice your thoughts and feelings, and that will give you a clue as to why you’re doing it.”

The sound of silence may rankle more than nails on a chalkboard, “but you’re not going to die,” says Hanks. And once you commit to the quiet, it’s quite possible that you will again find peace in peaceful moments.

By the way, lots of people crave background noise. The most common reason is plain old loneliness, says Dr. Reiss. The only time the need for noise merits medical attention is when the noise is necessary to muffle inner voices or extremely disturbing thoughts. Hear that?

The query: Why do I worry so much more about my oldest child (a boy) than about either of my younger two (girls)? I’m much more concerned about sending him to overnight camp than I would be about sending the younger two.

The verdict: No nuttier than most parents. “You’ve had more practice worrying about the eldest, and it stuck,” says Dr. Reiss. Most parents tend to worry more with their first child, whereas the second time around—and the third, etc.—they’re more confident. Also, sending your firstborn into the world is a little like sending the proverbial Christmas letter: You’re showing everyone what you’ve been up to.

“It’s like your product that you’re sending out into the world,” says Joe Taravella, a psychologist who practices in New York and New Jersey. “It’s a reflection of you.”

Naturally, you want your son to make a good impression, but you also want to know that you’ve done right by him and raised a kid who can cope. You won’t really know that until he sends that first letter from camp, like the one my friend got this summer: “I am at camp and just brushed my teeth. There is good lighting.”

Come to think of it, you may never know.

Next: Why do I pick my cuticles?

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