Headline Nov 09, 2015/ '' ! NORMAL... *BY* ... NUTS ? '''

'' ! NORMAL... *BY* ... NUTS ? '''

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Q*/ Snakes freak me out  -anywhere, anytime, any snake. If I see a snake on TV, I can't sleep that night. I once saw a snake in the park. My husband told me that it is a small snake, less than 30 centimetres long.

But I won't go back to that park again. My husband tells me I'm nuts, and he wants to take me to the pet store to look at snakes. No way. He's the one who is nuts.

''Neither of you is nuts,'' says Nando Pelusi, a clinical psychologist with a practice in Manhattan. You have a classic phobia, and snakes and spiders are the most common objects thereof.

''These fears are somewhat hard-wired into us,'' he says, and it's highly illogical, because cars and cigarettes and electric wires of our modern day are far more dangerous.

Conquering phobias of this sort  usually calls for a behavioural approach, and your husband is on the right track. What you need is a gradual exposure, starting perhaps with pictures of snakes, combined with relaxation exercises. Glance at the picture; breathe deeply.

Once you can do that, move on to a TV image. Again breathe deeply. Once you can do that, you might try being in the same room with a small snake in a cage. Take it slow, though. Going too fast will backfire. Then again, notes Michael Gitlin, professor of psychiatry at UCLA, maybe it doesn't matter.

''If you live in a city and you're afraid of snakes, so what? It's like living in the desert and having fear of elevators. It doesn't come up, so it doesn't much matter.''

Q*/ No matter how hard I try, I can't seem to resist straightening up piles of magazines in the doctor's office or levelling the picture frames on walls  -even in my friends houses! 

And I have one friend who wears a jacket with a zipper breast pocket. He never closes that zipper, so I always have to do it for him. He doesn't realize what a favour I'm doing him. Am I nuts? 

''Just tell me I have spinach on my teeth; don't put your hand in my mouth!'' cries psychologist LaFrance. Stop kidding yourself: 

You are not doing your friend any favours with the zipper, and, ore importantly, you're not assuaging the basic anxiety that gives rise to the to this truly classic obsessive-compulsive disorder [OCD] behaviour of yours.

Harvard psychiatrist Olds notes that OCD  behaviours are common in our society. ''Everybody has a few OCD habits, and you can't really be too success-oriented without them,'' because the neat cubicle and flawless memo are richly rewarded.

But in this case, your compulsive urges impose on other people, probably to the point of offence. You should seek counselling, and the first thing a therapist might ask you to do is to analyse your behaviour. OCD patients make lists of rules: Magazines must be straight, zippers must be closed, pictures must be level.

''The OCD patient thinks : If I follow these rules, even though they are arbitrary and I made them up, then other things beyond my control will fall into line as well,'' says LaFrance. ''But it doesn't work. It's the proverbial house of cards.''

Controlling the zippers and the picture frames is not going to give you any more control over your relationships, your health, your work or your life. Anxiety from these sources what's really bothering you, and the only way to deal with those issues is to face them directly.

Q*/ Why do I love tapping, drumming and other repetitive rhythmic behaviour? Am I borderline autistic? The same is true of my dad, but it drives my mum and my wife crazy. Is this a generation thing?

It's not a gender thing, and just because some autistic engage in repetitive behaviours, that doesn't mean you, too, have autism. The experts, that this distinguished research author talked to, give you a different diagnosis: anxiety.

''The next time you tap, stop for a moment and identify what you might be getting yourself anxious about,'' counsels Pelusi. Is it your job? Maybe it's your wife. 

Facing anxiety directly is a better way of dealing with it because while tapping may be a short-term relief, you're not dealing with the root problem.

Hummelsbach adds that you may also have excess energy. ''Go with the flow; Take up running or become a drummer,'' he urges.

Now that will make your wife miss your tapping!

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