Is This Normal?

By Kristina Randle, Ph.D., LCSW

Is this normal behaviour? Here is a common day;

I am working at my part time job, with a few people who usually work at the same time as me. Someone reaches over the counter to give me the money for the order, they touch my hand as they drop the change into it, I feel a sweaty/oily residue left over (even if their hands aren’t sweaty) and I have to wipe it off, it just doesn’t feel right and is distracting. I wipe it off 3 times; sometimes I am worried that I miscounted so I must wipe it off 3 more times etc.

While I am wiping my hands two of the workers come over and start talking. I have no idea what to say, they start to laugh, so I laugh, then I start to lose concentration trying to think about what to say. I lose track of the conversation and just end up saying yes, no and haha every so often, so I am still a part of the conversation. I will stress and stress over every thing I am saying and every movement I am making. What if this is weird? Is this expected in this kind of situation? Etc Then I will say something I think is related and they will look at me and stop talking and then I walk away over-analyzing what just happened and worrying about the event even more.

I get home and immediately go on the internet. I will constantly check MSN to see who is online, I will not be talking to anyone online, simply checking and waiting for someone to talk to me, even then the chances are I won’t talk to them. Then I will constantly check one forum to see if anyone has replied to a thread, I will reply to only a few threads on the forum at a time so replies are rare, I still check constantly. I will then read and read every source I can find on astrology (this is a very prominent interest of mine and I find it strange that others don’t get as obsessed with a subject like I do) but will lose concentration quickly and go back to checking the forum and MSN for a while. I guess I check people’s personal messages on MSN mostly because I am searching for things that are slightly related to me in any way. I check the forums because I want more than anything for people to respond and take what I said into account and to heart, even if it was a ‘yes’ or a ‘no’ or a ‘hi’.
My mother will come downstairs, ask me to do something, I will give the normal response, after this/okay/I know/sorry. Then get caught up checking things and forget. This happens very frequently and is getting worse. Then I will be trying to focus on school work but I will instead start to check the forums or MSN and not be able to get back on task. I will be half way through checking, realize I am not doing school work, forget about checking, try to work, lose concentration, and start checking again. This takes up around 6 – 10 hours of my day on average.

Once it is time for bed, I will go to bathroom to brush my teeth. Lose concentration and start checking my face and arms for pimples, I then start to pick the pimples until I draw blood. I continuously pick the pimples until I consciously tell myself to stop. Then I will forget, start picking again etc. This takes up a lot less time but only because I stop myself, in whole around 2 hours a day are wasted with this ritual. Another strange thing that happens is when I’m sitting in class, my hands will start feeling strange and I feel like I need to put pressure on them, I’ve snapped many pencils, bent many pens and bored holes through my books when my hands feel this way.

After picking for a while I will go to bed, where I will think and think and think about everything and reflect on everything that happened that day. Check to see if I lied, check what I did to see if I did anything else wrong etc. I will then ruminate over how other people may have interpreted my behavior, Due to this process I usually don’t get to sleep for another 2 hours at least.
Then I wake up and it starts all over again.

Is this a normal day/problem/behaviour for a teenager? Should I be worried?

A. I don’t think it’s a question of whether your behavior is normal or abnormal. Almost everyone has concerns and worries but some people have more than others.

Some of what you’ve described indicates that you may be more nervous and anxious than the average person. Due to these uncomfortable feelings you may be engaging in compulsive behaviors in an attempt to make yourself feel better. These compulsive behaviors may include hand washing, constantly checking the Internet and picking at your face. These behaviors may temporarily make you feel better. In the long run, however, they may actually make the anxiety worse.

What you may be describing are symptoms of obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). The good news is that OCD is a very treatable condition. I would advise you to have an open and honest conversation with your parents about the behaviors you wrote about. Speak to them about the fact that you often feel uncomfortable and anxious and that sometimes, as a way to make yourself feel better, without consciously realizing it, you engage in behaviors that you have difficulty stopping.

It would also be helpful if you met with a counselor and discussed some of the anxieties you have. The counselor could teach you a more appropriate response to anxiety. He or she could also teach you how to stop the obsessive thoughts. In the meantime, you could try to stop yourself from focusing on things you don’t want to think about. For instance, when you realize that you are engaging in obsessive thinking or an unwanted behavior, you could attempt to focus on a less anxiety-producing topic, call a friend or family member to distract yourself or find some other way to divert your attention. You can try these methods but I think the best plan for you at this point is to speak your parents and let them help you deal with this situation.

I want to stress again the importance of the seeking help. I say this because I know that with effective treatment this problem is easily corrected. If you’re interested in reading more about OCD please click here or here.

I wish you well.

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 13 Jul 2009

APA Reference
Randle, K. (2009). Is This Normal?. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 28, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2009/07/13/is-this-normal/