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Features Artist-in-Residence Published 13 August 2012

Cognitive Assonance

A thought is just a thought.

Laura Jane Dean

I’m coming to the end of my cognitive behavioural therapy. This is the beginning of being able to write about it, a few moments to share…

“A thought is just a thought.”

“If I say something out loud it will come true; if I don’t say something out loud it will come true. If I write something down it will come true; if I have a thought something bad will happen or I want something bad to happen, then it will happen. It is tempting fate. It is asking for trouble. She says out loud over and over again that she wants her husband to die in a horrific car accident that night. She writes it down on a piece of paper. She does nothing to counteract this thought. I’m desperate to say “touch wood that won’t happen” and tap my head five times. But I don’t. We do nothing.”

“We walk around my house, in the kitchen, the lounge, the bathroom and my bedroom. Front door, back door, tap, cooker, window, light switches, plug sockets, clothes, jewellery, knives. Suddenly everything that was contained is exposed.”

“We sit facing each other, with tights wrapped around our necks. She pulls hers round her neck, she encourages me to do the same. We look at each other, I’m filled with terror. She pulls the tights tight around her neck, I hesitate before doing the same. She asks me to rate my anxiety at this point. I can barely speak. She pulls even tighter, her face is red. I do the same. I’m scared, I want to stop. I’m worried I’ll lose control, I’m worried she’ll choke or pass out.”

Her husband was fine. Nothing happened to him.

“She leaves the room to fill two glasses with water. She leaves them in the kitchen, unattended. In my mind, anything could happen to them. As we near the end of the session she retrieves the glasses of water and places them down in front of me. I’m nervous. Someone could have put something in the water, if I drink it what will happen? Will I feel sick, dizzy, will I pass out, will I die? I tentatively pick up a glass and take a few sips; she picks up a glass and drinks it all in a few gulps. I take a few more sips but leave it unfinished. I leave the hospital; take the train home, constantly aware of my body and anything that doesn’t feel right, anxiously waiting for something bad to happen.”

“Nothing happens. We sit with the tights around our necks and we are ok. The thing I was so terrified of happening didn’t happen.”

“I sit up in bed. Everything remains unchecked and untouched. Nothing is hidden. I haven’t tapped my light switch five lots of five times. I haven’t touched my ring. I’m anxious, the panic is rising, and the urge to get out of bed and check everything is overwhelming. I lie down. I sit up again. I can’t relax. What will happen to me, tonight or tomorrow? How do I know if everything will be okay? Certainty is impossible. I lie down again, exhausted. My mind races. I’m scared. I sit up. Terrifying thoughts rip through my head. I try to do nothing with them. I lie down.”

A while later exhaustion takes over and I fall asleep.

“A thought is just a thought is just a thought is just a thought is just a thought is just a thought is just a thought is just a thought is just a thought is just a thought is just a thought is just a thought.”

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Laura Jane Dean is a contributor to Exeunt Magazine

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