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Features Artist-in-Residence Published 4 October 2012

I No Longer Count to Five

One year in.

Laura Jane Dean

Twelve months ago, when Exeunt said I could occupy this little part of their virtual home, I was at the very beginning of many things. I’d never written anything for sharing, I’d never made theatre by myself, I’d never had a formal diagnosis of my mental health, and I’d never had the desire to tell lots of people lots of personal things.  I knew that my OCD was reaching an almost unbearable point and I needed to seek professional help.  But I had started to write, about my anxiety and my OCD and I wanted to say these words out loud.

The writing and performing have been, and continue to be, an experiment in telling the truth, in stepping firmly out of the closet where I’ve hidden for years, talking about this thing I live with, here and on stage, sharing my darkest and most ridiculous thoughts. An unexpected phone call from my Mum, “Laura, I found this blog thing you’ve been writing…”, a very honest first date, talking candidly to a room of mental health professionals. Talking about the OCD and my relationship with it hasn’t provided any kind of cure but it has been much easier than I ever expected it to be and it has helped, to get things out of my head. I’m always aware of falling into a pit of self-indulgence though, that is the tricky bit. Sometimes people don’t want to ask too many questions, they don’t want to know too much or they fear that you’ll be uncomfortable sharing things but for the most part people do want to know, they want to understand, then they often tell you they suffer in some way too, or as someone did to me after a performance, just say, “It’s really nice to hear someone talk about death.

My performance can’t just be an act of bravery on my part. Would anyone give a shit? Why should it matter to the audience? Why does all this need to be shared, in the context of a performance?  I don’t want it to be one-sided. I want to go through something with the audience, to share the deeply personal but in a way that warrants, and at times, demands a response. I want to create an intimate exchange. I have been experimenting with space, small audiences and the idea of control. I’ve also been considering performing the piece in my bedroom, perhaps the ultimate intimate experience for me and the audience?

Alongside the writing and performing there was a constant sense of something very heavy weighing me down and the fear that one day it would consume me whole. So at the end of last year I found myself in front of my GP saying, “Um, I think I’ve got OCD.” The official diagnosis delivered a couple of months later, obsessive compulsive disorder and health anxiety. Treatment? Eighteen in depth questionnaires; nineteen hours of therapy; five different rooms; one clinical psychologist; thirty-one behavioural experiments; three CD’s full of recorded sessions; fifty-six hours of homework; various diagrams and countless pieces of paper with things to remember.

It isn’t a simple, straightforward ‘before and after’ but there is a shift from pre to post-therapy. A sense of having been through ‘the system’ and finding yourself on the other side, where things are clearer but you’re still a bit unsure about being out in the world alone. I’m better but I’m not fixed, not wholly. Would I want to be?

I no longer count to five. When I close a door, when I flush the toilet, when I unscrew a bottle, when I turn out a light, when I get into bed, when I leave the house. Sometimes it seems strange that I ever did. But then I’ll have an unexpected, unpleasant thought and an urge to check something twice, to tap something before I leave a room, to hide something, just in case. It lurks and I have to fight it. Always trying to remember that a thought is just a thought.

Post therapy, I’m beginning to consider what should remain private and what parts of the CBT process I want to share. I want to make another piece of work. How will I use the recordings? Can behavioural experiments be made performative? How much would the audience want to hear? Should a therapist be involved in the making of a performance? How will it sit with this piece of mine Tempting Fate? How have my beliefs of, and relationship with, the OCD shifted?

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Laura Jane Dean is a contributor to Exeunt Magazine

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