When I’d finished explaining how I’d freaked out over something relatively minor, the virtual stranger sitting across from me asked if I’d like to try something called a cognitive exercise. I said sure. She grabbed a pad of paper, and we wrote down the thing I’d freaked out over and the thoughts going through my head while I was freaking out. Then we picked apart those thoughts, transforming them from emotional extremes (e.g., I’m a bad person) to neutral statements (e.g., There are qualities about myself that I like, qualities I don’t like, and qualities I am impartial to).
When we were finished, the evidence before us clearly demonstrated that I’d overreacted. “How do you feel about this?” asked the therapist, a woman who knew less about me than people I meet on the street who have read my diary entries.
“How do I feel?” I was buying time. How did I feel? I looked at the paper, at her, at my shoes, and finally, at my hands, clenched tightly together on my lap. “Stupid. I feel stupid.”
“Are you stupid?” Was she challenging me?
“Right. Okay, time’s up. Do you want to schedule your next appointment?”
I stood and gathered my things, walked over to her desk, and said, “Same time next week?”