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The Day I Didn’t Go to the Poetry Reading

by Mike on August 21, 2008 · 9 comments

Though I mention in my “About” page that I would write personal posts from time to time, this is the first time I’ve taken a chance on one.

You see, I am a very private person and do not like to air my struggles in public. And I feel that the things that I have been writing about here are far more important to my readers than the details of my personal battles.

This blog was started for two reasons: to give back to the community for all the help I have had over the years, and as therapy for my own self. I have studied bipolar disorder and the Anxiety Disorders deeply over the years, and believe I have something to give others. But that does not mean that I have completely conquered my own fears, or that I am personally “cured.”

As many of you know, I have bipolar disorder with ultra-radian cycling, Panic Disorder, Agoraphobia, and some symptoms of Social Phobia. My psychologist and psychiatrist decided that getting control of the bipolar disorder was the most important thing to do first, so that’s been the focus of my therapy for the past five years. 

I’m happy to say that I am now feeling better bipolar-wise than I have in years. I am in the first “normal” (what is that?) phase in a decade, untroubled by either depression or mania. Knock on wood.

The progress on my Anxiety Disorders

I have had many successes

I haven’t completely ignored my Anxiety Disorders during this time. I can talk on the phone now. I can write emails. I can go outside the house, ride in a car and drive, go to the doctor by myself (though waiting rooms are a trial), and even go to gatherings of 3-4 people. I have not had a full-blown panic attack in a long time, and at most have 2 or 3 symptoms from time to time. I have learned to control these without medication, and they do not bother me — they’re just an inconvenience.

But I have not been able to go to larger gatherings, and definitely not to church. I yearn to go to concerts, to family reunions, to classes at the local continuing education center, to see my elderly in-laws in another state. But I have not been able to overcome my fear enough to do so.

The game plan to go to a poetry reading

The poetry reading

My latest challenge was a reading by a famous poet that I wanted to go to last Thursday. My therapist and I had worked out a detailed action plan for me to go:

  • Get out of my chair
  • Get dressed
  • Go to the car
  • Drive to the parking lot
  • Get out of the car
  • Walk across the parking lot (a challenge, since I have a thing about parking lots)
  • Go into the building
  • Find the meeting room
  • Take a chair at the back
  • Listen to the reading
  • Leave and go home

I am a very visual person, and my therapist had me rehearse each step in my mind, picturing the best and the worst that could happen. He had me write down on a note card why I wanted to go to the poetry reading. 

At any stage I could stop and have a sense of accomplishment for having gotten that far. If I did stop at any point, I made for myself these rules:

  • I had to imagine the best that could happen if I took the next step
  • I had to imagine the worst that could happen if I took the next step
  • I had to look at my note card to review the reason why I wanted to go

Did I make it?

Well, I didn’t make the first step. Despite Alprazolam, I just couldn’t overcome the fear I had about the meeting, the large number of people in a relatively small room, the walk across the parking lot, and the closeness of the atmosphere. I let all the visualizations of the “worst” things overcome all the “best” things and my desire to go.

Many failures, many successes

Despite my best efforts, I am more than a little put out at myself. I’m finding it hard to congratulate myself, even though I worked hard on the visualizations and rehearsed them many times. But I’m not giving up. I’ve failed plenty of times before, but I’ve succeeded plenty of times, too.

I have another opportunity next week to go to a small communion service at my church, and I intend to use the same process to get me there. I may not make it through all the steps, but I will make it through more than I did last time. And the next time after that I will make it through more, until I can successfully go to any gathering that I want to!

Am I discouraged?

It is a process

I suppose the reason I’m telling you all this is to let you know that feeling better, getting better, and staying better is a process. You can’t just take a pill and have everything be ok. I took the pill and I was not ok. But I am not discouraged. 

I often read messages where people seem to have given up because they have failed a few times in their efforts to get better. They look to me as an example of someone who is somehow perfect and can get through any situation. As is obvious by now, that just ain’t so.

But I haven’t written this to discourage you, rather, to encourage you. I had a complete breakdown five years ago. I could function on no level. Now I can do many, many things — including writing this blog — that would have been impossible even a year ago. I have a happy, intimate home life with my wife and daughter. I look forward to each day as another day of opportunity and growth. Every day brings another small victory that takes me toward my goal of complete functionality.

So what are you doing writing a blog about Anxiety Disorders?


Many people may question how and why I could have the chutzpah to write a blog about Anxiety Disorders when I am having so much trouble with them myself. In other words, “physician, heal thyself!” 

At the risk of seeming immodest, I firmly believe that it takes a person who has had Anxiety Disorders to fully understand and empathize with someone who has them. I have spent literally thousands of hours reading, thinking and writing about Anxiety Disorders in order to understand my own ailments, and I hope that this effort will be of help to someone else.

I do not think that being free of Anxiety Disorders is a prerequisite to writing about them. Rather, my continued struggles with them is in a perverse way an advantage.

I can only point to Edmund Bourne, author of the best (in my opinion) and bestselling book on Anxiety Disorders, The Anxiety & Phobia Workbook. In his Healing Fear, he details his own trials with Anxiety Disorders and what he has done to overcome them. I think that it is no fluke that his Workbook is among the most helpful on the market.

What do you think?

This is the first, and perhaps last, time that I will talk about myself on this blog. I am not at all sure I should have done it, and am clicking the “publish” button with great reluctance.

  • Was talking about myself the right thing to do? 
  • Was writing about myself out of character for the blog?
  • Do you have anything you could add that would help me in my next challenge?

As always, your comments are welcome!

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