Autobiography in Five Short Chapters

Chapter 1

I walk down the street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I fall in.
I am lost … I am helpless.
It isn’t my fault.
It takes forever to find a way out.

Chapter 2

I walk down the street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I pretend that I don’t see it.
I fall in again.
I can’t believe I am in this same place.
But, it isn’t my fault.
It still takes a long time to get out.

Chapter 3

I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I see it is there.
I still fall in … it’s a habit … but, my eyes are open.
I know where I am.
It is my fault.
I get out immediately.

Chapter 4

I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I walk around it.

Chapter 5

I walk down another street.

***

I love that poem. It’s from There’s a Hole in My Sidewalk by Portia Nelson. I feel like each chapter represents a stage of my recovery.

Chapter 1 encompasses my middle school and high school years, when social anxiety began to develop. I started avoiding social interaction by ending friendships and isolating myself; developing powerful, yet irrational beliefs and attitudes; and reinforcing those same beliefs and attitudes with my thoughts and actions–all while being unaware.

The years (early college) which make up Chapter 2 are even harder than the previous years, as I’m in denial. I know that I am an introvert and highly sensitive, yet I know there’s much more to it than that. That is, I know there’s some deeper issues. I avoided them by locking myself in sexual relationships, avoiding friendships, and abusing alcohol. I was absolutely miserable, yet I put up a happy, normal facade. I hid my problems well, and that’s the only way I knew how to cope–because I didn’t know what was wrong or where to seek help.

Chapter 3 represents my latter college years and the year I spent in New York after graduation. By that point I knew I suffered from Social Anxiety Disorder. I knew I kept people at a distance because I was afraid of what they may see inside. And I knew I needed to seek professional help, but I didn’t. Again, I coped by drinking and denying; however, those tactics began to lose their power because I knew there was a deeper issue.

Today, I’m somewhere after chapter three but before five. (I don’t want to say I am in Chapter 4 because sometimes I feel like I’m beyond it and sometimes I feel like I’m not even there yet). I am seeking professional help. I am aware of my thought processes and where they can take me. I know not everybody is a fan of CBT–or its wording and metaphors–but it has greatly helped me. I know, for instance, that certain thoughts will lead me down familiar roads, and I know at the end of those roads, there is nothing good there. I know that if I continue to take those roads, I will continue to feel a certain way. I haven’t totally changed my habits, but I am getting closer. I think Chapter 5 is in sight.

Now, for those who are at an earlier stage, there is no shame, because how you are feeling is not your fault. You are not explicitly choosing to feel anxious or depressed. We’re all at different stages, and we’re all in this together. What’s more, recovery is not linear. You don’t go from bad to good to better to best. Sometimes I’m in Chapter 4; other times I move back to Chapter 2–but, in the end, I am moving forward. More and more of my time is spent in the latter Chapters.

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14 responses to “Autobiography in Five Short Chapters

  1. You we such a great writer Mike. Your post has touched me so deeply. Thanks.

  2. Thanks for posting this, Mike. It really articulates the process that we go through with these illnesses. I’m getting at that point, with the help of therapy, where the aspects of my disorders are coming into view and becoming clearer, though I am struggling to order them. As of now, I fluctuate between 2 and 3 and looking back, I can’t believe how much of my life I’ve spent in those first two. I’m glad that 4 is tangible for you. Your post reminds me that recovery is possible and that it is happening everyday, even if there are setbacks.

    • I know what you mean- I can’t believe just how much time I’ve spent in the first few Chapters. I wish I would have asked for help sooner. Regardless, we’re both on the right path toward recovery.

  3. I think many people can relate to the poem whether they are depressed or not, especially to Chapter 2, because it is hard for any of us to wonder if something is wrong in what we do in everyday life. I used to abuse alcohol and turn down potential friendships a lot when I was younger for fear of getting hurt. After several months I was diagnosed as severely depressed, I think I have reached Chapter 3. I often find myself falling in my own emotional pitfalls a lot, but I am aware that it should be possible to get out somehow.

    I think I’m in the middle of Chapter 3, yet I am slowly seeing what may look like Chapter 4. As you pointed out, however, I sometimes fall back and find myself right in Chapter 2. I tend to feel quite low and often feel like doing absolutely nothing these days, but I try not to blame myself for being lazy. I don’t know how and when it is going to be, but I hope to be able to well enough to work again as soon as possible. Encouraging post!

    • Hey Takashi. One of the hardest things for me to deal with are setbacks, even though I know I’m moving forward. It’s especially hard when I make progress, thinking I’m moving beyond my anxiety, and then–BAM!–I get extremely anxious and feel like all the progress I have made means nothing. Setbacks are especially hard when you aren’t expecting them, in other words.

      You definitely aren’t lazy. Setbacks are hard. You just have to weather the storm, try to stay positive, and then pick yourself back up when you’re feeling better.

  4. I like that poem and it’s neat how you’ve used it to tell a story of your journey and where you are in life.

    Take care,
    Cassie

  5. Great post Mike, and it’s good to read about your road to recovery. 🙂

  6. Great poem, I haven’t read it before. I also liked how you related it to yourself. I’ve actually had a hard time coming to terms that ‘recovery is not linear’. Thanks for sharing this.

    • I think once I did finally accept that I will have setbacks–and understand that they are not the end of the world–I started progressing more. It’s not something easy to do, but it is something that will happen. It’s better to accept it, rather than fight it.

  7. I love that poem, and you have such great insight that you can pinpoint times in your life that correspond with each chapter. I’m going to have to think about where I am and where I want to go. Do I even want to get to Chapter 5? Walking down an unfamiliar street is scary.

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