We all have “other” voices. Admit it – you sometimes talk to yourself and you sometimes talk back. That’s one of those “other” voices your subconscious gives you (sometimes for good, sometimes not). If you will find the courage to listen and talk back, you might learn some things or find a dream you didn’t know you had. If you struggle with mental health issues, allow today’s blog to encourage you that even in dark times, light and purpose will eek through.
People ask me how I developed the story in Decide to Hope. Well, it’s weird and reinforces the power of the mind – even a chaotic mind (or especially a chaotic mind).
I was released from a rehab center for severe depression on June 20, 2012 (after nine weeks inpatient). Once home, I made my physical health a priority as I began to understand physical health is required for mental health. In that quest, I began to walk and hike everywhere. This wasn’t easy physically or mentally. Physically because I was out of shape. Mentally because my mind got “turned on” and that can be good or terrible.
On one of these hikes, a man – he called himself Matt – appeared in my frontal lobe. He had a story to tell. He was adamant, fierce, maybe even desperate, for me to listen and then write his story. I tried to listen to my music but his voice just kept barging in. So, I let him talk. He was manic – and I know what that means – his entire story spilled out in a steady flow of rapid-fire thoughts. That day, after my hike, I went home, gathered paper and pen, wrote 300 pages longhand. Thus began the journey that culminated in Decide to Hope and continues into book two (Journey to Hope, coming Fall 2018 – I hopeJ).
Matt Nelson is the male protagonist in Decide to Hope, which released this week. I tried to keep spoilers in the Q&A I conducted with Matt to a minimum.
Matt, why would you not leave me alone? Why did you have to tell me this story?
I watched you walk up that mountain every day. Sometimes you seemed content, at peace. Other times you seemed lost, confused, angry. When I found Kathleen, she looked just like that. Content on her porch with a book in her hand. Lost, confused, angry when anywhere else. I thought maybe you could understand her. And through your understanding, you could help me help her. I wish I could tell you I wanted to help you too but that’s simply not true. My goal – 100% -- is her.
When I had beta readers read my first attempt at your story, many were flabbergasted that you didn’t open all your mother’s letters at once. Why did you do that – she wouldn’t have known and that had to drive you crazy?
Why would I not do what she asked me? My mom was always my champion. Always wanted what was best for me. If she wanted me to open those letters in a certain way, who was I to argue? I trusted her to know what she was doing[he chuckles]. But, it drove me mad. It felt like she was playing games and I hate that. But I respect her more. I’m so glad I did it her way. If I’d opened them all at once, I’d have run as far and as fast as my not-quite-so-young legs would take me.
You have a physical reaction when you first encounter Kathleen. Is that real or just my imagination?
Have you ever walked into a room and felt the energy? Like when you go into a meeting when everyone is angry or worried? Or when you encounter two people desperately in love? It’s an energy field. That’s what I felt when she walked in. The energy around me changed. I chilled and heated all at the same time. I think we all do that – it’s those raised goose bumps, that shiver, those hairs on the back of the neck tingling – we all experience it. Most of us – men especially – ignore it.
You must admit that that answer doesn’t sound like the Matt Nelson we first meet in Decide to Hope?
No, definitely not. When someone you love faces pain – physical, mental, emotional – it changes you. I started to change when my mom suffered so much – and I’m just realizing this right now – her suffering is what kicked off my transformation. That’s why I was so angry when Jess first approached me about a vacation – I was fighting that transformation. Hmmm [he rubs his chin, spins his pen on the yellow legal pad] … it seems I keep learning.
I’ve changed a lot. I’m still an over-achiever. I still mostly hate the gooey stuff but I see how important it is now. Kathleen has to be safe with me and that requires that I be safe with myself. Does that make sense?
In the book, you give Kathleen an endearment. Where did that come from?
My heart. My heart spoke before my mind engaged. If I’d allowed my mind to engage first, I’d have been embarrassed or talked myself out of the emotion. One lesson I’m learning is that my heart usually has the right idea. I just need to get my mind to listen.
Are you satisfied with how book one turned out?
Ahh, now you see, Kathleen & I have had enough therapy that I recognize your attempt to start beating yourself up. You are fishing for compliments rather than finding them inside yourself. So, rather than me answer, ask yourself this: Did you do your best? Did you put as much of yourself into this as you could at this time in your own recovery? If the answers are yes, then I’m beyond satisfied.
Are you glad we’re writing another book?
At first I didn’t think it was necessary. I wanted to move on with Kathleen. But that young man keeps telling us his story, doesn’t he? Let’s listen, learn and watch both he and Kathleen create new lives.
Oh, I think I might be the one that grows the most in this next book. I’m going to absolutely hate the process but appreciate it too. I can’t believe you actually found a diagnostic term for me (and many others) … what was it … oh, yes, “normative male alexithymia”.
How is Kathleen today?
[He smiles hugely.] Kathleen is choosing every day to find hope in the world, in her life, in our lives. She is embracing the gifts my mother and her family have given us. We are loving each other even through the valley. What more can I hope for her? Of myself?
I want to ask so much more, but that would spoil the story. So, let me just ask this: What are you reading today?
[A booming laugh]. Well, let’s see. During the day, I’m reading another Harry Hole novel ~ The Snowman. At night, with Kath, I’m reading the latest Kristen Ashley book – it’s pretty dirty and sends us to laughter and then more [he turns bright red] creative endeavors.
[He stops me as I begin to close out the conversation. Grabbing my forearm, he leans forward, holds my eyes …]
One last thing. I know you talk to her later. Be gentle. Pay attention to her cues. She’s not ready for the world to see her filleted open. Give her time.
NOTE: Harry Hole is the main character in a series of books by Jo Nesbo. Matt loves them and so do I.
In April 2012 I had a mental breakdown. The real thing. I have about 36 hours that I don’t remember....