Writer, storyteller, and friend Dan Kennedy tweeted this back in December of last year:
“You have to find something that explains yourself to you.”
As is almost always the case, the man is correct.
For me, that “something” has been many things. I was caught in a downpour two days ago while riding my bike, and while racing the five miles home, I stumbled upon a realization about myself that quickly expanded into an idea for a future novel and possibly a future musical.
But the important part was realizing something about myself while being pelted by rain.
I stumble upon life-altering realizations like these most often when I’m working on a story. While preparing something for the stage, a door often opens and I discover something about myself that was both invisible to me for all of my life yet staring me right in the face.
Therapy has also assisted me on this journey. It was through therapy that I came to an understanding of my PTSD. A truce of sorts. An acceptance that PTSD would always be a part of me, but it need not be a constant bell ringing in my ears.
But most of all, that “something that explains yourself to you” has been Elysha. Over the years, she has made it a habit of telling me things about myself and my life that I had never noticed.
Small and large. Meaningless and life-altering.
“Waking up in the night, screaming because of the reoccurring nightmare of your armed robbery, is not just ‘your thing.’ You need speak to someone.”
“Matt, you realize that you know your mom was probably suffering from depression for most of her life. Right?”
“There are lots of reasons why Matt became a teacher, but one of them is he just can’t stand being told what to do.”
While speaking to the paramedics who were examining Charlie after he had swallowed a marble, she said, “My husband has PTSD. Medical emergencies trigger him.”
I remember hearing her words as if they had been spoken through a thick pane of glass and thinking, “I think she’s right. I’m not even really here right now.”
Earlier this year, my doctor asked I how I was doing. I told him I was great. “Fantastic, even.”
Then Elysha chimed in. “Matt is like a duck.”
“Oh,” said the doctor. “So he handles problems as easily as water rolling off a duck’s back?”
“No,” Elysha said. “He’s all calm and still on the surface, but underneath the water, where you can’t see, he’s paddling like crazy.”
I’m still not sure who was right that day – Elysha or the doctor. I might actually be both. But as she often does, Elysha has given me a lot to think about.
Most recently, someone asked me how I was handling myself during this pandemic. I began to list all of the ways that I’ve tried to find silver linings in this terrible time. I explained that I’m riding my bike ten miles a day now. I’ve lost 20 pounds. I’m writing like crazy. I’ve moved my storytelling and consulting business entirely online and have clients and students from all over the world working with me now. I’m cooking meals. Spending more time with Elysha and the kids. Feeling incredibly lucky to have such a critical role in the lives of so many of my students.
I went on and on.
Finally, Elysha interrupted. “You realize that you’re trying to win the pandemic. Right?”
Nope. I hadn’t. But she’s right. I’ve turned the pandemic into a competition. I want to emerge from 2020 in a more productive, happier frame of mind than most people. I’m refusing to let this awful time in our country bring me down.
Not that I think this is all bad. In fact, I think it’s the correct approach. I’ve been telling my clients that we have a choice:
We can think of 2020 as the year of the coronavirus pandemic – as most people will – or we can find a way to think better about our time. I’m not suggesting that we minimize the tragedy. This is a horrendous time in the history of our country. Possibly the worst that I have ever witnessed. I’m simply suggesting that we don’t allow it to become the be-all and end-all of 2020.
When I look back on this year, I’m hoping that my loved ones and I remained healthy. I’m hoping that our country got back on its feet with as little suffering and loss as possible. But I also want to look back on 2020 as the year I rediscovered my bike. Lost a lot of weight. Wrote two books. Moved parts of my business online. Met people from all over the world. Taught my kids to ride their bikes without training wheels. Spent copious amounts of time cuddled up with Elysha. Experienced the entire Marvel Universe for the first time alongside Charlie and Elysha. Reconnected with old friends.
Who knows what else? A lot more, if I have anything to say about it.
Yup. Elysha’s right. I’m trying to win the pandemic. Once again, I didn’t see something that was staring me in the face. And I know that trying to win the pandemic can make me appear overly competitive, slightly insufferable, and perhaps a little crazy.
Elysha knows this about me, too. And she’s more than willing to tell me so.
I hope you have someone in your life to explain yourself to you. It makes things a hell of a lot easier.