Turning Pages

Since the posting of my essay A Force of Nature a few days ago, I’ve been overwhelmed with responses: from friends, family, readers, fans, and complete strangers. Two responses in particular I wrote about on my facebook page, and how I responded to them is worth having a look at for some of the positive repercussions of the choice to publish that essay.

One aspect I hadn’t fully considered was the possibility it might be confusing, or worse, disheartening to some of my readers who look up to me as an endless font of optimism and hope — which I pretty much generally am.

A few have contacted me privately, and admitted that the essay was very difficult for them to read — in large part because it was the sort of subject — suicide — that they NEVER expected I would address from the point of view of having struggled with it myself.

One articulated it thus: “I don’t understand, given everything you have written about “survive a few bad pages,” how you got that close to actually doing it. I guess I don’t have a question as much as want to know how much you believe what you write and say. There seems to be a gap, and I don’t get how that works/happens because what you write and say rings so strong and true.”

My response was basically this: I think there’s no gap — just a further clarification of the idea that everyone’s life is a story, and all stories have difficult parts, and everyone can get through a few bad pages. That’s part of why I wrote that post. Because it’s entirely possible that “a few bad pages” may actually turn out to be the worst possible pages you can imagine — and you feel you can’t bear to read any further.

What is important is believing that the story will improve, and choosing to turn the page — even after you do, and suddenly, terribly, realize it didn’t get better. It got worse.

And you have to decide again.

And you turn the page, and it gets worse.

And you have to choose.

And you risk it getting worse.

And you turn one more page.

And suddenly, it wasn’t perfect — but it’s not worse.

And then, just as suddenly, things began to get better.

It’s turning the pages and risking more bad ones that gets you back to the good ones.

There’s a young guy I know, in his mid 20’s, who had been in a lot of trouble with drugs — jail and rehab, more than once. He came to me asking advice on writing a motivational book. He’d been to the local religious-oriented bookstore — not a bad place to find motivational/inspirational books — and looked up all the motivational books they had, all of which (to him) had the same problem: most of the stories of struggle in many of the books involved situations where the author was (for example) driving along, got caught in a snowstorm, and was trapped for several hours, praying and staying positive, until along came a snowplow and they were saved.

That’s a generalization, but not inaccurate.

His problem was that most of those books’ authors had ZERO idea how much other people struggled in the real world. They gave him NOTHING to relate to, because the writers of those books’ idea of a problem was mostly really just examples of inconveniences. This kid wanted to know that people who seemingly had it all together had struggled with real problems that he could relate to, and had somehow managed to get through them anyway.

When so many things seemed to implode on me recently, suddenly and all at once, I felt all my options had been stripped away, that no one was hearing my expressions of pain, that others who might be willing could not bear it. I had some of my struggles characterized as a few “bumps” and was told to simply press on when my metaphorical car was out of gas, had flat tires, no battery, and was about to catch fire. I believed I was being put in an impossible position — by both my own choices as well as the choices of others — and that everything was about to get worse, not better. I’ve needed an actual, resting vacation for waaaaay too long already — and am taking steps towards that by rearranging some of my plans and schedules — but in that moment I was completely, utterly exhausted. And I thought about killing myself.

And I didn’t get out of the chair.

And I talked myself into seeing what was on the next line, next paragraph, next page.

And I didn’t get out of the chair.

And I thought about the people who loved me, and of promises I had made.

And I didn’t get out of the chair.

And then when I finally did, it was to join some of my friends, to be close to them, to draw on some of their good energies, and then I went to bed.

And then the next day, I delivered the greatest presentation of my life (thus far), and EVERYONE in the room knew it, could feel the energy flow. I gave everything I had to them — and they returned it a thousandfold to me, which helped to keep me moving forward. And that was only possible because I chose to keep following my own story, and turn one more page.

It’s easy to give an inspirational speech about the things you believe in most, that others are yearning to hear, when everything is rosy and good. It’s harder — and maybe more crucial — to be able to do it when it you are in the middle of a personal crisis.

What matters most isn’t how close I was to committing suicide. It matters that when it was most important, I was still able to choose differently. Close only counts in horseshoes, hand grenades, atomic bombs, and selling screenplays to Hollywood. Dying or not dying is an either/or equation — and choosing to live is what matters most.

The essay I posted was my therapy, out loud, in the open, not just for myself, but to give guys like my young friend something to relate to, when they’re in trouble — because lots of people see some of my struggles as things of the past; as fodder for poignant, funny anecdotes, but not as struggles that may still exist. They only see the confident, successful, Superstar author; the bestselling Merchant Prince; the Hero. And that’s made a lot of people more reluctant to approach me and open up, even if that’s EXACTLY what they need.

It’s not so much as important whether anyone — including me — believes what I say and write, as it is that they see what I say and write is aligning with what I choose and do.

I’ve gotten a LOT of mail that includes lines like “I’m sure YOU have never gotten depressed,” which at first made me very reluctant to say anything about what was really happening with me recently. I didn’t want anyone to be disappointed; I didn’t want to let anyone down by showing I was not, in fact, completely invulnerable.

At first, I was at first going to just write some uplifting all-is-well-I’m-okay-Time Lordy-regeneration post along with a Superman photo — and I realized that was actually going to be insincere, and honestly, kind of dangerous, because I needed to acknowledge what I was really dealing with — but, as I mentioned in the essay, I felt that to confide so much in people close to me risked transferring the weight to them. I was likely wrong about that — but in those moments, that’s how I felt.

But I also believed if I could somehow share that pain in a way that benefited me, and at the same time gave people who look up to me something to draw strength from — an exchange of energies, which is what true Magic is all about — then it would be the right choice. And I think it was.

The girl whom I exchanged emails with the other night (which I wrote about in detail on my facebook page) is in a hospital. Her parents discovered she’d been hoarding pain pills and wrote in her journal that she was planning on committing suicide — then she read my A Force of Nature essay, and wrote to me instead.

Her mother called yesterday afternoon to thank me for writing what I did, and burst into tears a minute in.

I slept really well two nights ago, and I had a great day yesterday — in no small part because I have been immersed in my Arete; excellence in fulfilling my purpose.

And having written that essay, now no one who is feeling that kind of utter despair can ever say to me “You don’t know how bad this is.” Because I’ll respond, “Yes, I do. And I’m not going to let you fall.”

About caveo

James has written and illustrated six books in the bestselling series The Chronicles of the Imaginarium Geographica: Here, There Be Dragons; The Search For The Red Dragon; The Indigo King; The Shadow Dragons; The Dragon’s Apprentice; and The Dragons of Winter. The series is now being published in more than twenty languages. A seventh volume, The First Dragon, will conclude the series in November 2013.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *