In this eight episode of The Mindful Writer Author and Life coach Matthew Williams tells me how he wrote himself out of what he describes as a shit place to write himself a better life story. Although Matthew hit rock bottom in his personal life he used this experience to create something amazing.
Before we launch into the interview I will update you on my writing journey.
After escaping Covid for more than two years it finally caught up with me. Like many others I picked up the virus whilst on holiday. To be precise Sherman, my husband contracted it on the last day of our holiday and I caught it from him four days later.
It is 14 days since I tested positive. One week in I tested negative and thought right – I’m fit. Back to work! I thought I had recovered 100% and wanting to make up for lost time threw myself into work and catching up on social engagements. Two days later I had an almighty migraine.
It is hard to let go of a busy agenda and resign ourself to what is. Being unwell filled me with appreciation for my usual state of good health and gratitude for the scientists who developed a vaccine and those who administered it.
We cannot control the things that happen to us only how we react to them. Matthew Williams is an incredible example of this. In this week’s podcast he tells me how he was compelled to share his story with the world so that others could journey with him from what was a very dark place.
Let me introduce you.
Matthew Williams is an author, public speaker, and life coach. In this episode he tells me:
How writing took him from a ‘shit place’ to achieving remarkable things
How you can change the story of your life by taking control of the pen.
You can listen to the podcast here: Episode eight How to rewrite the story of your life
Or read the transcript below:
Deborah: Hi, Matthew.
Matthew: Hi there.
Deborah: I’m particularly interested in exploring with you today your story, how you journeyed from what you describe as ‘a shit place,’ to where you are now as an author, speaker and coach. So welcome.
Matthew: Thank you very much for having me. It’s a pleasure to be here. And like you said, describing where my journey, my story started – it’s, yeah, it’s a long way away from there. And to have the opportunity to be sat here speaking as an author when it seemed like a million miles away. So yeah, it’s great to be here.
Deborah: Excellent. And we’re going to explore that with you because you have had a remarkable journey. But let’s just start with telling us about the significant changes in your life, which were a divorce, and struggles with mental health, which led you to becoming a published author, and an active campaigner for mental health, and setting up an online course to help others change their story.
Matthew: Yes, so my blog was where it all started really. That was, where are we now? So back in December 2015. So maybe seven years ago now. And it was a year on well, over a year on, from a marriage breakup. We’d been together 20 years, and married for nearly nine of those. And, and the year following the breakup I thought I was kind of running on adrenaline really. And again, all this is kind of, in hindsight, but once the initial kind of shock, you know, shock of what was happening – you have to start looking forward and obviously how your life is gonna be. I think then your focus is on the immediate term, and the practical things, you need to get sorted out – find somewhere to live – all of this kind of thing. I think the biggest thing for me is adjusting to the changes with my kids, my children. So, you know, from being there every day to suddenly not being there was very difficult. But like I say, I was mostly taken up with those kinds of practicalities.
I met someone and so, you know, one of the things I really found difficult was not being in that kind of family unit anymore. It was something that had always been very important to me. So, you know, I met someone and I felt that I kind of had that again. But you know, it’s such a tumultuous time. That relationship didn’t last – about 10 months. It was kind of a few months after that ended. And that was all very amicable. We were in different places, really.
It was one night in December 2015, when a lot of things kind of hit me all at once. You know, my ex-wife was kind of moving on with her life with a new partner and my ex-girlfriend was the same, and then you know, facing my first Christmas on my own and yeah, it was just a lot of things hit me all at once. I felt shit to put it mildly. It was not a nice time.
But it was really strange that I was in this hotel one evening, I was working away and I just felt compelled to write about it. And I’ve never, never done anything like that before. I mean, I’ve always been an avid reader, but I never thought that I could write. I just felt compelled to. That’s the only way I can describe it. I just knew I had to put it, put it down on paper. Type it on the screen and So I did. That evening, I just wrote how I was feeling and what I was going through at that particular time, downloaded the blogging app and published it, and so there wasn’t really a huge amount of thought, I just did it. And I had no idea what to expect.
But, you know, I got really encouraging feedback from people. I was obviously able to articulate what I was experiencing in a way that connected with people. And then, once I’d started, it just didn’t stop it. Again, I felt compelled to do this. There was loads more stuff I wanted to say. The mental health side of things – now, it was something I had already experienced twice, by this point. So, in 2006, and in 2013, I’d had some really difficult struggles with depression. And so, when my marriage ended, that was kind of at the back of my mind that obviously, I didn’t want to go back there. And same for over for over a year, I like to say, I’ve been kind of going on adrenaline or whatever, I’ve never felt any sign that I was slipping back. But at that point, it when I started writing I knew I was struggling, so it helped me really kind of process things. And so, I didn’t set out to write about mental health, you know, but I realised that it was such a big part of what formed me that I had to. It was about my third post that, I wrote about having suffered with depression. And again, that had a really big impact with people. I got opportunities to write and publish on different websites and things and yeah, I guess, I found my voice. I found what I was passionate about. It’s such an alien experience to go through, you know, a severe episode with your mental health. And to find that I could articulate this in a way that people understood and could relate to, you know, I realised it was something that I needed to use and make the most of really. As I say, I wanted to help people. And so yeah, through that I got involved in campaigning – various campaigns working for big charities. And, and that whole process led to the creation of my on-line course.
Deborah: Excellent. Let’s just stop there to unpick a few things there. Listening to you – it’s a really emotional journey. And you wrap it up as if it happened just like that. But it must have been incredibly painful time for you. And the growth, the emotional courage that you had to survive that and the growth you went through, to get from where you were to where you are now is incredible. And I just wanted to talk to you about a couple of things. One is that point where you were in a really dark place, which you describe as a shit place – which I think is a great way to describe it – from that shit place you had this sense of purpose, I need to write this down. And I just wanted to explore with you how that feeling of purpose drove you and reflecting back, what your thoughts are about the things that drive us to do what’s in our heart? What is it that leads us to do these things? And how do we listen to them and act on them? Perhaps just explore that with you a bit?
Matthew: It was a really emotional time and experience. Initially, I had a bit of an argument with my parents, my dad in particular. Back then, I was putting stuff out there that was very raw. And, you know, and they were my parents and were kind of concerned about me, a lot of people were, you know, seeing what I was writing. And what, yeah, I did, I felt driven to do. But initially, I think it was a really good way of me processing what I was going through and I, you know, my dad said, ‘Why can’t you just write about it? Why does it have to be public?’ And I really had to reflect on that because I’ve never been someone that wanted the limelight or attention. But I felt a real need to put it out there and I questioned myself about that. And what I realised was that by writing about it, I had to find a meaning for it. I had to find a purpose for it. It couldn’t just be, oh, look, I’m going through a shit time, you know. It had to mean something. And so, I had to find positives. I had to find a way of reframing it so that’s what I wanted to put out there. And this may be weird as well but I had a sense, right from the start that it was significant. When I started writing that it was a significant moment in my life, and it was going to mean something. And I just knew it. Even though I was in a really bad place, even though I’d never written anything before – I didn’t think, you know, I’m gonna be this great writer – I just had a sense that it was going to mean something. And one of the things that drove me one of the things that drove me
is that, at some level, I had this sense again – it’s not like I was consciously thinking, This is what’s going to happen. But somewhere, it was almost like, if I show myself at this real low ebb where I’m feeling vulnerable, exposed, and, and all of that kind of thing. At some point, there’s going to be a point at which to say, look, what all that led to. It was because of all that this happened. And by exposing myself in real time, it was almost like, people would see that. And people would know that yeah, you know, whatever- good does come out of it they’ve seen all the crap that happened for me to get there. That these things don’t just magically happen. There’s always a real struggle behind it. Again, not saying that, you know, I ever imagined some great pinnacle that I’d be on. But, you know, amazing things have happened.
I guess, it’s been difficult, again, isn’t that things, you know suddenly everything kind of falls in your lap. By being out there and putting yourself out there and making the connections that enables this because you’re coming from a place that is real, and people identify with that. I just felt a drive to do that.
Deborah: You’ve put that very well. And as you’re speaking it through, it sounds as if you are doing exactly what you say you do – you talk about changing your story. And as you’re talking about the process of writing down what’s happening to you with the faith that it would all turn out, okay, you’re kind of taking control of your story and writing it. But you’re doing it very publicly, which took a lot of courage to expose yourself in that way, which we’ll talk about. But you’re also sharing a narrative that other people can identify with. And you went out there doing that with a faith that it would end up okay. And it has, which is remarkable.
Matthew: Yeah, and that to be honest, that’s been one of the things that my struggles with mental health taught me. You asked about – I can’t remember exact wording, but you said something about people in a similar situation. But it wasn’t that… I’m trying to think how to put it. It’s almost that you have to strip away what’s stopping you doing it. So, again, I felt a need and a compulsion to do it. The challenge is then, do you take that step? And to me that’s about stripping away. I think a lot of people are held back from their potential because they are scared of what other people will think, or scared of failing, you know, whatever expectations people have on them and how they should live. And so, it’s more about removing the things that are stopping you. Because I think inside us, you know, that it’s there – you have to kind of uncover it and clear away the crap. It’s there in us and, and for me, it was actually my experiences with depression that helped me to do that, because it kind of freed me from fear and other people’s expectations because where it took me too and how bad it was – nothing can be worse than that nothing. And, you know, when I was in this room, and I could barely move, it didn’t matter what anyone else thought about me all that mattered was whether I could somehow find a way out of it. And at that time, I didn’t think I could, but I did. So, having got through that I wasn’t going to let what someone else thought of me stop me from living my life. Because when it comes down to it, when you’re in those places, you know, there’s no one around. There was no one who could drag me out of it but myself. And so yeah, it’s given me a great a trusting and faith that I can push through things because what I’ve already been through is, you know, nothing can be worse than that.
Deborah: And doing it once and getting that reinforcement that yes, this works. I can push through and achieve. It gives you more confidence and faith to do it again. So, you go on a positive trajectory, don’t you? It just gets better and better.
Matthew: Yes, absolutely. And it’s interesting you say that you know about fear. For me, one of the things I realised was that I think I’d always thought that I’ve been lucky. And I was constantly thinking, what if my luck runs out? But then I’m 47 now, and I’ve got enough life experience behind me to be able to trust more that things always have worked out, and not only has the crap time gone away, but something good has come out of them. So, I feel more that I can hang on to that. It’s always with me now. And that sense that at some point, my luck will run out – I don’t feel that now. I think there’s so much more at play. And a big part of it is knowing who you are and trusting your gut, your instinct and eradicating those fears and the blocks that hold you back. And yeah, I guess I trust in that a lot more now.
Deborah: In your online course Change Your Story, you work with other people to help them change their story. Can you tell us a little about that? The sorts of things that hold other people back and how you help them to tackle those obstacles just as you did?
Matthew: Yes. I’ve done a lot of work over the years. My career previously I was in sport, but I very much work with people on self-development, personal development.
And then I did the same in mental health for a while. A lot of people found it difficult to articulate their strengths, and would often underplay – downplay, their strengths and minimise them. Almost taking them for granted. Not even recognise them – you know, that’s just something they could do. And, you know, I think we’ve got this thing certainly in the UK, I think that we do that – kind of apologetic about the things that we can do well, especially if it’s something that we haven’t had to work at. But actually, there’s this focus that we identify weaknesses and try and get rid of them. I think well, one is the thing about knowing your strengths, and are you making the most of your strengths? And then that’s where, you know, you really live a kind of rich life where you’re using those strengths and can use them to help others in particular and that, is very fulfilling and rewarding. And also, reframe your weaknesses as, just characteristics, attributes. And what might be a weakness in one situation can be a strength in another. So again, it all came back for me as about being in the right story. Like you’re using the analogy of you being the leading actor in a story of your life. Well, that story needs to be the right story for you. And if it isn’t, that can cause a lot of mental distress and potentially mental illness. And so, I sum it up as like you wouldn’t put Rocky in a romcom – boxing is my kind of big thing – because it doesn’t fit the character. And that seems to resonate with people.
I think we often do drift in life and this is what happened with me, it was divorce, and mental health. It’s when things come along, that just shake you out of that and drifting along just isn’t an option anymore. Certainly, for me, clearly the mental health because you’re just not yourself anymore. I really questioned a lot of these things, who you are and what you’re doing in your life? So yeah, and I think that the analogy of a story, it puts some distance – it helps people to view their life more objectively and see things differently. We get very tied to the stories we tell ourselves. And the idea is that, well, it is just a story. And you’ve got the pen and you can rewrite it. Again, I think that’s an analogy that people can relate to. And it’s really interesting the realisations people have – little light bulb moments. You know, say I’ve done my job, when people have those lightbulb moments, but it’s true – I’ve given them a framework to look at things differently.
Deborah: I love that framework. I read somewhere, that at the end of your life, you’ll look back, and your story will all make complete sense. And being an author myself, that really resonates with me, because as writers, we put our protagonist through hell, but we know they’re going to have their happy ending. And all the little breadcrumbs we drop in our stories of things happening, that the protagonist has to pick up on to find where they’re meant to go, that happens to us in our lives. And it’s only when we can see that– just as you were able to go inwards, and pick up what it was you wanted to do, and understand who you were and what your story needed to be. And so, it’s only when we do that, we kind of pick up all the hints around us which are leading us in the right direction, if only we open our eyes, heart, ears and listen.
Matthew: Definitely. And it. Was writing that really taught me that and writing my own story. It is amazing how you recognise threads and themes in your life. And again, this is something that became part of my programme about, you know, What’s the plot of your story to date? It reveals things about how, again, how we view our life and what we’re capable of in life. And yeah, it was amazing how, again, different things, you know, seemingly disparate events suddenly form part of a bigger whole.
The quote that sums all that up for me from Steve Jobs, and it opens my book about the connecting the dots. That you can only connect the dots looking backwards. So, you’ve got to trust in something. And you’ve got to trust that those dots will connect in the future. And so, you have to have faith in something, whether it be your gut, intuition, God the Universe, wherever it is, but you have to trust that something is leading you to that. And that is so powerful to me. I think it echoes in everything that I do, really that, you know, that idea that whatever is happening, finding some sense of meaning and purpose from it and turning it into something that, again, where there’s a moment in which I yeah, that’s why that happened.
You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backward. So, you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your futureSteve Jobs
Deborah: There’s some wonderful insightful gems there, which I’m looking forward to sharing with listeners. I will give the Steve Jobs reference in the show notes, and a link to your on-line course Change Your Story.
Before you go, can you share with us your words of wisdom? What is the key thing – you’ve told us about sharing the story, can you put that into a mantra or something that listeners can take with them?
Matthew: Oh, the big thing for me is that we as a species, we’re storytellers. We create narratives around everything that happens in our life, who we are, our relationships to others. All of that is a story that we tell ourselves. And the question is who, who is holding the pen? And who is writing that story? Are you consciously creating the story of your life? Or are you allowing it to be written for you by other people’s expectations – by a particular person in your life, whether it be a partner, a parent, an employer? Are you handing the pen to somebody else? At any point, you can take that pen and you can create your story. And so what this is about – it’s about taking more control over the pen that writes your story. And talk about plot twists – you can’t control everything, and the last couple years have shown that more than more than most, I guess. But we can always choose how we respond to it. And again, and we can use the lessons from those changes to take a new direction, to learn new things about ourselves, to become more who we’re meant to be. And it all comes back to that. You taking control of the pen and you deciding which direction your story’s going to go in.
Deborah: Excellent. Thank you.
Matthew: That’s a bit of a long mantra that.
Deborah: No, no, you’ve said it very well. Take control in writing your own story. Perfect. Thank you, Matthew.
Matthew: You’re welcome. Thank you.
Links from Matthew:
For information on Knock Out Depression please visit my website: https://changeyourstory.org.uk/KODepression/
Visit my Amazon author page: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Matthew-Williams/e/B074QRTXWV/ref=dp_byline_cont_ebooks_1
How has writing transformed your life? I know that I would not have gone through a journey of self discovery had I not experienced disappointment and frustration on my writing journey. I would not have started my blog or this podcast. I would not have met amazing guests from across the world or connected with you. Writing brings us so much more than the end product of a book.
I would love to hear from you. You can write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org or leave a message here.
So, until next time … Look after your beautiful self and trust the journey.
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