“The Breath of Beasts and Lilies,” is a love story, author Harrison Kistler explains: a love story about family, about children, and about how a father rediscovers happiness within the love of his children. “The Breath of Beasts and Lilies,” is a love story that Kistler threw his heart and soul into. It is a book that took him seven years to write, and a project that helped him to examine his own life while writing it, he says.
Kistler, who realized he had ADHD at the age of 30, admits that the father figure in the book is semi-autobiographical and touches on his own struggles with depression and ADHD. Kistler explains that while in the throes of depression he realized that he had to make something beautiful out of what was inside of him.
“I needed to end the chaos, the anxiety,” he says. “I realized that if I was feeling this way, then there must be others in the same situation and I decided to create something that others could read and learn from.”
Writing the book wasn’t easy, admits Kistler, who says he has been afraid to talk about ADHD because of the stigma surrounding the diagnosis. He says his self-esteem suffered tremendously growing up undiagnosed and, even to this day, he hasn’t shared his diagnosis of ADHD with many people.
Growing up, Kistler says his father, who was in the Marines, was “very strict, but in a loving way.” He believes that his father’s discipline helped him with structure, as did the catholic schools he attended, although he found little understanding in regards to his challenges.
When discussing how ADHD has impacted him, Kistler says that his biggest struggles have been impulsivity, lack of focus, overwhelm, social anxiety, and low self-esteem. He admits to “blurting out the wrong things,” spacing out at times, and, in trying to fix one mistake, he often makes even more. Although Kistler is afraid that he has lost friends as a result of his ADHD, he realizes that there are perks to having ADHD as well.
“I wouldn’t sell my wild imagination, nor my sense of humor for a billion dollars.”
Kistler says that turning 30 was a pivotal time for him. He was living in Japan then, and when he began reflecting on the past 10 years, “it became so clear that something was wrong.” In addition to broken relationships, one of his biggest regrets was realizing how much procrastination had impacted him to the point of “interrupting the normal flow of life.”
Age 32, Kistler married and “invited someone else into the madness,” he says. Realizing his wife deserved better, he went to see a counselor, but when the counselor began writing a prescription for medication before listening to his story, he decided to find another way to help himself. “That was the last time I saw a clinician.”
Instead, Kistler says, he read up on ADHD and began to figure things out on his own. Now, 46, while he still struggles with his ADHD and depression, he has developed tools and strategies that work for him. And he uses humor in everything he does. Kistler, who has three young children, ages 6,9 and 12, says they laugh all the time and have created “a little magical world, that we enjoy. I still have to be Dad, but we have the best times together.”
Kistler says that if any of his children should show signs of ADHD, he wants them to know that nothing is wrong with them. “You learn differently, you think differently, but that is a beautiful thing.”
Kistler also loves his work with foster children and young adults, many of whom have ADHD. “I try to teach them strategies to stay focused and how to accept themselves for who they are.”
Kisler graduated from Cal Poly Pomona with a bachelor’s degree in psychology and a minor in criminal justice. Kistler also earned a teaching credential and teaches a correctional science course at a local community college.
Kistler says that he designates certain students to help him stay on track while lecturing, which has worked out very well. He only assigns one paper a semester, walking his students through it with deadlines regarding the rough draft, second draft, etc, giving them all term to work on it. What worked for him, he realizes, works well for most others too.
Kistler explains that while working on his novel, he did not allow himself to write during the semester he was teaching, not until the grades were in. Then the writing became the reward and he would set aside 12 hours at a time to write. “That was the only way I could do it,” he says. “I would go to Starbucks when they opened and not leave until closing.”
It was 2006, Kistler says, on a drive with his family from his home in Claremont, CA to San Jose, that the idea of writing a book came to him. “I had fallen asleep and when I woke up, I knew it was something I needed to do.”
For the next year, Kistler says he wrote ideas on napkins, on little pieces of paper, on post-it notes, and even on his hand. He also used voice recordings, sometimes wearing a small Olympus voice recorder on his sleeve. Eventually he began to write his book. It wasn’t easy, he admits. “At times it was down right frustrating, but it was supposed to be. The book parallels my life. It paints the truth of how we feel. Writing this book helped me to process and accept myself.”
The book took on a life of its own, according to Kistler, who says it is extremely difficult for him to explain what it is about. He says he was reluctant to use words such as ADHD, depression, and anxiety in describing what the book was about, but instead chose to focus on its message of hope, love and redemption. Kistler says his kids are his world, and that comes across in the book. He says that sometimes it takes the innocence of children to see past one’s outer struggles and appreciate who someone really is.
Odette, the daughter in the book, was wise enough to know that she had to let her father do for himself, and not make him feel like he was a burden or special needs, Kistler explains. “What she could do was help him stay on track in a very subtle, seamless way. Odette saw what was really in her father’s heart,” Kistler says. “She not only loved him, but helped him compensate for his challenges with cool strategies. And as long as one person that reads my book gets it and is helped by my book, I will be happy.”
With the book completed, Kistler is now working on a curriculum for training others to work with young adults transitioning out of foster care, and another one for staff caring for foster kids.
He has also decided to create a collection of short stories, based on one of the characters in his book, to be called, “The Green Badge of Courage: A Collection of Short, Finished Stories.” Kistler laughs when he points out that his title, “Finished Stories,” reflects his pride in the accomplishment of FINISHING what he started. “Gotta love it,” he says.
“I need to write again,” Kistler says. “I want to go back to my world. I genuinely miss having it to look forward to.”
Harrison Kistler’s novel “The Breath of Beasts and Lilies” can be found on Amazon.com or at his website, http://www.harrisonkistler.com/.