The other day I was visiting a town called Kamakura, where there’s this huge statue of Buddha. And when I saw it, I was so deeply moved that I started welling up. It wasn’t just Buddha’s majesty and dignity, it was the sheer weight of history and generations of peoples hopes, prayers and thoughts that broke over me, and I couldn’t stop myself crying. It was as if Buddha himself was saying to me, “All human beings have their hardships to bear, so never swerve away from the path you’re on.”
Everybody has a heart that can be touched by something. Crying isn’t necessarily about sadness or meltdowns or being upset. I’d like you to bear that in mind, if you would.
– The Reason I Jump by Naoki Higashida
This was meant to be purely a book review. And then it got a little sidetracked by the passage above. So bear with me for a bit, because first I have a confession:
I have noticed changes in myself since depression.
Well, of course, you say. How could you not change during such a crucial fundamental time? There are the changes that were a result of me fighting back against the depression and anxiety--the mindfulness I now have, the resilience, the stamina. But there are things that continue to surprise me. How much I value kindness in others. And yet, simultaneously, how I’m not willing to take shit--whether shit from anyone else, or shit from myself, or just doing things I don’t want to do. I advocate for myself. I understand the importance of validation, for myself and from others.
But the one that surprises me? Being much more sensitive. Simultaneously resilient and sensitive. I am no longer as ashamed of crying as I once was. And I do it far more often--and not just at sad things either. No longer when I feel frustrated, or stressed. I do it when I am happy. When I am moved. When I am grateful. When I have so many emotions swirling around that I can’t name them before they all escape. That tightness in my chest, the welling up of tears--that’s all become a familiar feeling--a comfort, almost. I don’t know that I welcome it, but I no longer dread it. I know that I am who I am, that I am alive, that emotions are there and are so powerful.
And yet, the one part of me that doesn’t quite welcome it doesn’t look forward to it because I know how it’s still widely perceived. It’s a sadness, a pain, a weakness, something to be hidden.
I wish it weren’t so.
But it will not be that way for me. I pledge that. I make that promise. I will never say I have dust in my eye. I will never say I am sad when really I’m happy. I will never apologize for feeling emotions strongly, for living the life I want to, for being so vivid that sometimes it hurts. Because it is my life, and it belongs to me. And no one is going to tell me otherwise.
Perhaps that’s the reason I related so deeply to The Reason I Jump. Naoki Higashida, a Japanese teenager, has written a simple but perceptive book about the way he experiences the world. For his experience is not only his own--it tries to serve as a voice for all people with autism.
Of course, autism being what it is, a syndrome that we know precious little about, that comes on such a wide spectrum that differs so greatly from person to person, Naoki cannot speak for everyone. But he tries to give a voice to common problems and everyday struggles of his, in hopes that people will understand people like him.
There are people who would tell you to read this book to understand someone with autism. I would agree with them. But I would also say read this book to understand yourself--because somehow, this Japanese teenager has understood something about you. As is obvious from the start, Naoki is not self-absorbed and insensitive, the horrific stereotype that autistic individuals have been saddled with. On the contrary, he is highly aware and deeply touched by everything around him. But speech, for him and others with autism, is a constant struggle, as are cues and social mores that make no sense.
Through his writing, he is not only able to answer simple questions (why he does certain things that others find strange) but express a deep understanding of his own emotions. This, in a way, has shamed me--I am a lifelong speaker, a writer, fully cognitively aware--why can’t I describe how I’m feeling some days? And yet it is shame that is somewhat inspiring. In spite of his difficulty to communicate in words, or perhaps because of it, Naoki has an incredible awareness of those feelings that can’t be expressed in words. He has motivated me to be better. To be more mindful, more aware. To try my best to be present, aware of my own self.
And that, I would say, is the reason I jump. Why do you?