November 17, 2021

40 Words from Haruki Murakami to Pull us out of our Emotional Sh*tstorms.


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As a depressive, my metaphorical glass is always half-empty, which means I am often blind to the good things that happen in my life.

And ordinarily, there are always some good things. When we are in the eye of an emotional sh*tstorm, it might feel as if nothing is moving forward, but when we look back, there is normally a sliver of positivity to be found.

Who knows? Maybe our love life was a disaster zone at the time, but in hindsight we see that, although we were busy having our hearts broken, we actually made huge strides in our career. Perhaps the opposite is true: maybe that period of our life coincided with professional inertia, but we found our soulmate.

Life is full of swings and roundabouts, but there’s normally some good to be found. Depression can blind us to those upturns, but that doesn’t mean they weren’t there. However, such a mindset isn’t solely reserved for people with mental illness—we all do this at times.

At some point or another, all of our glasses seem half-empty.

But, what if we do endure a period of life where literally nothing good happens? Where every single aspect of our life falls off a cliff? What if we lose everything that ever mattered to us?

How do we “reframe” or “spin” a time like that into a positive experience?

Over the last five years, I experienced such a time. I really do wish it was depressive melodrama speaking, but it’s truly not: nothing good happened, either personally or professionally. It was the most horrific period of my life, and there was not one crumb of comfort to be found.

My career didn’t just stall—it imploded.

Many of my interpersonal relationships didn’t just flounder—they crashed and burned.

The list of mistakes I made as a partner, sibling, son, friend and, worst of all, as a father would fill several telephone directories.

And my sanity took a long holiday from which it’s only just returned.

It was wall-to-wall disaster and sadness. There’s literally nothing I’m grateful for; it pretty much all sucked.

I am not seeking sympathy though, because there’s not one thing that occurred that I dealt with adequately.

I could moan about other people indefinitely, but I let those people into my life. Also, although I’ve written about toxic relationships, those pieces are aimed as much at me as at others; I’m far from being a saint. I can have no complaints, and if I did, I’d be a hypocrite.

I could harp on about the unfairness of being mentally ill, but honestly, there are 450 million of us on this planet with depression, and most of them don’t let their life slide to the state I allowed mine to. The truth is that regardless of support or compassion, self-sufficiency is the only constant, and I fell short on that front.

I found myself in the middle of a storm, one that was largely of my own making.

And it was grim. And then a bit more grim.

I found myself asking: how can I be grateful for that storm? I mean, it sucked. Big time. What is there to be thankful for?

It’s something that bugged me for a long time. I knew I had to find something meaningful from that period. But I couldn’t. Until I started reading my favourite author again.

I’d avoided Haruki Murakami for a long time. The Japanese novelist’s books are always ultimately life-affirming, but his characters have to endure a lot of trauma—often of a surreal nature—in order to get there. And their journeys were too triggering, too weird, and simply too grueling for me to live through again.

Then someone gave me a copy of his latest book for my birthday. It was an incredibly thoughtful gift, but one I didn’t feel ready to read. And then one night, I found myself flicking through it. Before long, I’d returned to the beginning and started reading it properly; as always, Murakami’s words had pulled me in and I was hooked.

I finished the book in a few days. Yes, I was triggered, but it felt cathartic. A form of aversion therapy, if you will—facing difficult emotions is often the only way to begin banishing them. And Murakami gave me the chance to begin facing some of those emotions safely and vicariously. Inevitably, I started re-reading his previous books.

I deliberately saved one particular novel until last: his most famous, the enigmatic Kafka on the Shore, published in 2002. It was his only book that left me cold. I had always found it intelligent and brave, but it also didn’t do anything for me. With its twin, parallel narrative, and lack of chronological logic, if anything, it was a little bit too clever, too knowing. I was hoping that my reimmersion in Murakami’s world, and my added maturity, might enable me to now view it more fondly.

I did. And then some.

I’m not going to spoil the book. It deserves reading. But, if you haven’t already, you will probably know one paragraph. I’d be amazed if at least one person you know hasn’t posted this on their social media. Context is massively important and these words are powerful when you see them weaved into Murakami’s outlandish tale. However, like all tiny snippets of genuine beauty, they transcend their original environment and escape into the wider world where they take a new, more universal power.

And the quote is this:

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Why are these words so important? They matter because they remind us of the most important fact of all…

We survived. 

We made it. We’re still alive, able to fight again. And as long as we can, we still have another chance at life. Murakami is right: looking back, we’re not sure how we did survive. But we did.

Whether it’s a global pandemic, a bereavement, or a breakdown, we survived that storm, and if that’s not a reason to be grateful then I’m not sure what is.

Yeah, maybe we don’t yet fully know how that storm has changed us. We’re different all right: we’re definitely not the same person who walked into that storm. And our life couldn’t be any more different. But how? How exactly has everything altered? Perhaps that only becomes clear with time. The answers might come later, or they might not. Either is fine. We don’t need to know everything right now.

And perhaps that’s part of our journey: to discover who we are. I wish you well.

But there’s one answer that comes as standard with survival: we are automatically stronger for that experience. We are a million times more resourceful, more resilient than we ever knew. In fact, just surviving means we’re probably far more capable than we’ve ever given ourselves credit for.

We might be feeling battered and bruised and spent. And, granted, it was probably messy and haphazard. But who cares?

We endured.

We found a way.

We did it.

And now that the storm has passed, it’s time to see what this new “us” makes of the post-storm world.

However, I’m willing to make a wager: if we were able to endure that storm, I reckon there’s little now that we can’t survive. If the “old” us could survive that storm, just imagine what the “new” us can do.

The list of mistakes I’ve made over the past few years is long. But I’ve survived. And that’s enough. That particular storm is over. I’m ready for the next one. I’m also ready to thrive. And the foundation of that will be built on the knowledge that I am a survivor.

For, if I can do that, what can’t I do?

What can’t we all do?

After the turmoil of the last few years, we’re all survivors. We may not know how those storms changed us, but we survived.

And that is amazing enough in itself.


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