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Deciding To Live

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Deciding To Live

Deciding To Live

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From NPR News, this is Weekend Edition. I'm Liane Hansen.

(Soundbite of This I Believe Introduction)

HANSEN: Our This I Believe essay today was sent in by Kij Johnson of Seattle, Washington. She works at a software company by day and writes science fiction novels by night. But her belief is not about her work. It's about something deeper and darker and about the way she rose above it. Here's our series curator, independent producer Jay Allison.

JAY ALLISON: We are struck by how many of our contributors use their essays to talk about stories that even those close to them don't know. Kij Johnson chose to write about something she says will come as a surprise to many of her friends and co-workers, but that it was more important to say it than worry about it. Here is Kij Johnson with her essay for This I Believe.

Ms. KIJ JOHNSON: I believe I am a climber. Three years ago, a series of medical and personal crises took what was a clinical depression and made it something much darker. I thought of it as falling, as jumping off a bridge on a rainy, winter day. Three seconds in the air before I hit the water and plunged deep into the icy cold, my heavy coat pulling me deeper and the surface far overhead, too far away.

This is the question that kept me from making the image a real one. What if I changed my mind? Jumping into the water, the air in my lungs would fail me before I could swim back to the living world. I would know for those last seconds that I did want to live after all, but it would be too late.

I'm not sure why I started climbing. I walked through the door of the local climbing gym one day on a whim. It was an alien world. Strong, beautiful men and women, towering walls under sodium vapor lights, white dust filling the air, light instead of dark, up instead of down. It was in every way the opposite of what was inside me.

The second time I climbed, I got to a move where I was sure I would fall. I was 25 feet up on a rope but I didn't know yet that I could trust it. I heard my voice say out loud, I have a choice here, fear or joy. What I meant was, climb or don't climb, live or die.

In the more than two years since then, I have climbed hundreds of days, inside and out, sometimes tied to a rope, often not. I do pay a price here. My body can be so bruised from hitting walls that people ask me about my home situation. Nine months ago, I broke my leg and ankle. I healed fast, but the risk remains. Next time I might not.

Climbing requires a cold-blooded decision to live. If I am inattentive or careless, I will fall. Every time I climb at the gym or rope up for a route outside or go bouldering, which is climbing without a rope and often more dangerous, I am taking a risk, and I am committing to staying alive.

Now I believe in climbing, in not jumping. Jumping would have been easy. Just step over the bridge railing and let go. Climbing is harder, but worth it. I believe that deciding to live was the right decision.

There's no way to describe the terrible darkness of depression in a way that non-depressed people can understand. Now I'm less focused on the darkness. Instead, I think about the joy I feel in conquering it and the tool I used. I am a climber, and I am alive.

ALLISON: Kij Johnson, with her essay for This I Believe. Since taking up climbing, Johnson has also tried out motorcycling, sea kayaking, badminton and collage making. As always, we invite you to tell us the story of your belief. You can find information about submitting along with all the essays at For This I Believe, I'm Jay Allison.

(Soundbite of music)

HANSEN: Jay Allison is co-editor with Dan Gediman, John Gregory and Viki Merrick of the book, "This I Believe: The Personal Philosophies of Remarkable Men and Women."

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