Hello and Happy New Year! As you may be able to deduce from the date of my last entry, it has been a while. Also, I am no longer in Japan, I actually ended up quitting JET and returning home early because… Well, because. It’s actually what I want to blog about today.
Some people are born with depression but the symptoms are not always constant; they become more distinct in certain stages of our lives. I was an anxious and sensitive child but only started to struggle with depression as a teenager although at the time I level headedly put it down to puberty; it has only been since looking back that I have realised there was probably a little more going on. Once I went away to University my self esteem and confidence dramatically improved so much so that I applied for JET in my third year (whereas in my first year there had been a chance to study in America for six months and I didn’t bother applying because I just assumed I wouldn’t be good enough).
But then in the last two years the symptoms came back and gradually worsened. It was only when it started to affect my work that I knew I could not stay in Japan, certainly not for a fifth year. I wanted to, more than anything. I loved my home and my schools, teachers, students, friends and how every day had the potential to turn into an adventure from trying a piece of unknown raw fish to driving from Tokyo to Fukuoka in a night! My time in Japan really showed me what I was capable of and even during some of my darkest days, a pizza night with fellow JETs or a student saying, “I ラブMiss Emirii” could still make me smile. Japan was exhausting but was not the cause for my mental illness. I feel like that is important to say. It was not culture shock or the day to day stuff of being a foreigner in a foreign country but depression made that existence too hard to cope with.
The young woman who was helping organise conferences and giving presentations, who chaperoned Japanese students to Texas twice, who could make a fifty minute lesson out of a worksheet, a blackboard and one minute’s notice would come home every night and hate herself. I dreaded being on my own but at the same time that was all I wanted. I was comfort eating, self harming, having panic attacks (there was a phase where my legs would just seize up so I couldn’t cycle to work!), sleeping badly but also too much… Some mornings, I couldn’t get up. Sometimes I would look in the mirror and not recognise myself. I would look around at the stunning scenery (Karatsu is surrounded by mountains and beaches) and feel nothing. And honestly, that’s putting it lightly.
I started Skype sessions with an American psychiatrist working in Japan. Things did not work out with him in the end but I still remember the day I called him, how much it felt like spotting a lifeboat at sea. He confirmed that I was ill and it was such a relief to finally believe that it was not my fault. That’s one of the worst things about depression, the shame you feel. A normal person with a loving family and a good life who could not even go to the corner shop; “Pathetic,” I would call myself. “Tired,” I call myself now.
As I started combating my illness, I began to perceive it as a trick; like a trick of the light it was a trick of the mind. Winston Churchill described his depression as his black dog and one of my favourite quotes of his is, “I know why logs spit. I know what it is to be consumed.” Giving depression a shape separated it from myself. I don’t think I could ever settle with a dog being the bad guy though, they’re too darn amazing, so mine just looks like some weird underworld gremlin demon thing. A bit like that painting they use in the TV series, ‘The Fall’.
Anyway, I perceived it as a trick, as a parasite, I guess. What I did not consider though, was that sometimes, things are just hard. Sometimes, feeling upset and stressed are perfectly rational responses to the circumstances you find yourself in. Also, some people are just plain mean. Basically, something occurred that resulted in a breakdown and I blamed myself and being too ill but actually, it didn’t have a lot to do with my depression. I was only able to see it that way once I returned home and started receiving counselling on the NHS. My counsellor was an amazingly kind person and just gave me step by step methods to rationalise and combat negative thinking. I had been on a cocktail of anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medicine when I was in Japan but none of it did half as much good as the small amount of CBT I received back in the UK. I am still taking anti-depressants but just one pill a day instead of six! I honestly think both medication and talk therapy are essential to fight depression. It’s a hard decision for people though, sometimes because of pride, sometimes because of fear. It took a long time for me to seek help because I was afraid that the professional would tell me that there was nothing wrong with me. It was quite a strange feeling but I guess I preferred to live in hope that it could be a disease than to live with the shame of knowing I was weak.
It has been about seven months since I left Japan. I miss it and sometimes I feel guilty about quitting. Then I remember where I was and where I am now mentally. I do not think that depression can ever be cured but it can be handled. I can handle it now much better than I used to because I have the tools and the means to do so. It does not dominate my life anymore and my Resolution list has expanded from just the one resolution (stay alive) to fourteen! Things like ‘Lose weight’ and ‘Join a choir’ actually feel like challenges I can take on now.
Of course, there are some people without whom I could not have got through the last few years. So to them, a huge thank you for the shoulders to cry on, the TV drama recommendations, the hands to hold, the cups of tea, the no-questions-asked-understanding when I could not manage a social gathering, the support that enabled me to not only go home early but also to bring my beautiful dog, Tuuli, with me and so much more. Mental illness cannot easily be treated with a plaster or a kiss on the place that hurts; it is complicated and confusing and one thing that works one day may not work the next but your words of comfort, your hands, your help and determination to bring joy back into my life, I held onto it all and did not let go.
Will tidy this blog post up at a later date (there’s a cup of tea waiting for me downstairs!) with useful links and not as useful links to memes!