What We Can Learn From Japan’s Deadliest Massacre Since World War II

Culture & Society

It wasn’t until I realized that one of the victims in the Japanese knife attack in Sagamihara could have been a relative of mine that the reality of the attack hit home for me.

I knew she wasn’t in Sagamihara at all, but I was still terrified by the thought that it could have been her. If this person had gone to a different part of Tokyo, he could have killed her.

It was-and still is-a sobering thought.

The Tragedy of A Mass Killing

On July 26, 2016, a former employee of a mental health facility stabbed 19 residents with mental health challenges to death, ranging in age from 19 t0 70. Reports also say that the young man-who is my age, another chilling thought-said that he wanted disabled people to “disappear.” (source)

As a Japanese-American individual who has a passion for mental health, I didn’t know quite how upset I was about it until a few days ago, something that I (sadly) attributed to the sheer number of mass killings that have occurred since the year began.

Yes, of course the countless other mass killings were (and still are) tragedies. No single tragedy is more important than another. But this one affected me more than even the Pulse massacre because of my personal connection to the Japanese culture.

And yet, I saw few reports of the attack from news outlets that weren’t foreign. To be fair, I was so distressed when I first heard about the attack that I decided to put my mental health first. I knew that if I read into the details that I would not be able to function properly. Deliberately blocking out news outlets for the next few days has helped me regain some sense of emotional normalcy.

But even with that emotional normalcy back, the attack disturbs me for more reasons than one.

Japan is a collectivist country, where you are trained from birth to put others’ needs before your own, to not “rock the boat,” shall we say. Going back and forth between Japan and the United States, I learned very quickly that expressing your emotions sans filter in Japan was-and still is-frowned upon.

One is valued for their ability to conform, and frowned upon should they choose to stand out. You are given one (and only one) shot at college entrance exams per year; should you fail, you will be known as a ronin, a word that remains from the age of the samurai, a word that was used to refer to warriors who had no master to serve.

With values that limit individuals’ needs to express themselves authentically, overwhelming pressure to succeed academically, and a major emphasis on appearances, it’s no wonder that Japan has one of the highest suicide rates in the world. In 2014, 25,427 people ended their lives. And that was the lowest the suicide rate has been in over 18 years (source).

Encouraging? Yes. Still disturbing? Yes.

People with disabilities have an even harder time responding to the overwhelming pressure of living in Japanese society. Mental health is not openly discussed; like in many Asian countries, it is still very much a taboo subject. Depression was not recognized in Japan until the late 1990’s (source).

Knowing that this young man previously worked at the Sagamihara center disturbs me even more, especially as someone who regularly works with people who deal with mental health challenges. Perhaps I’m being too generous or naive, but I would hope that individuals who work with poeple who deal with mental health challenges every day would develop a sense of compassion and acceptance for them, especially working with them so closely.

However, this was not the case with this young man, someone who, despite having a supposedly cheerful impression, was someone who wanted “ Japan to be a country where the disabled can be euthanised.” (source)

Just goes to show that you never know what someone you think you know is really thinking.

More Than Prayers

While I appreciate the idea of praying for a country in times of crisis (a social media trend that, as far as I’m aware, did not occur in the instance of this attack), I don’t believe that praying for a country is going to help much. Yes, people who feel powerless to do something when they see these tragedies occur cling to little acts; such things give them comfort. I understand that. But prayer alone is not going to bring about the massive change that clearly needs to occur, not just in Japan, but in this world.

When you ask people how they are, most of us will trot out the answer “I’m fine,” automatically. Very few of us will say, “I’m (insert expletive of choice here) miserable. I lost my job, my anxiety is killing me, my car broke down, and all I want to do is watch cartoons and cry.”

We choose saying that we’re fine for various reasons, and I’m not going to pretend to know all of them, especially because we all come from different backgrounds and circumstances. I’ve found that being honest and vulnerable about your emotions makes you more relatable. By being honest and vulnerable about your story, you give others around you permission to do the same.

I understand that in various cultures it’s difficult to do something so revealing when such actions are frowned upon. But if you lie once about how you feel, you’re going to have to lie again. And continue to lie until you can’t distinguish the truth from your story.

My hope for the world is that we can all-regardless of background and circumstance-learn to be just a little more honest when we interact with others around the world. Real change doesn’t come from prayer. Real change comes as a result of thousands of efforts from thousands of people who challenge the status quo. Real change comes from people listening carefully to those who are different from them and working together, not euthanizing an entire population of individuals just because they are different from the people you surround yourself with.

Real change starts with us.

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The Truth Behind Depression & Suicide: My Thoughts On Robin Williams’ Passing

Culture & Society, Miscellaneous Musings, Re-framing Your Thinking

RobinWilliams

I am not a numbers person. Contrary to my stereotype, I was horrible at math. But consider this:

 

With numbers like these, you would think that depression would have been more widely accepted as a real disease. Sure, people are talking about it a lot more (which is great), but how long will that discussion last?

Will people take Robin Williams’ passing as the final kick in the pants and continue the discussion after his unfortunate suicide fades from headlines? Or will we forget about it and go back to our merry lives until another celebrity lends their voice to the issue or passes away?

The choice is yours.

I know where I stand because I’ve been on the verge of ending my life before. I’m still battling the demons of depression.

The hardest part was not the swallowing of the pills. It was not sitting for hours on a therapist’s sticky leather couch. It was not suppressing the urge to cut every time the medicine hit my system.

The hardest part was staying.

Staying alive for my friends and family.

Staying alive and hearing things like “It will get better,” even though life kept giving me reasons to throw the towel in.

Sometimes letting go is easier than staying.

 

I know that I didn’t believe that my life could get better. All I saw was the reality in front of me. And that reality was that my life wasn’t fun.

You could argue that suicide only benefits one person and leaves so many hurt people in the wake of tragedy. But I know that when I was thinking about dying, I wasn’t thinking about how selfish I was. I was not thinking that suicide would be a free pass. I was thinking about how I would no longer be a burden to my family and friends.

You could call Robin Williams selfish, but I’d be willing to bet that he held on for as long as he did because of his loved ones.

 

My friends are the only reason I’ve held on for this long.

 

Robin Williams was the one who said that we are all given “a little spark of madness. You mustn’t lose it.”

What will you do with your one spark of madness?

 

Why I’m On The Fence About The Self – Help Industry & The Key To Making The Changes You Want To See

Culture & Society, Re-framing Your Thinking

changes

I’ve been through 2 self-help programs. These programs told me I was going to “find my inner beauty in 3 months” and “find the career of my dreams (or something along those lines) in 8 weeks.”

These programs claimed that they would “fix” my life, in a sense.

Have I embraced my inner beauty or gotten my dream career?

Nope. Not yet. I’m in the process of doing those things.

Sure, these programs have helped me somewhat, but they are not a quick fix. They are advertised to make you THINK they are.

This is why I have a problem with them:

You can’t develop confidence in 8 weeks or whatever else these programs advertise. Building confidence takes years. Your career is a constantly evolving journey. Your “purpose” is going to change as you change. You have to put effort into instigating the changes you want to see.

These programs in the self-help industry don’t fix your problems. You do.

I’m going to say that again. We fix our problems.

In response to the New York Times article that discussed young girls and the fact that they use YouTube to validate whether or not they’re physically attractive, one reader left the comment:

“Sounds more like our culture is the issue-again. It says a lot when the standard for approval and acceptance for young girls is physical appearance-but not so much for young boys.”

Guys go through the ringer too, you know.

I don’t think our culture is entirely to blame here; our society is made up of individuals who have the opportunity to help shape our rules. So yes, that twisted society that we always say has to change?

You help make it too.

I’m not trying to make you angry and say that everything that happens in society is your fault. I’m just asking you to consider the fact that you might be engaging in little things that are helping to create a society you don’t want to see.

Gandhi was right. In order to change the world, you have to BE that change.

What sorts of changes do YOU want to see in today’s society?

 

 

 

 

The 3 Most Important Lessons I Learned From The Land Down Under

Travel

ImageWhen you think of traveling, what do you think of?

Do you think of wandering local restaurants and avoiding tourist attractions like the plague so you can really immerse yourself in your experience?

Do you fantasize about falling in love with a local like the protagonists did in those cheesy 90’s movies?

Are you the kind of person who has to plan every hour of every day of your trip? Or are you someone who just likes to let things unfold?

 

I was the planner. But now I’m not so sure; I might be inching toward the latter.

 

And it took the me going to the land down under to start the inching.

 

You could say I came away from Australia with an appreciation for nature, TimTams, and some local lingo. And in some sense, that’s true. But I will always be grateful to the land of the Aussies for teaching me these things (and taking me out of my comfort zone again)

 

Expect The Unexpected

 

I had been dreaming of spending 4 months in London, interning abroad, using the internship as a way for me to start building a base for an international career.

 

Well my dreams of walking along the Thames and taking the Tube to a fantastic internship were dashed with a single e-mail.

 

I have no shame in admitting that I was crushed. I was burned out from exams, and the earthquake and tsunami had just hit Japan. The thought of the possibility of going to London for 4 months was the only thing that kept me going. I held onto the idea with an iron fist; I knew it was mine. It had to be.

 

And then it didn’t happen.

 

But after I had somewhat recovered, I realized that I had two choices:

 

a)    Don’t go abroad (and regret it for the rest of my life and wonder “what if”)

b)   Go abroad (and experience new things and be open to new possibilities.)

 

You know which option I went with.

 

Taking chances is always scary. There’s no way around it. But sometimes the things that seem to be the worst things on the planet turn out to be the best things ever. I didn’t expect to fall in love with TimTams (I can never eat Thin Mints again), try kangaroo meat or Vegemite, interact with aboriginal Australian people, or feel like the little mermaid as I swam in the Great Barrier Reef for class credit.

 

Regardless of your situation, there are always twists and turns in life; as the quote goes, a smooth sea doesn’t make for a skilled sailor. Planning can be good; but it can also prevent you from experiencing the things that might turn out to be the best memories of your travel experience.

 

 

You Never Know Unless You Try

 

One of the things that made me balk at the idea of going to the land down under was the idea of outdoor activities. I’m the kind of girl who likes a cup of tea and a good book. Hiking and camping just didn’t appeal to me.

 

But then I tried it.

 

And even after hiking part of the border of New South Wales and Queensland (which was pretty amazing, might I add), I know for sure that I am not an outdoors-y kind of girl.

 

The best thing is that I can say that I tried it. Yes, my legs were burning even though I was slogging along at the very end of the line, but I still did it.

Trying things gives you an idea of what you want, but it also gives you an idea of what you don’t want. We’ve all had that moment where we claim to hate something, try it a second time, and end up loving it.

 

Or you might end up realizing that your first impression was indeed correct; that you really don’t like whatever it is you tried.

 

And that’s still okay.

 

 

The Scary Things Might Not Be That Scary When You Actually Do Them

 

We’ve all had those things. Those seemingly insignificant things that we’re terrified of.

 

In my case, mine was traveling alone. I mean really alone. No family I knew, no hotel reservations, no guidebook, no itinerary.

 

Enter Melbourne, Australia, which became one of my favorite cities.

 

Image

 

There was something liberating about winging it. After years of always being a planner, having structure, I realized how good the opposite can be. This is not to say that I kicked the habit of being a planner to the curb, but I learned that having an open mind can make life so much easier.

 

Don’t let anyone tell you that your fears are stupid; there’s a reason for them, and they vary from person to person. It’s just that once you bite the bullet, you may find that the things you feared are actually things you like to do.

 

What are YOUR favorite foreign cities that you’ve traveled to? What have you learned from conquering your fears abroad?

 

 

How To Keep the Demons (And the S – Word) Down

Learning To Love Yourself, Re-framing Your Thinking

 

Demons

“Don’t get too close; it’s dark inside; it’s where my demons hide.”

We’ve all had those nights where you’re wide awake at 4 in the morning. The ones where you’re sweating like a hog in heat. The nights where none of the tricks you use to fall asleep seems to be working.

 

Because those demons creep in.

 

Don’t tell me you don’t know what I’m talking about. Those critical voices, the voices of childhood bullies, the ones that tell you that you’re not going to amount to anything.

 

The voices that tell you that you “should.”

 

Should be getting out more. Should eat healthier. Should be stronger. The list goes on and on and on.

 

You might look around you and think that everyone around you has it together, that they know what they’re doing because it seems like they’re navigating life with a map highlighted with Day-Glow markers. And there you are in the corner trying things that don’t seem to be working.

 

The truth is, we’re all in the same boat; the difference is that we just deal with it differently.

 

Not all of us decide to broadcast our woes to the world via Facebook status updates, and what we read on those channels might not necessarily be true. We can edit, water ourselves down to portray ourselves a certain way.

 

So how do you take the bullhorn away from that lizard that keeps saying the s-word?

 

Create Your Own Standards

 

Easier said than done, yes. But you are not your BFF who has a Day-Glo highlighted map to life. You are you. And if a good day for you means putting in just one job application and working out for an hour instead of the person next to you who puts in ten applications a day and bench presses more than 100 pounds at the gym, you have the right to celebrate that.

 

Find An Outlet

 

I’m not here to tell you that there’s ONE WAY to rid yourself of that lizard voice. You have to find a way that works for you. For me, it’s writing in a journal and kickboxing. For you, it might be something else. There’s no shame in saying that what works for one person may not work for you. Find that thing that helps you relieve stress. It could be one thing, it could be two things, it could be multiple things. But finding an outlet for pent-up energy always helps you get out of the “should” trap. It allows you to vent, focus on something else. And I’m pretty sure you’re not too keen on letting that lizard yell the s-word through an invisible bull horn in your ear.

 

Tone Down The Media Consumption

 

I know, I know. You can’t live without your phone. I’m not saying to lock your phone and laptop in a safe or anything. It’s no secret that the media feeds the s word. Since I’ve stopped reading magazines and tabloids, I’ve been much happier. This doesn’t mean that I’ve stopped keeping tabs on what’s happening in the entertainment world (because let’s be real, there’s no real way to escape it). This doesn’t mean that NOT flipping through those glossy pages will make you a happier person within the first 24 hours. But without the extra fuel for the s word, without comparisons, you can focus on improving yourself.

 

Don’t Play The “What-if” Game

 

Now before you go off, I know what you’re thinking: this is the hardest thing ever. This is especially true if you’re a planner like yours truly. But what if the thing you actually end up doing is even better than the thing you had planned?

 

I’ve said before that you don’t have to take every opportunity that comes your way. But sometimes there are regrets. Sometimes it’s better to just bite the bullet and jump into that handstand even though your head is saying that you’ll fall over into the person next to you.

 

We’ve all played the “what if” game, but sometimes the what-if game can cripple us.

 

And I don’t think we want to live our lives as cripples.

 

What strategies do you have for dealing with the s word?

Photo Credit: PicJumbo

“Keep Your Head Up, Nothing Lasts Forever”

Culture & Society, Re-framing Your Thinking

Kudos to Kelly Clarkson’s songs for inspiring me.

 

There were so many things that I wanted to blog about this week. Yes, I’m that kind of person who can’t go anywhere without a notebook (or Evernote, if I must be parted from my beloved Moleskine for some reason).

 

No, I did not close my eyes and point to a topic on my ever-growing list of topics before churning out a blog post (although I am debating doing that at some point).

 

But I decided to combine a few topics and put them under an umbrella, and talk about gratitude again.

 

Richer

 

I’ve talked about gratitude before. Two times, to be exact. So what’s so compelling about this subject that I decided to do it again?

 

Chiara De Blasio’s recent article on XO Jane really got the cogs turning for me. Because I was in her shoes. On my bad days, I would say that I still am.

 

I had everything that so many people wish for. Clean water, clothes, food, a bed at night, an education. And I was taking it for granted. I was selfish. I was ungrateful.

 

I couldn’t recognize how rich I was, how fortunate I was.

 

I’m in a better place now, but that doesn’t mean that I never have bad days; everyone does.

 

Even when some friends catch me on a bad day, they don’t really believe that I still deal with many of the issues that I tell them that I dealt with. In their minds, it’s been over a decade. A decade should be plenty of time right? Get up, dust yourself off, move on.

 

In the past, people have called me selfish, thought that I was seeking attention.

 

I’m here to give them a big (hopefully very loud) wake up call.

 

These conditions are not picky. It’s not like someone decides, “This person is going to get X, this person is going to get Y, and this person is going to Z.”

 

People who have these conditions are not selfish. Our brains just work differently. Sometimes we go to these dark places because it’s the only way we know how to cope with the world. It’s hard to be grateful for what we have, to even see what we have when we feel like the world is out to get us.

 

The world can feel very unsafe for us sometimes. I know that as a victim of bullying, I felt unsafe in school. It didn’t matter if I was eating lunch, in class, laughing with friends. I still felt unsafe.

 

I don’t think people who deal with mental illness are selfish. They’re warriors. They’re dealing with life the best way they can, with the tools they have, just like the next person. Sure, the tools may be a little different, a little unorthodox, but they’re still trying to live, trying to survive.

 

Some would say that they’re just not seeing the big picture. I was told thousands of times that I wasn’t seeing the big picture, that being detail-oriented was a bad thing, that I wasn’t seeing the forest for the trees.

 

Were they right?

 

Maybe.

 

But sometimes what you say to someone doesn’t register. The things you say to them aren’t interpreted the way you intend them to. Sometimes we need events to remind ourselves not to take things for granted.

 

It’s sad to know that it takes the kidnapping of more than 200 Nigerian girls or a local fire to remind us to be grateful, to remind ourselves how fortunate we are to have the most basic of things. But this is the world we live in.

 

The best part is, we can change it.

 

We can help turn this world into a place where girls from all over the world are given the gift of an education. We can work to make this society a place where human trafficking victims’ stories can be heard, a place where the stigma of mental illness is no longer taboo.

 

What are you grateful for? What sorts of changes would you like to see in the world?

Image Credit: Pinterest