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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Currently I’m Loving…(Vol. 10)

Currently I'm Loving

currentlyi'mloving9

I have been following Crystal’s blog for a while, so I was ecstatic when she announced a linkup, I was so happy! I love these favorites posts too, so it was a win-win situation! My personal (i.e.: work) life is picking up, so things may be slow on my personal blog, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t love you readers or writing these posts any less! I hope that you will stick with my journey as we close out this year and roll through the madness that is the holiday season!

Onward with the favorites!

I Am Now A Swiftie (I’m Pretty Sure)

Yes, I have jumped on “I-love-the-new-Taylor-Swift-album” bandwagon. The song “Blank Space” didn’t stand out to me on the new album as one of my favorites, but the video makes the song. It really does. I love a woman and satire, and Taylor Swift has done it with the Blank Space video.

Who else heard “Starbucks lovers” on the first listen? I know I did.

I will admit: I am not a fan of her earlier albums. To me, it sounded like she was constantly making herself the victim of the experiences she wrote about. My first reaction was, “Grow up,” and while I sometimes feel that, I understand that so many people relate to her lyrics. And connecting with music is key to helping it sell. But to see the way she interacts with fans on social media, particularly Tumblr, she is turning me into a Swiftie. I love how sweet and truly caring she seems to be. (I mean, who gets early Christmas presents for fans or personally drives a toddler-sized Mercedes to an adorable kid rather than ship it?) Most celebrities get more and more distant as they get more and more successful. Taylor seems to do the opposite with her fans. And I’m all for a girl who can be grounded, real, and grateful, despite her success.

Jorge Luis Borges

There was once a time when I spoke Spanish better than I spoke Japanese, much to my relatives’ displeasure. I am now trying to turn back the clocks and get that ability back via Duolingo. I remember staring at a Jorge Luis Borges anthology, trying to figure out how fast and how thoroughly I would have to read as I collected yet another textbook from the professor. At the time, I didn’t appreciate him, but with quotes like the one below, he’s starting to win me over.

“A writer – and, I believe, generally all persons – must think that whatever happens to him or her is a resource. All things have been given to us for a purpose, and an artist must feel this more intensely. All that happens to us, including our humiliations, our misfortunes, our embarrassments, all is given to us as raw material, as clay, so that we may shape our art.”

As a writer, this makes me happy beyond words. So. Much. Truth.

Growing up, my work ethic disguised the fact that I had ADD. Many people (read: friends) thought that the idea of my having ADD was an oxymoron; they were operating on the symptoms that were associated with ADHD. Since I wasn’t bouncing off the walls like Tigger, and I worked my butt off for my grades, many thought that I didn’t have it, that I was just going through “a phase.”

We know now that they were wrong. And because of that, I will always be passionate about mental health, particularly when it comes to that of young people and women. This article from Devex sums of pretty much everything that I wanted to say on the topic.

What have YOU been loving this week? Let me know in the comments!

We Are All Warriors. Every Day.

Culture & Society

I was racking my brains for what to write for today. I wanted to write this glowing post to honor World Suicide Prevention Day.

And then I realized something.

The reason why I couldn’t write that glowing post wasn’t because I had writer’s block. It was because I felt like everything I had to say on the subject had already been said.

I am not at that point in my recovery where I can believe that no one else can play my part. I’m at that place where I’m struggling to find the balance with living life and relying on my story as fuel. I went from not sharing my story at all to sharing it very publicly. And now I’m trying to find that middle ground.  Recovery is a daily process. It’s battle we fight every day. Everyone goes through pain. Pain and disability do not make us special. We are ALL warriors.

yourstuggle

 

 

 

“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

 

Letting It Go: The Start of My Journey

Miscellaneous Musings

“Don’t let them in, don’t let them see. Be the good girl you always have to be. Conceal, don’t feel, don’t let them know”

Well now they know.

I am a sleepwalker.

Not in the traditional sense of the word; my parents don’t have stories of finding me riffling through their kitchen cabinets at 4 in the morning.

I’ve been sleepwalking through my life.

I’ve never been one to show emotion; it feels dangerous to me. Growing up in a bilingual household where one parent comes from a very collectivist culture where displaying emotion and putting individual needs first is frowned upon, I was raised in a household where I was constantly told (indirectly) that showing emotion was a bad thing. I experienced so much pain when I tried to express my emotions to my family that I came to the conclusion that they were right; showing emotion was dangerous, and the only way to survive was to numb myself.

In middle school, I was subject to severe bullying; the fact that I was one of the only Asian child in a private school populated by wealthy Caucasian children made me an easy target. This pain of this experience only served to emphasize my belief that showing emotion caused you pain, and was therefore, dangerous. What started as simple test anxiety became full-blown anxiety as the bullying escalated. I developed depression and a strong prejudice against Caucasian individuals and became suicidal.

Thus began my journey into the world of mental health. Thus began my journey of becoming an ice queen.

In an attempt to help me, my parents took me to various psychologists and psychiatrists. They even had a health professional come to my house to administer tests, which (and I quote from the report that my pediatrician later gave me a few years later), “may have helped to ease Alisa’s anxiety”

Hah.

Every day I was driven to another professional where I poured out my heart in their tiny offices, where they scribbled madly on their notepads.

In retrospect, I think a part of me started to enjoy these sessions because I finally felt like someone understood me. I didn’t understand that these people were paid to say those things, paid to let my parents know what was going through my head. I began to see them as a friend who I could pour my heart out to without fear of my parents knowing what I was going through. The negative messages around the idea of showing emotion forced me to deal with it the only way I knew how: I turned my switch off, and suppressed every emotion that I felt.

I came home one day to hear my psychiatrist leaving a message for my mother on the answering machine. The only thing that registered with me was that she had been telling my parents what I had been telling her, things that she had repeatedly assured me would remain confidential.

My trust and sense of safety went out the window with that message on the answering machine. Up until that point, I had thought that my house was my safe place, my parents, my safety net. Knowing that my psychiatrist had breached our confidentiality agreement hurt; I had bared my soul to her on the one condition that nothing I told her would leave the room. That was the cherry on top of the cake; I lost all faith at that point. I knew my parents were keeping something from me.

Unbeknownst to me, my parents and psychiatrist had met with my pediatrician, who had agreed to give me anti-depressants. They broached the topic with me at the next appointment with my psychiatrist; one could safely say they carefully omitted key pieces of information. I asked what the medication would fix. They told me it would fix my slipping grades, an excuse they had used consistently. Despite my reservations, I agreed; they assured me that it was temporary, that they would keep me on the medication for no longer than a month.

My grades went up, but I started experiencing severe side effects almost immediately; I had intense migraines and my suicidal symptoms were exacerbated. I floated into the psychiatrist’s office when the month trial period was up, ecstatic that I would no longer be feeling like a winded rhino, only to be told that they wanted me to continue taking a different medication. As I proceeded to cry, scream the word “no” and rage, this doctor laughed at me. I decided in that instant, recalling every doctor I had ever seen, that all doctors were inconsiderate of their patients’ wants and needs.

They proceeded to give me two additional trials of different anti-depressants, which had little to no effect. With each downed pill, the severity of my symptoms increased. By the end of what turned out to be the last trial, my only mentor had moved away to pursue another job opportunity and the bullying had escalated to the point where the sound of the phone scared me and I was too afraid to answer the phone for fear that it would be a prank call from one of my so called “friends.” I ultimately ended up removing myself from that school.

I’ve been stuck on that incident, unflinching since the age of 11.

It’s time for me to wake up. It’s time to let it go.

This is my journey, and I hope you’ll join me.