Help my Japan!
May 26, 2009 8:32 AM   Subscribe

Looking for some advice on how to cope with long-standing psychological issues - except...I'm studying in Tokyo for the next month, which adds some unique twists.

I'm studying Japanese here in Tokyo for the next month, and I'm feeling relatively isolated - by the language, by the living arrangements, but mostly by myself. While I expected to have a fresh outlook, and leave my old mindset back in the states, all of the issues I've been dealing with for the past few years followed me here with a vengeance.

I realize I need a therapist, and I had one in the past, but the prospects of seeing one here in Tokyo are both complicated and probably expensive...and I'm only here until the end of June.

So, now for some background info:

I'll try to be as concise as I can, but it's very hard to break down logically. I'm sorry if this gets obtuse - or if I leave out anything pertinent.

I'm 18. I grew up with a (mildly) bipolar father & both my parents were relatively young. I've always (since a very young age) had issues with anxiety - since I was 7 or 8 I have never had any lasting period of contentedness. A few years ago, however, things took a turn for the worse.

During the summer a few years back I had a traumatic breakup with my girlfriend - I made a lot of reprehensible decisions and dealt with shame, guilt and self-hate for the subsequent year. Without getting too detailed, I had a period of total confusion following the breakup, (I was reading crime & punishment which didn't help), and I came out of it feeling like my brain had been dipped in battery acid.

I suffer from low to...less-low anxiety constantly, but generally it feels a little bit more like depression. My anxious tendencies have a lot to do with control - over my life, my environment, my self. More importantly though, I have deep issues with self worth - and beneath the surface I feel constantly evaluated/judged in everything I do. I also have come to realize I have difficulty connecting with other people in a healthy way.


Now I'm in Japan. In the past, all of these issues seemed to subside when my circumstances changed. Sadly, they've shown no signs of going away. I guess these things truly do come from within...shucks.

I'm attending a language school where there are mostly Korean and Chinese students. I feel like I do not know enough Japanese to strike up meaningful friendships with my non-english-speaking peers, and it's even harder to communicate with native-Japanese-speakers. On the other hand I feel like I do not connect with my US peers, and I find the few friendships I have un-fulfilling. I would like to be happy without needing a peer group I connect with, but I've come to realize I rely heavily on the approval of others - and even when I receive it, my own negativity renders it meaningless.

In combination with the feelings of isolation, I feel demotivated, often depressed, and lackadaisical. I know a fair amount of Japanese grammar, so I have little motivation to study for my class. I've tried my best to practice independently using some nifty websites I found, but lately I haven't been keeping up with that - I'm dying to improve my Japanese, but I'm not confident that studying from a textbook is the best way to do it. I also feel constantly anxious that I am not taking advantage of my time here in a place that has inspired me since childhood. I have been sketching every day, which feels like the only thing that has kept me going.

Here are some technical factors: 1 - I have a limited budget from my parents (and I feel often guilty about 'wasting' their money). 2 - I have class from 1- 5 with a 45min-1hr train ride there and back, which breaks up the day inconveniently. 3 - Because my dorm is so far away, (and allows male guests only, and only until 9pm), it is hard to find any activities that do not require copious amounts of money. 4) I often feel compelled to take advantage of the meal plan and go home for dinner, which leaves me trapped in a (very) boring town.

Right now things are a little better, but as always my feelings are day to day with me. The past two nights I've stayed up late drinking alone and drawing, which feels liberating, but probably isn't such a good thing. Today I slept until 3, and didn't go to class for the first time.

Well, this is certainly obtuse. I'm sure that's more than enough information...

I'm just looking on some advice on how to turn things around, feel more confident and alive here in Japan. I would love to be jazzed about being here, and motivated to do things every day - without feeling like I need people that I connect to. (For me, 'people that I connect to' is code for 'girls that I adore' - in case that helps at all)

Any advice that goes above and beyond my stay in Japan is more than welcome.

I'm sorry that this turned out so long and complicated. It probably didn't need to be.

Thank you Hive Mind, for taking the time. I really appreciate any advice, comments etc.
posted by Griffinlb to Health & Fitness (8 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I'm no therapist, but I agree that the best way to learn the language/ make the 'most' of your time there is to actually get out and practice your Japanese. Presumably there are Japanese people in this boring town? There are bars/restaurants? Have courage and take advantage of it.

With your other problems, someone else will have to help you out

posted by Think_Long at 9:19 AM on May 26, 2009

Two quick suggestions for increasing your chances of meeting interesting people (which I think will make your time here much more enjoyable):

- Volunteer with Second Harvest Japan. They run things every Saturday, so you could totally rock up this weekend.
- Visit Yoyogi Park on the weekend and be proactively friendly. One of my friends met a whole new circle of friends there just by asking if he could join in their game of ultimate frisbee or whatever.

Also, don't dismiss the possibility of becoming friends with your fellow students or the other people in your dorm (is there a common area?). All the people I know who attended language schools in Japan ended up with a bunch of close friends from China and Korea. It sounds like you are a bit of an introvert, so maybe work on being more outgoing and obviously friendly, even if it feels silly at first.
posted by No-sword at 9:20 AM on May 26, 2009

Couple of obvious tips, sorry. Sounds like you may be ignoring the physical side of your health a little, having trouble sleeping. You can fix both of these by doing a little low-intensity exercise every day. I find three sets of push-ups first thing in the morning, few pull-ups sometime in the afternoon/early evening, has helped keep me on a more even keel. Runs about 5 minutes per session, so easy to fit in. I've been through difficult times as well and generally I've coped better when I've been better rested and in shape.

If you're feeling really brave, maybe try a martial arts class in the evening. Two birds with one stone kind of thing. I've always fancied Aikido, nice and relaxed and non-aggressive (despite every Seagal movie you've seen!)
posted by danteGideon at 10:03 AM on May 26, 2009

Tokyo English Life Line can help you find an inexpensive counselor.

Just like in the U.S., gallery openings and readings are usually free and have food, so if you went to those, you wouldn't have to go home for dinner. If you're interested in sports, a gym or a local sports club can be a good way to meet people.
posted by betweenthebars at 10:46 AM on May 26, 2009

I was 18 not too long ago (I'm 24 now), and I think I felt similarly to what you describe, so I will tell you what I wish I had known:

-Women will never solve your psychological problems. Never. If anything, they will add many, many more challenges. You need to learn to be independent of them, for now. You must change your self image from "OMG#$ I need a girl to survive!@" to "I could use a girl, but I don't need one."

-You must become a Man. Whether that means growing a beard, working in order to feed yourself, or learning Japanese at the foot of Mt. Fuji... you must do something to prove to yourself that you are a man. And only you know what that something is.

-Take responsibility for your world. If at any time there is something you don't like in your world, always take it upon yourself to change it. No excuses. Get help, get knowledge, get instructions, get advice, but never wait for someone to "change your diaper" for you. Invent your own solutions.

-Focus more on developing your character, and less on reminiscing about your personal history.

-When you make a mistake, best thing to do is to recognize it and not repeat it again.

-Daily exercise, good sleep, and wholesome food make life a lot more rosy.

-Don't feel bad about not taking advantage of being in Japan to learn Japanese. One month is not long enough to master any language, no matter where you are. Focus on the long term.

-Hustle! Get to work. Imagine how much you can get done over a few years if you start early in the morning and work on something for only a few minutes every day.
posted by Theloupgarou at 11:54 AM on May 26, 2009

I'm attending a language school where there are mostly Korean and Chinese students. I feel like I do not know enough Japanese to strike up meaningful friendships with my non-english-speaking peers.

The Korean and Chinese kids are also there to learn Japanese, right? When I was in France I found it much easier to practice the language if I hung out with other foreign kids: I hung out with a Polish girl and a Slovakian boy. You can't fall back on any common language, and you guys don't mind when each other takes six twisted sentences to say which floor they are on. It's a good way to go. We had varying levels of fluency in French, but that was fine.
posted by jacalata at 3:55 PM on May 26, 2009

I agree with Think_Long that going out and talking to Japanese speakers in your town would be a good start. If bars or the like seem like too much, perhaps you could start by going to the supermarket and asking someone a simple question (where to find xyz, what the difference between these two products are, etc), or something along those lines. Perhaps interacting with people more, even on a minimal basis, will help you feel less isolated and will help you feel like you're making the most of your time in Japan.

You mention that you live in the dorms - who else is living there? The Korean and Chinese students? Perhaps you could spend some time in the common room / kitchen (if there is one) and start small conversations (in Japanese) with whoever is around. While drinking isn't the ideal solution to lowering social anxiety, it does work pretty well, so maybe you could have a couple beers (or whatever) with some of the other students in the dorm. Sure, you might have trouble having a coherent conversation, but maybe that won't really matter. I know it's so much harder to actually start talking to people than to write about it, but I do think it would help a lot.
posted by insectosaurus at 8:19 PM on May 26, 2009

While people are recommending ways to meet people: check out couchsurfing.

Many people use it for finding people to meet and places to sleep at while traveling, but it's incredibly useful for meeting people near you. The Tokyo group is quite active, and are sensitive to the money-thing: there are a lot of coffee shop, karaoke, and park gatherings. The crowd is mostly young (20s), with both Japanese and foreigners of mixed background. Best part: You can use it when you go home to meet people there, and anywhere you travel, and to have your Tokyo friends visit you in the future.
posted by whatzit at 3:39 AM on May 27, 2009

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