Reason #92 to Keep Living: New Surroundings, New Perspectives

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Enjoying the precipice of a cliff side on the Aran Islands in Ireland.

I’m always finding new, surprising connections between the writing process and mental illness. Here’s the newest and the most surprising: travelling to new places, immersing yourself in new surroundings, and finding new perspectives both rejuvenates your writing and might (just might!) lift you from the monotony of a depressive episode.

New perspectives in writing (for example, shifting the narrative point of view, describing a scene from a different angle, or trying out a new tone) can cut through writer’s block in a way nothing else can. What makes writing interesting in the first place is how it presents life from different and new perspectives. Finding these fresh perspectives, however, can be challenging. Immersing yourself physically in different cultures, and therefore immersing yourself in different opinions and ideas, can sometimes be the ticket.

But when it comes to difficulties, cutting through the torpor of mental illness is certainly the more back breaking, the more mind numbing of the two. Continue reading

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Reason #87 to Keep Living: Milestones

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For the last couple of years, school hasn’t been the easiest for me. If you’ve followed my blog for a while, you’ll know a little of the story: I began my undergraduate degree at full speed in 2013. I was flying. Great marks, great motivation, and not a lot of worries on the financial side of things. But two and a half years in, my brain had run out of steam, my mental illness had flared up worse than ever, and I was ready to give up formal education altogether.

Then, I discovered Japan. After a two and a half week trip there in the summer of 2016, I was desperate to go back, and this time long term. How could I manage that? Teaching English, of course.

But in order to teach English I needed to finish my degree. Continue reading

Reason #81 to Keep Living: Communication

Transitioning into my new life in Canada hasn’t been easy. Since arriving in my home country on December 13th, I’ve been dealing not only with jet lag, but also with a very strange type of culture shock.

It’s uncanny: things which used to be familiar to me are now foreign. Everything’s loud, the sky is impenetrably grey (I forgot winter here meant no sunlight), and the people are — to put it nicely — a little more forward, a little more open, a little less professional.

One aspect of Canada that has made my life simpler instead of harder is the language. Communicating in Japanese was a challenge that only got marginally easier throughout my year in Japan. Nearly every public part of my life was affected. From ordering food and filling out government documents to running errands and shopping, every personal encounter outside of my apartment was potentially stressful and complicated. Continue reading

Foreign As Normal and Time Like Quicksand: 10 Months in Tokyo

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Squeezing myself into a crowded subway car at rush hour, scrolling through my phone while crushed within a hoard of suit-clad businessmen and women: this is normal to me.

Ordering food using a total of three words, kore wo kudasai (“this please”), and a whole lot of pointing: this is normal to me.

Meeting gaze after gaze that hangs just a moment too long on my face, telling me without any verbal communication that I’m different, I’m strange, that I don’t belong.

This is normal to me.

Now, before you leave because you’re sure I’m about to drown you in my sob story about being a visible minority in Japan, wait a minute. I’m not. That isn’t what this is about. I’m not writing because I need someone to comfort me, to tell me that I’m not so strange, that I belong (I don’t) — I’m writing because I haven’t written purely about Japan in eight months. Because, for the longest time, I couldn’t think of anything to write about. I didn’t think there was anything to write about. Everything had become normal. And normal is boring. Nobody wants to write about “normal,” and certainly nobody wants to read about it.

But normal was exactly what I should have been writing about. Because normal was leaving my apartment at 8:00 in the morning and getting home at 8:30 in the evening. Normal was dedicating around fifty-five hours a week to work and still double-checking my bank account to make sure I could pay rent. Normal was coffee, coffee, and more coffee (and I’m not usually a coffee drinker). Normal was that deep pull in my leg muscles as I ascended the last set of stairs to my apartment at the end of the day.

Normal was also travelling only an hour on the subway to visit Disneyland and DisneySea (unique to Tokyo). Normal was taking one of the fastest trains in the world to cities all over Japan, including Kyoto, Osaka, Hiroshima, Nara, and Nikko. Normal was eating some amazing food for some even more amazing prices. Normal was watching the cherry blossoms bloom.

Like I said, normal was exactly what I should have been writing about. But normal happened in the same way quicksand swallows the body: all of sudden you’re up to your knees and there’s no use struggling. All of a sudden you’re up to your neck. Continue reading

Reason #79 to Keep Living: Blue Skies

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Sunshine is hard to come by these days. In Japan, the sun sets around 5 pm at this time of year, leaving the days short. They feel cut off, choked by the night before they’ve hardly begun. An announcement rolls across the neighbourhood out of loud speakers at exactly 4:30 pm, telling the children to go home, that darkness is coming soon. I feel my heart roll up in my chest and a solid ball form in my throat. Another day, gone. Another round of sunlight pulled down into the horizon.

So, when the sunshine is out, I try my best to enjoy it. I walk around in it, let it in the window, touch it with my hands. It’s warm and white. It heats up the inside of my apartment, and leaves it heated well into the evening.

Things aren’t so bad, when there are blue skies in November.

There are blue skies in November. There are blue skies.


Read the original post of 101 Reasons to Keep Living to discover the genesis of this project, or catch up on any posts you might have missed here

Reason #77 to Keep Living: Looking Forward

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My dad used to say that he never wants to retire because when you retire, you die.

But this isn’t true. For example, the average Japanese person lives far past retirement. There are more centenarians here (people who live to the age of 100 years) than anywhere else in the world.

Don’t worry. I won’t let this turn into another long spiel about Japan. The point is, many elderly Japanese people are more active, both physically and mentally, than elderly Canadian or American people. I’m not saying this is the sole cause of their longevity, but it can’t hurt. They go to the park and exercise; they volunteer in the community, cleaning up garbage around their grand kids’ schools, sweeping up the roads, or running classes at the local community center; they read and play musical instruments and bike, bike, bike.

The elderly Japanese fill their lives with not only things that keep them busy (like watching TV or listening to the radio), but with things that give them purpose. Things to look forward to. Continue reading

Reason #76 to Keep Living: Partnership

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Although the word ‘partnership’ elicits a sense of formality or legality, here I mean partnership as more of a long-term friendship or relationship. I mean it as the pact you make with someone, however overtly or implicitly, that says you will be leaning on each other now, counting on each other, working for each other.

Partnership means there is someone out in the world standing up for you and standing by you. Making you laugh, making you talk, making you go to work, go to bed, making you tea (or coffee, or a smoothie, or bringing you milk and cookies).  Continue reading

Reason #74 to Keep Living: Community

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Is it strange to say that in Tokyo I feel more connected to the people around me than I ever did back home, in little London, Ontario? Is it odd to say that I feel less like a number, that in a city with a greater population than all of Canada, I can walk down the street and feel part of something — part of a community.

It feels strange, it feels odd, but is it really? In a country where people are culturally trained to show common courtesy, to bring their garbage home with them, clean the toilet seat after using it, and be quiet in the evenings, is it really so bizarre to feel a sense of camaraderie with these people? Continue reading

Reason #73 to Keep Living: Rain

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It rained in the middle of the afternoon today, with sunlight still pushing between the clouds and mixing with the droplets on the way down. What brought me outside was a grumble of thunder in the distance and the thought that maybe the heat had subsided (it’s currently unbearable).

While stepping out onto the balcony, I came face to face with, along with the rain, my own stagnancy. My own inability to accomplish, create, or produce — I had spent most of the morning trying to write and being unable to. The longer I stood, the more the rain washed this feeling of inadequacy off me, down to the pavement below the balcony, down to the gutter where even the rats couldn’t pick it out.

I’m always wishing for sunlight, but sometimes it’s the rain that does the job. It’s the rain that gives us reasons when the sun’s been blotted out. Continue reading