What a difference a year can make

Reflecting back this time last year I was depressed, absolutely miserable and fighting many insecurities, internal conflicts and struggling at work. I hated my supervisor and English co-teacher. She was overworking me and still does to this day and even though she was ‘nice’, she could be cruel. My students don’t like her and I’m not quite sure why. When I wanted to go to my elementary school graduation, she refused because she needed me at junior high school to do 3 normal lessons. It was frustrating and useless as I wasn’t even doing anything important in those lessons. My students were teaching me a game and playing the piano with me and she said they could no longer teach me anymore. She said the other students couldn’t play piano during lunchtime, but we already asked and were granted permission from the music teacher. So in my mind at those times, she was a cruel, jealous and horrible woman. She wasn’t nice or even a good teacher in my thoughts.

Likewise, I hated my 2nd grade students and resented my 1st grade students at Junior high school last year. My 1st grade students were so shy they didn’t want to speak English with me. My 2nd grade students were so mean, they laughed at me, one girl ignored me and turned her back to me when I was talking to her. They were rude. In January, one boy said at lunch during one of my lowest points when I was trying to speak to them that he doesn’t speak English. He hates English and no-one understands. I sat there in silence not daring to speak after that, in such a foul and angry mood wondering what the hell I was doing wasting my time on some useless children who didn’t even want my help nor my teaching. Not that anything would help since their English was beyond despair, since their level was so low and they weren’t even motivated to try. After I finished eating I immediately stood up abruptly and without saying goodbye walked away. I think I shocked them. I almost gave up that day. I almost gave up a few months later after the earthquake.

One year later. 

I am happy. That same boy who told me he didn’t want to speak English began speaking English with me. He taught me a Japanese game and tried to use English to explain. He was patient and kind. That rude attitude and that distrust, suspicion and dislike melted away though I’m not sure when. He still dislikes English, but now he at least tries and has promised to do his best. He’s in 3rd year and has now graduated. I was so sad to see him and the fellow 3rd years go. I fell in love with my students (platonic off course).

I almost gave up on them, but somehow I kept eating lunch with them and I kept speaking English to them. They didn’t like it off course but eventually they opened up, eventually we started to joke and laugh. Those mean 3rd graders became kind and friendly. I don’t know why. The girl who rudely ignored me while I tried to speak to her when she turned her back to me, I was so shocked. six months later she began to thaw. She wouldn’t cover or hide her work anymore, she let me look and check. She didn’t ignore me but would say hi. When I spoke to her, she would try to speak English. She had such a strange personality transplant I wondered what happened. In all these incidents I have no idea why they changed. Maybe they got used to me. It’s hard to replace your predecessor who was so loved by them. It’s hard to fill big shoes, but I managed to change my attitude and they changed theirs. And somehow we improved and they became my favourite classes.They were still naughty sometimes, but more cheeky than bad. They certainly improved a little bit – mainly their speaking and conversational skills.

I don’t hate my teacher anymore. I just accept her, though she still pisses me off from time to time, I no longer care. She is not significant. She is just part of the job and will be leaving in two days.

During graduation, my favourite student when giving me a present told me that he was very glad he met me. He truly had fun in my classes and one day he wants to speak English with me as an adult. Earlier when I met his mother, she told me that he always spoke about me and how kind I was, how he enjoys my classes and wants to do well in English. Truly he was the kind one. He also was enthusiastic about my ideas and games, getting other students involved. He always spoke to me and asked my questions, not letting the conversation die. He always tried even though his level was very low. He always did his best speaking. I was very proud. I managed to inspire one kid out of 44. Only one, but it makes a world of difference to me because I was extremely happy to know I had succeeded with one. He wants to go to America one day. It’s not England but it is abroad at least. It’s not just about Japan. I changed that view.

My 1st years who were very shy have also improved and opened up. They are still quite shy but they are very kind and always have been. They try to speak English and even when I ask questions in Japanese, they reply in English.

I can’t believe the transformations. I have met some wonderful and lovely children. I am so very happy now. I am also sad because my students are leaving and graduating. I am sad because soon I will be leaving and the harsh truth has hit me. I’ll never see them again. But I’ll always love them. I am so so glad I stayed. I am so glad I stuck it out and never gave up because in the end, the benefits reaped were far greater than the losses I’ve experienced here. I am stronger emotionally, internally and as a person. I am more confident.

What a world of difference a year makes. I don’t know what changed and why. I only know that I am now happy.

 

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New revelations

My life right now seems to be like one of those soap dramas that many people watch. Every day is a new drama whether it’s politically; division and consequences of the EU referendum result and post-Brexit, the US political campaign drama, social and online drama with regards to racial abuse on twitter or just general life drama in Japan. The whole universe seems to be in a massive kerfuffle and mess. My life recently has been very busy and exciting, but the drama has peaked and doesn’t look to be receding anytime soon.

A brief summary of events in the past month. My best friend in Japan, in my town is leaving and returning back home. I am utterly devastated. She has been my rock, my amazing senpai and she is absolutely lovely, smart, fun and talented. When you find special people, treasure them for life – they are worth the effort. I am going home for a holiday next week and I will have to say goodbye. I am crap at goodbyes and I really don’t want to say goodbye. I could say see you soon I suppose, but life won’t be the same in Japan with out my biggest supporter. I will miss Ju-san so much! Every time I see her, I just want to shout out: “Don’t go!!” But life is such, we all move on. It’s time for Ju-san to leave so there it is, the cold, hard fact.

Anyway, onto another dramatic topic, since my birthday, I thought there was a guy interested in me. We had a few intimate moments of hand holding, flirting and great discussions. He is my friend. He is one of the good guys, a lovely, sweet guy. ‘This is it!’ I thought, I can see myself with this lovely, kind guy. He’s a great match. This weekend I found out the startling revelation that he is in fact a player. My new lesson learned? Don’t trust nice guys. Sometimes it’s a mask or a trick. I won’t go into too much detail but I found out from my friend that this guy had been on a few dates and had told her that he knew exactly “how” to attract the girls and “what” to say. It seems that he’s not used to such high levels on attention which isn’t surprising since Japan is a washed up shore with limited choice. When I found all this information out, I wanted to do the opposite. I felt confusion and annoyance that he used my attention and compliments to flatter his ego, but his intentions towards me were narcissistic and in vain.

During another one of his moments when he tried to get me to tell him how great and talented he is by putting himself down and self-deprecatingly telling me how useless he was, instead of saying the usual; “Aww no you’re amazing! You’re so talented, you can play the piano, violin and the fiddle! Don’t be so hard on yourself!” I instead resorted to agreeing with him. “Yeah, you’re shit.”, “Yeah you’re talentless and useless.” He looked at me like a wounded dog stunned into silence and disbelief. I didn’t feel one ounce of pity, I felt pleasure. That sounds horrible, but let me justify it – he needed someone to disagree with him and shut this bullshit down. I don’t like being taken advantage of and I especially don’t like attention-seekers. I have had enough of telling other people how great they are when they are being absolutely annoying.

I later realised that he is very insecure and his negativity rubbed off onto me, but as soon as I realised it, I shut it down. This happened because he kept complaining and blowing his own sad trumpet. It started to manifest in my dreams where my old insecurities and pain rose to the fore. I was shocked into awareness and consciousness with a bitter taste in my mouth but also a strong resolution that I would not get tangled in them again. I dealt with my issues years ago, I healed those wounds and nothing would make me want to cut them open again and revisit the pain and the past. I already have enough baggage. This is not the kind of boyfriend I would want. I don’t want to have to keep affirming that someone is great. I don’t want to have to sort out someone else’s life. Mine has enough shit in it. I am trying to sort out my life. I am trying to teach children to the best of my ability and I am trying to do that with confidence. I can’t be part of a pity party. So that part of the drama in my life has simmered down. I’ve made it clear I’m no longer interested and I’ve walked away. End of chapter.

Onto the next drama,  since Ju-san is leaving, her new successor is a young woman with a 4 year old child. This is problematic for my small, rural town which has rejected her. But she doesn’t know yet that they don’t want her and she is still coming because the rejection wasn’t accepted by the organisation because it’s too late. I feel for this woman who will have to settle into a new life in an unwelcome town because I know how it feels to be isolated and cut off. Believe me, the indifference and silence is just as damning as the quiet, simmering hatred. I have a huge task on my hands to help her. Coming alone is hard enough, but coming with a kid is even worse. This town has never had an English teacher with a family so it will be revealing and interesting to see how this develops. I only hope it works out in the end. But I’m not so sure.

When will the drama end?

Birthday surprises

In two days it will be my birthday. I’ll be a quarter of a century old and I’m hoping that in two days I won’t have grown white hair or torn my hair out from stress and frustration. Planning a birthday party in a foreign country is like constantly smashing your head against a brick wall. First, there’s the language and trying to understand and communicate. Second you’ve made a big mistake and invited over 17 friends but didn’t expect everyone to actually attend. So now you’re stuck trying to find a place big enough to accommodate us all. Don’t get me wrong there are places, but in Japan not so many. We’ll probably be split up which is fine, if only I could understand if that was what they were saying. I have no idea to be honest. This was a very bad idea. Japan doesn’t really cater for big foreign groups and I can’t say that I blame them. Not many restaurants where I live are very big. Not to mention that my level of Japanese is limited and quite frankly terrible. I’m trying, but it’s one of the most difficult things I’ve had to do. I’ve faced rejections from more than 5 restaurants already and I’m already in despair as I’ve just spent the last few hours hoping and failing namely falling flat on my face while my dreams of a smooth party do not exactly pan out.

But for now that’s not what’s important. It’s important to recognise all the people who want to celebrate with me. I never thought so many people would turn up or even want to come. I am lucky to have such good friends and so many too. They’re not all perfect, we do have some differences, but they are there. I’m not normally so lucky with friends, so this is pretty amazing. So I will just persevere and hope everything will work out, even though everything has not been in my favour. So does anyone want to actually plan my birthday while I take off on a jet plane to somewhere relaxing, namely one of my nice fantasies since a last minute holiday is out of the picture these days. Anyone? Any takers? Yeah I don’t blame you, I wouldn’t either.

Anyway here’s to nothing going right in life, to the unplanned, the spontaneous, the exciting, the unexpected, the good, the bad and the love.

It was never meant to be a goodbye

The hardest thing for me was not leaving. That was the easy part. Goodbyes aren’t easy, but packing the bags, walking through the gate towards a new adventure, now that’s exciting. I didn’t dwell on the goodbyes. But I have realised 9.5 months down the line that the hardest part was deciding to stay. For those who need some context, I live in Japan and have been here since August, last year. It didn’t faze me quitting my well paid job for one with a much lower salary and more of a ‘risk’ some would say. But this was my dream which had come true. This is no longer my dream now that I have achieved my goal to come and live here. It is a beautiful country with kind people, but now the dream has been realised.

Five months down the line, we had to make the difficult decision to re-contract for another year. At this point it would mean 1.5 years left in this country. I wasn’t sure I had achieved all that I wanted so I decided to stay because I felt there was more to discover and a year was too short. But reflecting over my life since being here, I have experienced some wonderful things, but also my fair share of crap. I have been at my lowest and it has been a very painful journey, yet it’s not the end. I wonder when the pain will subside. I feel like I live in a bubble. I feel like I’ve lost my way. I feel like this isn’t reality. Since coming to Japan, I’ve lost sight of my dreams and goals because the cold, hard truth is that I don’t have any. I don’t know where I am going in my life and I don’t know what I’ll do, but that’s okay for now. It’s okay to be lost, I just hope I won’t stay in Purgatory forever.

I don’t regret my decision, but I do wonder what if. Being so far away from home has made me realise and appreciate what I have at home; my family, my friends and an exciting life in London. I miss them all – I’ve never felt so alone as I have here, or maybe I have and I’ve forgotten. It’s in the daily routines and simple things that I remember the beautiful and the memories come swarming back. I miss my family very much. I miss hugs. I miss the smiles. I miss the internet sometimes when I don’t have it. I miss water when I don’t have that. In times like this I think about the people I love and how I left them behind without so much a second thought, but now I am constantly thinking of them; constantly reminded.

The grass isn’t always greener on the other side. I made the difficult decision to continue to stay here even though I am deeply unhappy. I’ve made my bed and now it’s time to lie in it. But I’m not scared. I love my children at school and I am hoping I will be able to heal and rebuild myself. “Always stay calm in any situation” – that is the lesson I am fast learning.

I hope this isn’t where we say goodbye, because to me it was never a goodbye. It was a see you soon. I just didn’t realise a see you soon wouldn’t actually be soon, but what feels like a lifetime. I’ll be home for a holiday soon; it’ll be short-lived but refreshing. I think I’ve lost those rose-tinted glasses now. I think it’ll be time to go back soon and find a new dream. Soon I’ll be saying goodbye to myself – goodbye to the past and the present. Goodbye for now.

Grasping at straws

I sure am churning out these blog posts recently. I can’t stop writing. Anyway, today I reached a crossroads. I am lost or should I say confused about which path to take. Each path is dark and surely paved with challenges, but the million pound question in my mind is do I stay or do I leave?

A few days ago I asked whether it would be possible to leave and go back home in July. I would have been here for a year and after the earthquake and unhappiness I felt it was time to cut my losses and get the hell outta here. I came to accept it this morning which is ironic really because in the afternoon, I am told that I can leave. I can’t tell if my unhappiness these past few months have stemmed from the earthquake or if I was unhappy before that? The truth? I was unhappy before the earthquakes. I had problems with my brother who finally won the battle to drag me through the mud. It’s the second time he’s succeeded. I’ve never cried so much than I have this year and it’s only April. Every month I’ve been cursed with some unforgettable crisis. December – car accident, January – depression, February – was okay, March – change of staff and deterioration of relationship with main teacher, April – cancellation of flight, earthquakes, car accident no.2, return to depression. This month I’ve been hit with the worst all in one go. It’s not even  my car as well – it’s my Board of Education’s.

I want to go home. I want to stay. I am a walking contradiction. I feel like that is my life.

I don’t know what I’m hoping to achieve if I stay. Is there anything for me here? I don’t think so. I guess I’ve answered my own question but somehow I don’t know why, I don’t feel right leaving. I can’t explain it. Most people ask me what my gut is telling me, but honestly I don’t know. My gut is just as confused. A few days ago when I thought I couldn’t leave, I felt outraged, trapped and finally acceptance. I can’t tell if I was a little bit relieved. But I also felt like I didn’t know how I would survive another year. Today, when I am being told that I can leave in July, I feel disappointment and sadness. What is wrong with me? Why am I having these conflicting emotions? Why do I feel like a failure if I decide to go home? Why can’t I deal with any of these problems by myself? Why does it all have to be so difficult?

One of the main reasons and one of the only reasons I want to stay is because I can’t bear to leave my kids yet. It breaks my heart to even think of leaving them. I love them so much and I’ve already formed this emotional attachment in the space of just 9 months! It’s ridiculous! It’s natural. It’s crazy. Can you believe the only thing keeping me here is my children? Most of them hate English so what’s the point of even staying? But I just can’t seem to leave them. There’s only a handful I can’t bear leaving. They are so beautiful, bright and wonderful. Everytime I think of leaving I think of their smiles. But what if I do leave? I feel irrationally jealous of the new ALT who would arrive and take over my schools. We are all irreplaceable and that is fine. But I still don’t know if I want to be replaced just yet. Would one more year hurt?

If I went home what would I do? I shouldn’t be scared to face the future. Will I regret though? I could go somewhere new. I could teach in another country. I could travel more. I could discover something else. Anything is possible. Those possibilities makes me excited and yet scared. Is it time to go home? Lord, I don’t know. I am afraid of the future, but I am also afraid of my choice. Today I found out my best friend was surprised when I announced my decision to stay in January. If I stay, my life has to change drastically. But what do I do? Universe send me a sign!

What am I clinging onto?

 

 

 

When you’re actually going crazy…

WARNING: This is a long post.

So I wrote my last post about three weeks ago, however I lied and things have worsened so quickly in a short space of time. I didn’t publish it then hence why I published it today. In my last post, I wrote about being happy with my life here, but in actual fact, I wasn’t completely happy. Happy to write yes, but I was hurt by what my brother said and I was trying to prove that I was okay. I am not okay. Since then things have severely deteriorated. I am facing a brick wall and I can’t smash it down.

It all started with my brother cussing me, then my realisation that I had to change my attitude towards him, because we have this messed up relationship where I used to idolise him and see him as superior and myself as inferior. I knew I had to change but I also knew that change would take time, space and a lot of effort. That’s when the world decided to shit on me all at once.

After a few days battling with my emotions, I experienced my first major earthquake. I can’t tell you how that feels like when you’re driving and everything around you is bouncing and swinging towards you, including the signposts and traffic lights while your car is swerving out of control from side to side. At first I didn’t understand what was going on until my phone was blaring at me in Japanese, “Jeshin desu, jeshin desu!” which means you guessed it, “Earthquake!” I heard it before and I’d seen the warnings around school, so I knew what it meant but I never knew it would happen so powerfully. It was a magnitude 6.4 I later found out, but I was so out of it, the experience left me feeling dizzy and disorientated. So much so that I had to stop immediately after and safely park somewhere. All I wanted to do was get home, but my phone was buzzing from all the texts from everyone. I made it home but experienced a few aftershocks. My house was alright, nothing damaged so it was okay.

Nevertheless I stayed at one of my student’s house for the night and returned the next day for school and home. I only got about 2/3 hours sleep as we were up till 2:30am watching the news and I had to leave at 5am. Typical Japan, we still have to go to work even after an earthquake. #thiscountrystopsfornoone. Later I went home and it was only late at night I discovered my flight to the Philippines was cancelled. I was vexed. How could this happen 2 weeks before I was due to fly out? I called my friend who I am going with to the Philippines to check if her flight was cancelled too. After I planned to call the agency but it was too late by the time I got off the phone with my friend what with the time difference I had miscalculated and their offices had just closed. It was 10 minutes after getting off the phone with my friend that I experienced my second earthquake and this time it was far, far worse. Magnitude 7.1 which caused havoc and destruction around the whole of Kumamoto prefecture. My house shook like thunder had just struck – so violently that my ceiling light fell narrowly avoiding my head which is when I was alerted to the big earthquake. I quickly ducked under the table, but my God I watched as my glasses, plates and everything came crashing out of my cupboard and smashed into smithereens around me, as the cooking oil and other containers spilled their oily substance onto the floor, the furniture all around me shaking and groaning. I screamed out and cursed because in that moment I feared for my life I couldn’t stop crying, even after it finished causing it’s havoc.

I come from a country which has zero earthquakes and during the past 9 months, I have experienced a strong typhoon, a heavy snowstorm, 5 major earthquakes and over 700 aftershocks. I ran out my house crying unable to stem the tears. It was then I was struck with the horrible realisation that I was all alone in a foreign country, I couldn’t speak the language, didn’t know where to go and I had no-one. I was wrong off course, I had my student who immediately phoned me and drove like crazy to pick me up. I was so incoherent on the phone I couldn’t even talk, but I was grateful, I had her, because otherwise I’d really have no-one. I stayed with her for two more nights but again I had a severe lack of sleep, I couldn’t concentrate. I went home after two days and got to work cleaning hoping for no more earthquakes. I didn’t get my wish. Two days later another magnitude 5 earthquake struck. More broken glass. What’s the point of cleaning? I don’t even react to the aftershocks anymore. I am on edge and anxious, but I know what to do now. But it’s almost as if I’ve become desensitized to them.

Since then, my life has gotten progressively worse, not just because of the earthquake, but because I am alone. I am deeply unhappy, I am depressed and I have to go to school every day and pretend I am happy and fine. I can’t fake the smiles anymore. I feel too much. I cry every night and I drink to help numb the pain. It doesn’t help, but I don’t care, it’s my comfort.

Japanese society can be so harsh on women, I really do feel it, especially when I am questioned mercilessly by my Board of Education. “Why were you there?” “You went to the mall by yourself? Alone?”, “You didn’t meet friends?” I know what they were saying, could see the judgement and disapproval written all over their faces, the unbelief and disgust. Why the hell should I have to explain myself to you? I am an adult, I can do what I want. I came here by myself so I can go to the mall by myself, even if it is late at night. Why is that so bad? Why do you look down on me just because I am a woman. A man wouldn’t get this kind of treatment.

I want to go home, but I can’t. I have so many problems, not all listed but I can’t escape them. I can’t take the bored, the refusal for help from my students, the stubbornness and the attitude. I don’t care. I can’t deal with your stupid tantrums because I have bigger fish to fry. Namely do I stay or do I leave? Do I stay and continue to cry and slowly go insane or do I leave and start over? I don’t know if I’m giving up and failing or doing what’s best? I don’t know anything anymore.

 

What I’ve done

So it’s not been the best of starts to 2016, but there have been some notable adventures worth mentioning. Let’s start with the positive:

  1. I visited Mt. Fuji which was just incredible – there’s nothing like looking at a beautiful snow-capped mountain and knowing your problems are minuscule in those blessed few hours. Unfortunately it doesn’t last, but the exquisiteness and memory will constantly seek to remind you.
  2. I met some great people on New Years but then there was a falling out between my best friend and one of the girls because of her passive aggressiveness and rudeness. Made things complicated, still the positive memories are worth holding onto.
  3. I returned back to school knowing I was wanted at least at my favourite elementary school. But I wonder whether I can do this for another year.

It’s only been 8 days so that’s all I have but intermingled with the positives are the negatives. Since 16th December 2015, I have been facing some challenges and going through a period of extreme loneliness despite being surrounded by my family. I suppose it happened when they started to leave to go back one by one until only one was left standing. We parted ways yesterday and I don’t know when I’ll next see them. It could be 7 months or it could be a year or even a year and a half and that’s if I decide to stay in Japan for another year.

Living in Japan comes with many amazing opportunities and moments, though as with living anywhere life gets in the way and tries to smack you down just when you think your confidence is increasing. That is until life reminds you it’s not you’re just living a lie.

Last year the thing I feared most when driving happened and I hit a child on a bicycle. He’s okay, but I wasn’t. Within that moment I thought I had taken a life. Oh how quick it happens, how everything can change in a moment’s notice. How horrifyingly scary and yet I immediately stopped the car and shaken walked over to the kid. He protested that he was fine, I spoke to his parents later and they assured me he was okay. It didn’t help that I couldn’t effectively communicate in the same language, but I am grateful he was okay. No matter who was in the wrong, as the driver I am still responsible and it is my fault for not spotting him until it was too late. Blind corners are the worst, but I am haunted by the memories and although I still drive, I am afraid history will repeat itself. It was an accident, these things happen I am told, but what if something worse occurred? I don’t think I could live with myself and thus began the consistent questioning ever since. Can I live this life? Can I stay here? Will others be safe from me? Will I hurt someone else? I could easily leave, but I’m not sure that’s wise. I think I’ll be forever running fearful to continue. I can’t live like this and so went my confidence down the drain. That’s the start of when my world decided to crumble. I’m not happy. I’m always angry. I hate myself. I hate that there are some things I can’t control. I hate that I get jealous when there’s no need. I hate that I have let people drag me through the mud. I hate that I don’t have the confidence I need. How can I teach others when I am completely lacking myself?

I am trying to deal with this coupled with my shaken confidence, my low self-esteem and low self-worth. I get angry so easily and it builds up inside. I let it go when I visited Mt. Fuji, but now all that remains is Facebook and it’s jealousy. Why is everyone having a ball and I’m left standing in a freezer? Why does it look like everything else that people are doing is more fun? Why do I continue to compare myself? Why do I hate myself so much? It is a bad habit and one that Facebook does not help, but instead perpetuates. It’s as if I’m looking from afar into the interesting lives of others, but I can’t reach them. I’m the outsider looking from the window but not participating or even a part of the group. The truth is I don’t like them, I don’t want to be a part of it, I just want the adventures with friends, the fun and I want a set of friends to travel with. But the world doesn’t work the way you want it to and you don’t always get what you want so I am dealing with it. I am dealing with loneliness and the fight. It’s a constant battle and sometimes I think it would just be easier to surrender and take the easy way out, but something within me can’t, because that wouldn’t work either, I’d still have the same problems.

There are too many memories that have the power to either control you or haunt you, but that’s if you choose to let them, so it’s a tricky game. They are not just memories to look over fondly or dispassionately, they are a part of you and your past whether you like it or not. They made you the person you are today.

It’s decision time soon and the clock is ticking. Will I stay or will I leave? Will I hide or will I face those ugly demons? I don’t know yet, but only time will tell.