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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In times of stress

This post was written in November 2016. I just forgot to publish it so here it is.

It’s been a while, but I’ve been very busy. That’s always my excuse I know. Today was a good day but a very tiring one. It was culture festival at school and it was very funny when the children performed their drama shows. I may understand very little Japanese, but the actions and gestures I could at least follow.

At the end, the children posed for photos and asked all the teachers to pose with them except me. I took the photos instead, but you know what? I know my kids like me. I know they don’t mind me and I know some hate me. I don’t mind. This time last year, I would have cried unnecessarily and wondered what was wrong with me, why I wasn’t popular. But now it’s such a small thing and although it hurt at first, I realised that it really doesn’t matter because what’s important is that I don’t let the small things get to me. Don’t sweat the small things as they say. It’s one of the reasons I realised that I love my other elementary school so much. The children are so different, so inclusive in everything they do, so much more welcoming, friendly and happy. I enjoy their company so much and I feel appreciated. At my other schools, I don’t feel appreciated so much, but I’ve learnt to accept that this is just the way things are going to be until I finish. And you know what? It’s okay. It’s okay that I’m not fully accepted or liked, it’s okay that I make mistakes, it’s okay that things don’t work the way I want them to. It’s okay because life is a journey and this is just a fact of life. There is no such thing as perfection or being universally liked. What are the burdens with being universally liked? Well for one thing, it’s like living a lie, in an expectation and not being able to break free. It’s so much nicer when you can be yourself and not care what others think. Truly it is. It’s something I am learning and discovering and it feels difficult but great. As a person who has always pandered to requests and tried to be the ‘nice person’, I often got sick of it. It was too demanding and it feels way better to have an opinion, to be nice and respectful but not walked upon. It’s nice to say no sometimes.

I’ve thought many times of just throwing in the towel and walking away, but somehow I can’t seem to do it. It would be so easy to just walk away, book a flight and leave. It would be so easy to up and leave, but everything has consequences and I’m not about just giving up when the getting gets tough. It’s taken a lot of effort to stay and it has been worth it. Things have improved exceptionally and although I face many internal challenges as well as other challenges, it serves to teach me something. I always try to better myself, take risks, learn how to overcome challenges and pressure. I realised another thing today. I don’t do well under pressure.

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.

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.

 

The importance of self-belief in me and you

I always get little spurts of inspiration from my driving instructor funnily enough because he talks some sense! He should but he’s rather philosophical too. What he says makes sense but I was telling him how I have 3 weeks till my theory ends and I am unsure about time and whether I’ll be able to take the test. He said to me that he could give me a million lessons but if I don’t have self-belief then I won’t be able to do it. He’s right off course, I’ve been through 2 tests already and I could do it, but my confidence and self-belief was shattered second time round. This is true in anything in life though self-belief is very important. If my doctor doubted his skills and doubted himself then I would probably not have much faith in him to carry out my operation. I would reject his help. We take risks in people who are worth taking the risks in because they believe what they can do and they believe they will do it. We put so much of our faith in people who persuade us who can fix the world.

When a person believes in themselves, anything becomes possible. So what stops us from believing in ourselves? What stops us from doing the things we want? Well its simple really, it’s a mix of fear and self-belief and sometimes these have such a powerful affect on us, we don’t even know we are affected. When they are coupled together they make the greatest force and also the greatest enemies.

A little thought I had was that:

If you ain’t got self-belief you’re playing a lost man’s game

This is the truth, because how can you go in the game to win, if you have no confidence or trust in yourself? You won’t win, not because you can’t but because you don’t believe that you can. It’s all in the power of positive thinking, or so I’ve been told, and it’s true, but sometimes we don’t want to accept the truth. We just want to find reasons not to, reasons to run or reasons not to do something again. I hate public speaking, so when I was at school I used to run to the back of the line whenever I came to the front, just so that I wouldn’t have to speak. Or I used to stay quiet when the teacher said who hasn’t delivered their presentation? She forgot about me because a) teacher wants to move on to the next task, and b) there’s more than 30 pupils in a class and I was very quiet and easy to miss which worked very well in my favour. However, this fear stopped me from developing on my skills, and it also stopped me from facing my fears. But this isn’t the only thing which stopped me, because fear does not work alone. It is founded on an irrational pre-existing belief and coupled together makes the worst form of hate. Lack of self-worth or lack of trust in the self damages self-esteem. Just like years of trust can be broken in minutes. It takes years to build relationships which can be destroyed so very easily in a matter of seconds. We build things up but we crumble beneath the weight of consequences. Why did I have a fear of standing up in front of people and talking? It’s not just because I was afraid, it was also because I had the stupid notion that I would be rejected, that I would somehow fail and people would laugh. I had the crazy idea that what I said was not ‘right’ or of any significance and I wonder how a person can get to such a low ebb at such a young age? Maybe because I never had a voice, I don’t know. It’s complex but the reasons are there.

To succeed in life, is to think I can do something, but it is also to believe that you can do it.

So this is the answer then, this is what stops me. It’s not just fear but it is self-belief. So why do I keep fighting myself? Why is everyday a battle in the mind? Where did this self-destructive mentality come from? Years of bitterness and feelings of self-worth, of being walked all over, trashed and stepped on and it time to get up, dust myself off and walk away.

I can understand where it comes from and I can understand how subtly it develops and affects me in everyday life. I can see it now and I can understand how its roots take shape and develop and grow as you grow so when you’re older you can feel constricted when you try to spread your branches. The tree of my life and how seeds take root and develop. Tiny seeds of doubt, tiny seeds of hate and self-loathing. Years of torment from cruel children, put downs by loved ones and rules by society. They say seeing is believing and I suppose that is true to an extent because it is only now I see. These all inhibit progress and you can’t progress till you let go of the past. Why do we hold on tight to the past? to the hurtful things people say? I realised that we keep the negative things that people say rather than the positive. We take it in and it cuts us a little bit, only a small cut, but after a while the cut deepens. It’s a vicious cycle and now it’s time to break from it. I admit it’s hard to break from a habit and it’s hard to break from such a long held mentality. It’s hard to break free, but it has to be done if I want to succeed and if I want to live. It can be done but it takes time and effort and perseverance and I’ve got all the time in the world.

So I leave you with my parting thoughts:

To not believe is to reject the self and who I truly am. It is ultimately self-denial and this must no longer win in my life because I need to accept me. It’s my turn to win in this game and to succeed and fight till the battle is finally won.