At My Worst

I recently read Sara’s post “Depression Does Not Make You a Monster” and her follow up post, and felt compelled to finally put pen to paper, so to speak, on something that has been on my mind for a long time now.

I’ve spent a lot of time mentally processing my diagnosis, and here’s what I’ve concluded: Depression is and is not controllable. Depression is disabling, sometimes. And trying to tease out whether any particular bad patch could have been prevented is not worth the effort.

Most advice about depression is contradictory. That doesn’t mean it’s incorrect; depression is just complicated. The advice about how to help people with depression is similarly full of conflicting ideas.

On the one hand, I have had days where I agree with Sara’s advice to “ignore the depression, not the person suffering from it.” Sometimes the only way to feel better is to escape the thoughts in your head, which cannot be done if those around you are constantly asking you what’s wrong, why you’re not happy, and if there’s anything they can do. If I’m out and about, trying to distract myself, the last thing I want is to be pulled back to the thoughts I am trying to get away from. I certainly don’t want to feel like a burden, or like everything needs to come to a standstill while I get my emotions back in check.

All that being said, it is my responsibility to communicate my needs. If I drag my husband to the beach in an effort to lift my spirits and am still in the dumps, it is only natural for him to ask me why I’m upset. He is not a mind reader.

On those days, the best thing I’ve found to do is to go somewhere I’ve never been before and focus on the new surroundings. Otherwise, I read, sing, or otherwise find a way to silence the unwanted thoughts.

I should note that my therapist has also recommended focusing on sensory information. For example, think about the way your body feels against whatever furniture you’re in contact with. Now imagine what the furniture feels like supporting you. It’s slightly different, but it effectively changes the flow of your thoughts. (Aromatherapy can also work wonders.)

On the other hand, there are times when you need to express what you are feeling. I’m going to borrow again from my therapist. If you are worrying about something, imagine your brain is trying to send you a letter. It wants to tell you something important. First it’s going to knock on the door. If you ignore it, the mailman is going to start ringing the bell. Then, he might start yelling or trying to shove the letter through the cracks.

Once you acknowledge the mailman, he stops trying to break down the door. The urgency is gone and you can peruse the contents of the letter and move on. This is partly why it is so therapeutic to journal (or blog).

However, even writing about your experience has some problems. I experienced this when I tried online therapy. I spent so much time finding the words to describe what was happening to me and waiting for a response that I never gave myself the chance to bounce back from my bad times naturally. Writing is wonderful, but it makes you revisit your old emotions so you can immortalize them accurately. Then later on you might notice a typo. Before you know it, you’ve read your own angst-ridden sentence twenty times. Sure, your creative head space is probably not as bad as your original raw emotion, but you still relive that moment every time you interact with your writing.

All this is to say that there isn’t a “right” way to handle your depression. There isn’t a “right” way for others to interact with you. Every day, you have to assess your capabilities and determine what you need to do to maximize your productivity. Some days, all you may be able to do is cry over your failed drawing of a Tyrannosaurus rex (my Tuesday afternoon). Other days, you can muster the determination to clean half your house, put in a few hours of professional work, and write a blog post to boot.

What’s important is that you give yourself an A every day you do your best, even if your best today isn’t what it was yesterday.

An Evening At The Arboretum – Japanese Week 6

DSC_0531I haven’t made any particularly exciting progress with my studies this week, so I want to talk about something a little bit different.

This evening, hubby and I very much enjoyed our walk through the arboretum. If you put me in nature with a camera, especially when flowers are blooming, I will be more than content… until I get hungry.DSC_0455Hubby particularly enjoyed finding all of the hidden painted rocks in the vicinity. They were, indeed, rather cute.
DSC_0557As we were making our rounds to make sure we had found every last one of the stones, we sat down by the fountain. I had recently learned a little about kintsugi and Japanese art in general. (Kintsugi is a method of mending broken pottery where the pieces are put back together with gold, silver, or platinum lacquer, making the damage part of the object’s history rather than disguising it.)
DSC_0496Looking at the fountain, I thought about what I had learned and ended up wishing that the rest of the arboretum had taken the nod from the Japanese section of the arboretum. The Japanese part looked much more harmonious.
DSC_0514Instead of putting down mulch to suppress the growth of unwanted plants and visually asserting dominance over the natural order, the Japanese design just had the various types of plants grow side by side, fully fulling in the entire area. Thus, the Japanese design looked comparatively organic. Even with the fountain, it was unobtrusive and didn’t look like a testament to the triumph of man. Rather, it showed balance with the natural world.
DSC_0493While I don’t see a problem with finding mulch to be less than pleasing to the eye, I quickly realized that I have become quite cynical and, perhaps, overly critical of American values in general.DSC_0451While studying French in high school, I never got as wrapped up in French culture as I have been with Japanese culture over the past few weeks. Part of it is that Japanese culture feels more foreign than French culture. However, the main reason is that I was more critical of French culture than I have been of Japanese culture.
DSC_0539For instance, my reaction to the French Revolution compared to the head collecting practices of samurai warriors just doesn’t match up.

When you are learning about Japan, it is easy to fall into the trap of skimming the surface of an idea and romanticizing it. Sure, it’s easy to love manga and anime, think the art is beautiful, love the architecture, find the folklore fascinating, etc. But you can’t separate all that from the political history of Japan.

As far as current political issues go in Japan, here’s what I’m aware of:

Yes, I will expose myself as woefully ignorant. (Typical American, eh?) But I have plans to change that and, of course, I will share my discoveries with all of you.

What Should You Do With Your Life?

The fears started creeping in during my senior year of college. It’s actually time to decide now, what do you want to do?  It’s been 3 years and 6 jobs since I graduated (2 of which I currently have). I still don’t know exactly what I want to do career-wise, but I had a bit of an epiphany, and I’m not panicking anymore.

I quit my office job at the end of March, flew home to see my parents for the first time in about 2 years, and returned a week later, telling myself I was ready to find a job that would make me happy. At the end of April, I did get a job. And it was writing-related, which is what I always thought I wanted to do. But I wasn’t happy. In fact, I was more depressed and anxious than ever.

I tried a lot of things to get back on the right path. I took a skill/career/personality quiz from my college’s career center to see what careers it matched me with. I had zero results that were a true match. That upset me a little but I looked at the possible matches. They ranged from hilarious to depressing. (Broadcast news analyst, choreographer, DJ, foreign language interpreter, etc.)

Time passed and nothing changed. One evening, I was watching videos on minimalism and YouTube recommended I watch a video on the Japanese concept of ikigai. Your ikigai is basically your purpose in life. This diagram came from this site and it sums up how to find your ikigai really nicely. If you love it, you’re good at it, you can be paid for it, and the world needs it, that is your calling.

I loved the concept, but this still wasn’t all that helpful for me. Sure, I could say that writing fits in all these categories, but getting paid for it isn’t all that easy and I needed something more reliable to get my life back on track.

A couple weeks ago, I watched a Ted Talk called “To find work you love, don’t follow your passion.” In a nutshell, the speaker made the argument that passions fade and to feel fulfilled, you should have a career that helps others. The passion will come from seeing the difference you make in others’ lives.

This talk was pretty much the exact opposite of horrible advice I was given by a pyramid scheme recruiter. Pyramid scheme sleazeball said that instead of instead of focusing on nurturing your passion and making a career out of it, you should look at the people around you and see who has the lifestyle you want. Then, you should do what they do. He shared his story about running a pharmacy because he aspired to basically be able to set his own schedule. He wanted to own a business where he didn’t have to be there all the time, in other words. (He also said some really degrading things about anyone who earns an hourly wage.)

I definitely trusted advice from the Ted Talk much more than the sleazy pyramid scheme guy, but it still seemed really off to me.

Today, I took a step back. I feel like I’ve been angsting over the same question since I first began trying to decide what I should major in. To take the pressure off, instead of trying to answer questions like “what am I good at” and “what makes me happy,” I just thought about what I want out of my life. I came up with ten things.

What I discovered when I did this was that there is no specific job that is going to help me meet my goals (aside from funding). Let me say it a different way: what I want from life is not going to come from my job.

All that soul-searching I was doing trying to find a fulfilling career was misguided. I already know what I want. I just need to go after it.

I don’t need to get the perfect job to achieve my goals. There is no entry barrier, no hoop I have to jump through to make progress, and that’s pretty dang empowering.

My Favorite Works of Art Inspired by Starry Night

In general, I think most people disregard “modern art.” We look down on those paintings that aren’t pretty, seem to have no discernible meaning, have an incredibly high price tag, and were probably created by a hipster. For instance, here’s Black Square by Kazimir Malevich, often referred to as “the zero point of painting.”

Malevich.black-square.jpg
So deep, so mysterious, so…black. Except that one bit there.

A few years ago, I went to the Museum of Modern Art in Glasgow with a friend and we spent the entire trip either giggling or being very confused. I’d say there were a few things I found intriguing, but I did not feel emotionally moved by anything the way I felt the first time I saw Van Gogh’s Starry Night.

Of course, there have been a million works of art inspired by Starry Night since then, but the vast majority of them are either studies/recreations of the work, or just add in famous characters without adding any original content whatsoever. I can’t recall how many dorm rooms I walked into in school that had the Dr. Who/Starry Night poster plastered on the walls. While I like that poster, I feel like the only reason I like it is because it is like Starry Night. I also love the Hogwarts version and every single Charlie Brown version I’ve seen, they’re just not different enough to stand on their own.

There are, however, those far and few between works that truly move beyond being a recreation and add to the conversation. Here are a few of my favorites (in no particular order).

1. Starry Night by Alex Ruiz

I love the idea of making the “inspiration” of a work the work itself. This clever twist on the iconic piece is mesmerizing. If you don’t know this guy by name, you’ll definitely know him by his work. He’s had a hand in The Simpsons, Eragon, Halo, Avatar, Family Guy, etc.

2. Starry Night Interactive

Animating the painting and letting people play with it is simply genius. This video is hypnotic. (You can download the app here on Android and here on iPhone.)

3. Daan Roosegaarde‘s Starry Night inspired Bike Path

Van Gogh Fietspad.jpg

While I love the “art for art’s sake” mentality, you bet I would ride my bike every night if this was in my neighborhood.

4. Van Gogh on Dark Water

This captures the movement in the piece like no other medium can.

5. StarryNightmare by FrozenTempest


I know what you’re thinking, but you’re wrong. I did say that I don’t count those works that just copy & paste without doing their own thing. But, this piece does do its own thing! Digital painting is not the same as oil painting or stop-motion animation, for one. More importantly, this piece mixes the look of The Nightmare Before Christmas and Starry Night together and has its own unique style, and it’s absolutely gorgeous.

What do you think? What’s your favorite Starry Night inspired work of art?

Please support all these very talented people by checking out their other art.

The Tortoise and the Hare – Japanese Week 5

There are many people on the internet who claim that they mastered hiragana and katakana in a few days. I choose to believe those people are liars.

Seriously though, learning Japanese is hard and you shouldn’t measure your progress against others. Competition can be healthy, but if you start feeling like you’re not learning as quickly as you should be, that doesn’t exactly encourage you to keep going, does it? If, like me, you’re learning just because you want to, there’s no reason to rush. Remember that your studies are for your own personal satisfaction and there’s no gun to your head.

I truly don’t have much to report this week. I was mentally out of sorts for the first half of the week and barely got any studying done. Thus, I’ve only been able to get 2 rows of the katakana chart inside my brain.

Since my mind was being a bit obnoxious, I decided to work on my handwriting skills. Your brain cannot easily rebel against muscle memory.

This was my first attempt at writing the hiragana chart (from my first or second week of studying, I believe):

I painstakingly spent an hour writing this down, not even knowing that “wi” and “we” are no longer in use – and “we” was one of the hardest ones to write! I would say that “wo” was actually the one I struggled with most though. I must have erased and rewritten that one at least 10 times.

I now see a lot of problems with my writing, but I still think it was a solid first attempt, especially considering I picked one hiragana chart and decided I was going to write just like that one.

When you try to write like a computer, it just doesn’t turn out right. My lowercase e in English looks like an e in most computer fonts (you can see it on the far right above) and the vast majority of people who try to read my handwriting tell me that my e looks like a t. (Yet I refuse to change my ways because I like the way my handwriting looks and don’t think it’s that hard to read.)

This week I practiced with my brush pens and my handwriting was considerably sloppier. With brush pens, you have to write bigger than you do with pencil and there is no erasing. It’s very unforgiving. However, the bigger your mistakes, the easier they are to spot and work on fixing.

Finally, I have two app recommendations this week. Learn Japanese is the only app that I’ve downloaded that will check your pronunciation (and, yes, it’s free). So far, I would say it works fairly well. When I know I’ve butchered something, it agrees. I’m not sure how fine tuned it is, but something is better than nothing. Regardless, the app forces you to practice speaking, which is always a good thing.

The other thing I like about the app is that you can set it to display new phrases on your lock screen. I wouldn’t recommend this for your cell phone/primary device because then you have two lock screens to get through (unless you disable your password), but I like having it on my tablet. While your screen is still locked, you can tap to hear how the phrase is supposed to be said. That doesn’t force the app to open when you unlock your device, so it’s not super intrusive. The lock screen does, however, display a small ad toward the bottom of your screen.

Kanji Samurai is a fun resource as well. It has a simple plot that I enjoy, and it’s a fun way to learn new kanji. It doesn’t have any mnemonics – you just practice writing over and over again in battle. You go through three rounds with each group of kanji, and during the final round, the only hint you get is where the kanji begins. Repeated exposure works well for me, so I’m fine with it not offering a lot of shortcuts. The one feature I wish it did have was to hear how each character is pronounced.

Time to hit the books! See you all next week.

Work Smarter, Not Harder – Japanese Week 4

edit 2This week, a lot of light bulbs came on for me. I rarely make snap decisions, but learning Japanese was one of them, so it makes sense that I’m having so many, “this would be so much easier if…” moments now.

I made a Reddit account this week and have probably never been later to the party. I joined r/LearnJapanese. The first thing I read was so simple that I facepalmed. Practice writing on graph paper to make sure your proportions and spacing are correct. Why didn’t I think of that?? I had considered printing off worksheets to practice writing kana since my workbooks are all for kanji, but decided against it. (So much ink!) Instead, I started practicing on regular notebook paper, like a dummy.

The sad thing is, I’m pretty sure I actually watched a YouTube video of someone practicing kanji on graph paper and it still didn’t click. Sigh.

The next resource I found that was a real game changer was realkana.com. Memrise has helped me out a lot, but this site makes it so much easier to focus on what you are struggling with. You can select as many columns of the hiragana/katakana chart as you need and study in multiple fonts.  It’s absolutely wonderful. Using the site has really cemented hiragana in my memory.

The other epiphany I had this week was about using the kanji practice apps. (I rely very heavily on apps to learn because I hate wasting paper.) Instead of practicing “writing” kanji by swiping with my finger, I should use a stylus. I know, I’m a regular Einstein.

Sometimes, my approach to problems in life is a little too similar to this:


Click here if you don’t get this reference.

All that being said, I still hit a bit of a wall this week. After making so much progress with hiragana, starting on katakana felt like returning to square one. I know this is the next thing I need to do before I really dive deep into kanji, but my brain is in rebellion.

edit 1Therefore, in order to make learning fun again, I decided to download even more apps to make the process as pain-free as possible. By far, my favorite app has been Tabekana. It is an early access download, but I haven’t had any issues with it so far. Why is Tabekana great? Cats. Cats make everything great.

My other app recommendations for the week include Infinite Japanese for learning colors, Learn Japanese with Anna for conversational skills, and 72 Seasons for cultural education. You can practice numbers in addition to colors with Infinite Japanese, but the audio for numbers sometimes cuts off the beginning of words a bit and you have a 50% chance of getting the number right every time so I don’t find it nearly as useful as the colors. (You will need to learn to write the names of the colors separately; this app will only help you with listening skills. While it does show you what the kanji characters are, your focus is generally elsewhere on the screen so it doesn’t really help.)

edit 3I have only listened to one lesson of Learn Japanese with Anna so far, but I feel like it is a very trustworthy source of information. The audio is from “Easy Japanese,” which was produced by NHK  (the PBS of Japan). NHK also has their own app where you can listen to Japanese news in a wide variety of languages.

72 Seasons is based on the ancient Japanese calendar. As the name implies, it shares information about the 72 seasons as well as related haiku, photographs, and illustrations. Since there are 72 seasons, the app updates approximately every 5 days. (You can only see the current season.) It’s a gorgeous, simple app.

I know I’ve had a lot of recommendations this week, but I’m not quite done throwing them out yet.

Since the only books I’ve purchased are kanji workbooks, you may have noticed that my studies are a bit all over the place. However, I think in the coming weeks things are going to stabilize because… I found some excellent stuff. This Japanese Grammar Guide is exactly what I’ve been looking for. It’s free, for one thing, and it also doesn’t focus on teaching you a bunch of quick phrases. While videos that teach you the basics of how to introduce yourself and ask for directions are great if you are in Japan and just need some quick information, those rely far too heavily on rote memorization. I don’t learn well that way, and rewinding videos gets old real fast.

Typical learning resource approach: Here are some phrases. By the way, you should also know that “ka” is a question marking particle, “no” is used to make possessives, “ha” is used as a topic marking particle (but then it’s pronounced as “wa”), etc. Grammar is always introduced as an afterthought because what is important is that you have phrases to say immediately. While it is important to work on your pronunciation from day one, understanding proper sentence structure is, too.

This is why I love “The Japanese Grammar Guide.” It is what its name says it is: a grammar guide.

In addition to all that, I’m about 80 pages into Haruhiko Kindaichi’s “The Japanese Language.” It covers the history of Japanese and examines the strengths and weaknesses of the language. I never studied linguistics so some of it goes over my head, but for the most part it is very engaging. Did you know that Shiga Naoya, a very well-respected writer, once wrote that Japan might as well “adopt French as her national language?” I can’t imagine what it must have been like to feel that way, especially for a writer.

For the next week, I plan to carry on with katakana and continue reading the grammar guide and “The Japanese Language.” Wish me luck!


A couple other things:

  • Thank you to Ben from Project Believe in Yourself for featuring me in a blog review this past week! I love hearing people laugh at the jokes I write and your feedback was much appreciated.
  • I finally got rid of my beach header last weekend. It was a good temporary placeholder while I figured out what to do for a logo, but it wasn’t… up to scratch. I finally buckled down and spent at least 4 hours on Canva (which I do not at all recommend unless you’re willing to pay for things) designing a logo. I’m very happy with how it turned out, though the process was not so fun.the writing waifu Of course there’s a cat.
  • I made the images in this post! Me, who is not so good with drawing and has no graphic design experience! (To be fair, I only added text for the meme.) I have been playing around a lot with Silk Paints because it makes me feel a lot more talented than I actually am.
  • If you have a good recipe for yum yum sauce, please share it with me. Hubby and I tried one out and it was a total disaster.

またね!

Happy Post is Happy

My last post was a little… intense for me to write. While I love how cathartic those “bare your soul” kind of posts are, I need a breather.

So, today, I’m going to share some funny stories about hubby and I.

A few weeks ago, hubby and I celebrated our one year anniversary… on the wrong day. How did I deduce that it was the wrong day? I looked at my Facebook timeline and realized that I was a week off. (I also got a big old, “You mean I was RIGHT??” from Jason about that one.)

This actually follows in the tradition of everything regarding our wedding being a bit of a hot mess. From the hilarity of mistakes made while filling out our marriage license to utterly failing to plan literally anything until the day before the wedding (which also happened to be the day I got a new job), our wedding was absolute chaos from start to finish. Don’t get me wrong, I loved our wedding ceremony and wouldn’t have had it any other way, but there’s no denying that it was insane.

Before we got married, we didn’t know what we were doing and while we’ve learned along the way, we’re still pretty clueless.

Story from before we got married:

Jason hurt himself and since we didn’t have a hot-pack, he filled a sock with rice and threw it in the microwave… for 6 minutes. I was in the bedroom and noticed an awful smell and some smoke. Then the fire alarm starts going off. Jason yells at me to get outside, so I do. He dumped the flaming sock into the sink and doused it with water to put out the flames before bringing the melted sock and ruined microwave outside. Neighbors came by to see what the ruckus was about and I watched the grass slowly die around the remains of the sock.

The apartment smelled for about a month after that.

Now, we have a dual hot and cold pack that looks like a kitty. (This means we get to say fun things like, “Would you like me to put the kitty in the freezer?”) We know that it is not to be in the microwave for over 2 minutes and that it needs to be put inside a plastic bag before it goes in the freezer.

Isn’t it cute?

Story from several weeks ago:

Please reference this post, in which I discuss going out to explore nature at 8 PM, hiking 1.5 miles to get to the beach and watch the sunset, then realizing that the way back was 90% uphill. This ended with us realizing our car was broken into and a chat with the park ranger about why we were out so late. Good times.

Now, hubby won’t take me anywhere when it’s that close to dark and he makes sure I’m not signing him up for masochistic activities.

Some other silly things I’ve done include:

  • Before marriage: Going to the beach and wearing flip-flops when it was actually rather cold and discovering that the beach doesn’t have sand. Instead, it has a lot of broken seashells and other hard things that really hurt when you step on them.
  • After marriage: Going on a week-long vacation with my husband and limiting my footwear to two pairs of flip-flops (when I should’ve anticipated we would be hiking and visiting the zoo).

On the other hand, there have been times where I think we have perhaps learned the wrong thing. For instance, a while ago I totally freaked out while I was taking a shower because a very large mosquito almost landed on me. Jason heard me screaming and comes running into the bathroom, thinking someone is trying to kill me. When I told him that a mosquito was in the shower, he just walked away. He was so angry. “My knife was drawn. I was ready to end someone and it was a freaking mosquito!”

A couple days ago, there was a giant fly in the house. It landed on me and I freaked out a little. Later on, I spot it going in the bathroom so I shut the door and tell Jason to go kill it. While he’s trying to kill it, I start playing music from the Undertale soundtrack, so hubby thinks I’m mocking him. (I didn’t mean it that way, but once it started playing I laughed a little.)

He comes out in a few minutes and says he hit it a few times but can’t find the body. It then appears in the kitchen again and I’m like whatever I’m taking a shower. As I’m washing my hair, my earring back falls off. I call for Jason because I can’t tell if it went down the drain and regardless I want him to take the rest of my earring so I don’t lose it. He doesn’t come. I figure he can’t hear me because he’s either outside or my music is too loud. When I get out of the shower, I say, “Why aren’t you ever inside when I need you?” Yadda yadda yadda…

“Oh, that’s what you wanted. I thought you were yelling because that fly was in there or something.”

“I specifically tried to sound less panicked so you would realize I wasn’t screaming about an insect. Though you should still come if I’m screaming because someone could actually be trying to kill me.”

One last thing…

I never had a dog or a cat while I was growing up. We took in a stray kitten when she was a wee little thing, maybe a week or two old, a year before I moved in with hubby. It broke my heart to leave her behind. Ever since then, I have wanted to get a cat.

This week, we almost succeeded in getting one.

This is Panther. Panther showed up Monday and we got her to come inside. However, when we closed the screen door, Panther made the most pathetic, horribly sad sound I have ever heard in my life. We let Panther return to the outdoors.

Logic and Mental Illness

Sometimes, mental illness feels like a self-fulfilling prophecy. When I have the worst of my worst days, it is easy to write off what I’m feeling as a consequence of being mentally ill. I am anguished, disconnected, and listless because I have anxiety and am depressed. There is no logical reason for me to feel so incredibly low. Therefore, it is just a thing that happens to me.

That is how I viewed my depression for a long time. There was just this cloud of sadness that followed me around, and sometimes it would come low and I would be forced to wait for the fog to clear to be able to interact with the outside world.

Any alternative solution seemed completely dismissive of what I was going through. If I divulged that I was having a hard time with my depression, I would get angry and defensive if someone asked me why I was depressed.

depressed

What do you mean, why am I depressed? I am like this because I *have depression* and my emotions aren’t logical. If I knew why I was like this, I wouldn’t be like this. Don’t you get it?

When I was diagnosed with depression several years ago, I didn’t think I viewed myself any differently. It just felt like a logical conclusion for my behavior/my personality. I accepted the label as an explanation for why it was always nigh impossible for me to get excited about anything, an explanation of why I was so passive about everything, and I moved on. The diagnosis was a means to an end; because I was depressed, I could receive therapy and try different medications.

A few months ago, I called my mother specifically because I knew I needed to go back to therapy, but I couldn’t afford it. Yes, I called my mother to ask her to pay for my therapy. It was embarrassing and the whole conversation just made me want to puke and punch things at the same time. I’d definitely say it was one of the lowest points in my life.

When we got off the phone, my mother had agreed to pay for one month of therapy. But I was infuriated. She had asked me, “what are you depressed about?”

“Well, I quit my job…  and now we could be homeless in a few months… and other things.”

“Don’t you think you’d be better off to spend your time looking for a job, then? If you’re stressed about money, spending money on therapy is probably just going to make it worse.”

“Mom… no. Did you miss the part where I was having panic attacks at my last job? I had to quit. Getting another job isn’t going to magically make me better. It’s so much more than that. I feel like I am actually losing my mind.”

At that point in the conversation, I completely lost control and started sobbing hysterically, so it took another twenty minutes for me to work up the nerve to ask for money.

The whole conversation just reinforced my belief that depression and anxiety make zero sense. In my mind, yes, they were triggered by the stress of my everyday life, but trying to say, “I am depressed because x, y, and z” would never be able to cover it. There was no explanation for what I was feeling, and trying to answer why I was broken felt like a huge slap in the face.

The next day, my mom e-mailed me and said I should try taking St. John’s wort. I had never heard of it, so I did a quick Google. This was the first thing I saw:

Psychosis is a rare but possible side effect of taking St. John’s wort.

St. John’s wort is not a proven therapy for depression. Do not use St. John’s wort to replace conventional care or to postpone seeing your health care provider. Inadequately treated depression may become severe and, in some cases, may be associated with suicide.

Um… thanks, ma? I know you’re trying to help, but this isn’t the right way to go about it. Just let me go to therapy.

The thing is, her suggestion actually fit with what I was thinking. If depression/anxiety is totally random, there’s nothing you can do about it except medicate and hope that it goes away. I have never thought that medication is my only treatment option, but I have always felt like it can’t be helped that depression is a condition that I have.

Something finally clicked in my brain this week. Last week, my therapist stressed the importance of allowing yourself to feel what you feel without guilt (something I struggle with). However, she also said (for probably the tenth time and it was only my second session with her) that one way I can help ward off panic attacks is to acknowledge what is making me anxious. Accept that my emotions are, in fact, logical and use my emotions as information.

What does this look like?

When I am nervous about taking my trash to the dumpster, I will remind myself that my reaction isn’t crazy since we’ve had so many car break-ins and we live in a rough area. I will try to not let my feelings hold me back.

When I am scared of going to the store by myself because something could happen to me, I will acknowledge that there are good reasons to be cautious. I will be grateful that I wasn’t at the mall when the shooter was there and say a prayer for the victims and their families. I won’t tell myself I’m being stupid or to get over it.

When I am angry, I will try to stop feeling guilty about being angry and not tell myself that I am overreacting. That doesn’t mean I give myself free reign to be hurtful and say horrible things when I’m angry. Rather, it means that when I am angry, I won’t tell myself that my feelings are illogical and I shouldn’t be upset.

I won’t write off doing fun things as a waste of time because I could be making money. My happiness is important and worth setting aside time for.

When I feel like I’m going to have a panic attack, I will try to tell my husband so he can help me through it instead of hiding my anxiety. I shouldn’t be ashamed.

I will try to not feel weak when I cry. When I start feeling guilty for being sad, I will remind myself that I am trying to get better.

When I wake up feeling anguished, I won’t dismiss my feelings as a side-effect of depression.

And, most importantly, I will remember that my past failures are not indicative of my future successes.

Debunked! – Japanese Week 3

As I mentioned at the end of my first week studying Japanese, learning the language can be quite intimidating. However, most of the hurdles that seem overwhelming really aren’t as bad as they seem initially. I wouldn’t say I’ve been an absolute slave to my studies, but I do feel like I’ve already come a long way. So, without further ado, I want to discuss some misconceptions I had and what I’ve actually learned so far.

#1: Learning kanji is going to be the death of me.
While it is true that there are a lot of kanji, there are tricks to learn them quickly. Radicals, for one, make guessing meanings easier, and thinking of a story for why each character means what it means or is pronounced a certain way helps cement the characters in your mind. Plus, it’s fun; the satisfaction of being able to write such beautiful characters is a very strong motivator to keep going.

Additionally, when I first saw how many kanji characters there are, part of me very irrationally thought that I may as well learn Chinese first. That is a terrible idea for so many reasons!

If you want to learn Japanese, instead of viewing the language as one difficulty after another, think of it as an enjoyable journey that can last for as long as you want it to. It’s only overwhelming if you approach it with that attitude. It’s really not that different from any other language.

#2: There are no spaces between the words. I’ll never be able to read Japanese!
Spaces aren’t necessary in Japanese. Once you have built up your vocabulary, you will be able to differentiate words from one another. For instance, if the sentence ends with the hiragana character for “ka,” it’s probably a question. The different scripts make reading much easier. Practicing reading and writing with no spaces is extraordinarily beneficial for learners, too. Without the spaces, you naturally read and say words faster.

In short, if you’re worried about this when you start learning Japanese, take a deep breath. There are texts for beginners with spaces in them, but you will eventually be comfortable enough in the language that the lack of spaces won’t be an issue.

#3: I need to memorize the stroke order for everything!
While you should practice what you learn correctly, it’s not the end of the world if you write things in the wrong order. As long as you make your horizontal strokes from left-to-right and your vertical strokes from top-to-bottom, it will probably be legible, and that’s the whole point of writing, isn’t it? If you need to look up the meaning of a word you’ve never seen before, or if you have forgotten what a word means, follow the basic guidelines for stroke order and you will probably be able to find it, though it might take a while.

Last weekend, hubby wrote me a note in Japanese that I tried (and failed) to translate (because I don’t have a big enough vocabulary and thus struggled to find the ends of words and his translation was flawed to begin with). However, I was able to find every single kanji character using kanji recognizer. If I’ve been studying for 3 weeks and can find the characters I need, so can you.

#4: Typing in Japanese is insanely difficult. I’m never doing it.
Actually, it’s not that bad. When I had my first personal victory of being able to write sayonara, arigato, and kon’nichiwa in hiragana, I added the Japanese keyboard on my cellphone and texted a friend all those words. Now, as I learn words, I text my hubby and then ask him if he understood what I sent. My experiences, obviously, are pretty minimal, but it is much more intuitive than I thought it would be.

If you don’t know how it works, here’s what you do: you type in everything using your regular English alphabet. You select the correct hiragana for what you are typing as you go along. Then, you select the appropriate kanji when it populates. So, for instance, you would type in ko-n-ni-chi-ha and select the correct hiragana after every syllable. ( sometimes changes from the “ha” sound to the “wa” sound and I learned it that way, so that’s what I’m sticking with.) Kon’nichiwa is typically written in hiragana, so no kanji is necessary. If the process still doesn’t make sense, watch this video.

#5: People are probably going to judge you if you are learning Japanese and like anime/manga.
Does the term “weeaboo” ring a bell? I’ve been waiting for the hate comments, but I haven’t gotten a single one.

For the most part, I’ve actually found that people will support you in your studies and respect your efforts since the language is so complicated, regardless of your motivation to do so. While attempting to learn Japanese from anime/manga exclusively is not a good idea, there’s nothing wrong with supplementing your studies with your favorite series. Most educational resources encourage it!

I, personally, see nothing wrong in wanting to learn Japanese specifically for anime/manga. Why? Because a lot of people learn a little bit of another language specifically for a trip or because they have to for school and then they forget everything they learned afterward. How is learning French so that you can take selfies in Paris any less superficial than learning Japanese to deepen your appreciate for something you actually care about? If you are going to enjoy anime/manga for the rest of your life, then by all means, learn Japanese for that reason and make yourself happy. Just don’t assume you’re an expert on Japanese culture because you watch a lot of anime.

Thoughts on Square Breathing

The basic premise of meditation is that our lives are too busy and we need to take time to slow down and smell the roses. Therefore, we sit down for 15 minutes once or twice a day, focus on our breathing, and arise, fresh and ready to battle the world again.

This might work for very busy people like overbooked celebrities and mommies that just need some time alone, but for those with mental health issues, the idea of devoting more time to sitting still and being in your head does not make sense. Ideally, we want to gain momentum, not lose it.

Instead of meditating, then, the idea is to practice mindfulness. While meditation, very generally, is about letting go and learning to dismiss unwanted thoughts, mindfulness is about focusing your thoughts – thinking more actively.

If you are depressed, the best thing you can do for yourself is chase your happiness. Of course, if you are depressed, that feels impossible. Mindfulness is like taking baby steps.

This week, I was advised to try square breathing up to 6 times a day. If that seems like a lot, I would have to agree. I’m lucky if I remember to do it two or three times a day. However, I get the logic behind it.

So, what is square breathing?

Breathe in for 4 beats, hold 4 beats, breathe out 4 beats, hold 4 beats. Repeat until completed 4 times.

Super simple, right? Too simple?

For me, I do think this is too simple. I’ve played piano since I was 5 and was in choir for several years, so I have so much practice doing this that I barely have to focus to do it. That’s why, in my very unprofessional opinion, this should be modified. If you can do this and still have room to think about other things, you’re either doing it wrong or you need to make it more difficult. Count backwards, count in a different language, count backwards in a different language, count backwards in intervals of 7, etc.

If you’re wondering about the method behind the madness, let me explain further. If you’ve ever thought to yourself, “depression is caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain, so why should I bother with talk therapy or this weird mindfulness stuff when I can just take antidepressants,” I totally get it.

Think of every thought you have as a chemical reaction in your brain. If you have a bunch of sad thoughts, your brain is going to be full of sad chemicals. In a way, mindfulness helps your brain take a break from having so many incoming “sadness chemicals” because you are focused on something else. Over time, this helps improve your emotional baseline. While you’re probably not overjoyed when you practice square breathing, it makes it easier for you to be happy every day.