My Experience Seeking Mental Health Care in Japan: The Good and The Bad Pt.1

As much as I don’t want to talk about this.  I feel like I have to.  Mental health no matter where you live is an important thing, and some people struggle with mental health problems their whole life, while others may go through situational struggles.  I’ve talked a lot about this to my friends and family.  I’ve tried purging it out of me via my journal.  The feelings and experience will never go away though.  I feel like I need to share it.  The good and the bad.  And as this is a new-ish experience, I am positive there will be more to come.  So, lets get started with Part 1 shall we?

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(Drawn by me and on my Instagram Account: MonsterKawaiii)


First off what brought me here? What the hell happened to me? Lets go back to mid June….

As an FYI: I’ve been to a therapist before in America for self esteem / self confidence issues and it was not a good experience, but that’s a different story.  I have never been medicated before now (Japan) though, but I know I have OCD tendencies and have a super “Type A” personality.  

Well, I’m not sure I’m allowed to say what I did so I wont say it outright.  If you remember my last post where I mentioned “The Great Shaming of 2017” you may be reminded.  Basically I fucked up at work, and although I thought I had done everything right, I was wrong and in the end I got in huge trouble.  I became the “bad ALT” over a dumb miscommunication, or at least, that’s how they made me feel.  “They” is referring to pretty much everyone who was involved besides my close friends and family who understood what was actually happening.  During this time, I felt like my life was falling apart.  The stress and tension was building up, and none of my Japanese co-workers could understand what the heck I was feeling.  I found myself unable to leave my apartment, I stood rooted at the front door, hand on the doorknob holding back the tears and my throat from closing up.  I went to school anyways, but my work performance plummeted.  I felt like I needed to quit and get out of there, but the only thing that was holding me on to my job were my students. I love them so much.

In any case, I knew that if I were to continue working at my job, I needed to seek some medical help because I felt that I for sure needed to be medicated or if not that, at least talk to someone about the issues I was having and how to overcome them.  Even now I have this feeling of shame hovering over me from my giant mistake, even though for the most part it has been “resolved” but everyone seems to just be ignoring or dismissing it, like it never even happened. Is this the Japanese way of moving on? Dismissing things, even when someone get’s mentally ill as a result?  I don’t know.

I know they know I’m still not okay…so….what is happening?

 Either way, I couldn’t dismiss things in this fashion especially because of reasons why I got in trouble. So I tried to find some mental health clinics and here’s my story.


 

I first tried to have a JTE (Japanese Teacher of English) call on my behalf to four separate clinics in the town that I live in. I live in the countryside of Shizuoka. Not a very good place to start.  All of the clinics said they were unable to take me because I was “gaijin” (foreigner).  My JTE felt perplexed and said maybe if I were the one to call these clinics or other clinics in the area, then maybe they could see that I could speak Japanese and make an appointment.  I read reviews online and found a clinic in a nearby town that was known to be good so I called them.

Here’s how the conversation went:

Me: Hello, I’m suffering from anxiety and mild depression due to a work issue.  I want to make an appointment.  Is that possible?

Her: What’s your name?

Me: (Gave my name).

Her: Well, the only day that is available for you to come is on Sundays.  If you can come Sundays and commit to it,  then we can try to get you an appointment.

Me: (Thinking wow yay finally something!  And on top of that I was so depleted from searching beforehand that nothing mattered and I just needed to see someone).  What day can I come in?

Her: Two months from now, November.

Me: Umm this is a bit of an emergency, is there any way you can see me earlier.

Her: No only on that date.

Me: Hmmm….. okay (thinking hell this has been my only catch so far so I’ll take it) fine I’ll take that appointment.

Her: Can you even read kanji? ( <—-kanji = Japan’s version of Chinese characters  )

Me: For the most part yes, but medical words are difficult so if someone can help me read the kanji if I have any trouble that would be helpful.  Or I can fill out forms before I come in if you can email them to me.

Her: Sorry if you are unable to speak Japanese we cannot take you.

Me: Wait what??! But before you said you could take me.  I don’t understand.

Her: (Again in a slower, meaner tone) If you can’t understand Japanese we cannot take you in.

Me: But you see that we are speaking Japanese right now right, on the phone….riiiight now??  I need help, and you are not helping me.  Aren’t you supposed to help people in distress? It sounds like your being a bit racist toward foreigners.  (<—–I was getting angry and flustered at this point and just threw the word out hoping it’ll hit her like a shotgun).

Her: I’m not being racist.

Me: Yeah you are (yelling and half crying), it’s your job to help people and you’re not helping me at all, you’re actually making things worse! You’re a horrible person. (I wanted to say fuck you but instead I just hung up).

Fin.

After that conversation I was literally defeated, I cried for a few moments and curled into a ball, hoping the pain in my stomach and head would go away.  We had called so many places and all turned out to be a bust.  I couldn’t believe it.  I kinda lost faith in everything at that point and wanted to just leave/quit work and hide under the covers and watch re-runs of Star Trek.

I called my prefectural advisor and asked her if she was aware of my work issue (at this point the work issue wasn’t resolved, and I wasn’t even sure if I had a job or not), and although she tried to pry information out of me that I didn’t want to disclose, she finally moved onto the real issue: my mental health and told me about JET counseling, and so on.  I told her I wanted to be medicated, not just therapy so she gave me more recommendations.  I decided to rest for the weekend and try to call some more clinics the following Monday.

Laster that day, in anger, I posted a long distressing Facebook status about my experience and surprisingly a lot of great things came from it.  I got more advice from ex-JETS who had experienced the same issues, I got more hospital recommendations, and even medication information.  I felt like…I had a community of people who were there for me.  It made me feel better.  I did also get ridicule from a family member who was unaware of Facebook’s privacy settings and probably embarrassed of my openness about my mental health.  I just don’t care.  It’s better to be open and share about something especially this shitty, than cram it inside and let it get worse and worse.  This is how people die.  I had argued my point with said family member and I really don’t know what has come of it, and I may get even more backlash from this post but again, I don’t care.  Maybe I can help someone who is also going through the same thing.  That’s what I hope.  There is always hope.

After posting my status, my boyfriend in a rage, called the hospital who I had called earlier and basically bitched them out. I wish I could bitch someone out in Japanese, but I’m just not at that level yet.  In any case, the place recommended me to go to somewhere else that allows foreigners.  So he booked an appointment for me there and it was set.  I felt better immediately knowing that finally a place would take me.  Now the next question was, was this place actually going to give me the proper help I needed?


Fast forward to now, 3 months later.  I’ve been put on a medication called Meilax.  Here’s some info about it if you want to know more: check this website, and have gone to my doctor a total of….4 times. The place I go to is really far away.  It takes me an hour or so to get there by bike, and on top of that the only time I can go is during work hours in the morning so it’s a bit difficult to get appointments when I need them.

At the time of my work anxiety, I think the meds did actually help. They helped me sleep better.  But as a result, my morning exercise routine diminished (I used to run at 6/6:30 am, 2-4 miles 3 times a week or so).  I also felt even more groggy and sleepy in the mornings and had trouble waking up.  It’s calmed me down during the whole ordeal of resolving my work issue. Some days I didn’t feel anything, which was good because there were days I know I would have just started to cry and run away.  To that, I say it worked.  My doctor at my clinic doesn’t know English but he spoke to me slowly and let me explain my issues and tried to give me advice, but most of it was:

“Yeah our cultures are so different aren’t they”

“Maybe it would be better for you to work in a solitary job” ( <—To this one, I don’t think he realizes how difficult it is for foreigners to get jobs in Japan in general so….no critical thinking there with that comment hahah)

Then when I asked him about advice with Dermatillomania, or the more common name: Skin Picking Disorder, he simply dismissed my question and moved on.  He simply didn’t even know how to answer.  Yeah, I have a skin picking disorder too.  It sucks, I’m trying to work on it by using self care, covering blemishes with bandaids when I’m home and alone, and I’m using lots and lots of face masks.

But now, it’s all changed.  I don’t feel like the same person after this ordeal.  I don’t feel like old Michele.  Something has shifted inside me and all these good things are about to happen for me….like really really amazing things and I can’t even focus on those because I just feel depressed.  So next week, I’m going to try to ask for a different medication…something for depression because that’s what this has now turned into.  It sucks I know, but I’m really really trying to get help, and as much as Japan is a difficult place when it comes to seeking medical attention especially for mental health, I think that at least for now…I’m doing something.  Doing something matters.  It’s important to try and fix it…at least to me.  Just know, if you are struggling, you aren’t alone.

I’m here to talk. Even if we don’t know each other.  I’m here.

Also a special shout out to the special people who were there to listen to me, especially to Tsuyoshi who has been and will always be there to actively help me.  I can’t express my gratitude enough.  And thank you Rachael for listening to me balling on the phone more days than I can count.

This isn’t over, but I hope things will be better.


2 thoughts on “My Experience Seeking Mental Health Care in Japan: The Good and The Bad Pt.1

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