Finding My Twilight
One stormy April day in 2017, I quit my job. I was anticipating a downpour of regret and anxiety that my navy umbrella would be unable to shield, but to my surprise, that never happened.
Born in a well-off family in the suburbs of Tokyo, I followed the path that my overprotective parents had prepared for me so I could live without struggle. Taking into account the environment of which I would be studying in and the possibilities of me being bullied, they put me through twelve years of private education. After high school, I found myself in a well respected university which I would eventually graduate from to move on to a job with a reasonable status, as my parents had envisioned, with little hardship. Even while I was job hunting, my parents seemed to be more invested in the process than I was; buying me the full set of an order-made suit with an expensive bag, and composing a list of which companies were reputable and which weren’t. Following my family’s rule of committing to working at one company, I imagined at the initiation ceremony my life where I would get to a reasonable position at work, get married, have maybe about two kids, buy a house on a loan at around thirty, and continue working to feed my family until retirement.
But somewhere deep down, I knew that I wouldn’t be happy following this path. I had no motivation to commit my life to a company that I chose only because of how I thought society would perceive me. I dreamed of living in an apartment room in the middle of Tokyo. I didn't want children, in fact, I preferred men over women. On the rusty, outdated set of tracks that I was following, getting derailed and falling straight to hell was imminent. But I pretended not to notice. I had no confidence in creating my own path, nor did I know how. As far as I could remember, somebody had something decided for me, and I obeyed. Going to university, dating that circle senior that looked like a member from Perfume, even playing the piano, which I would use to represent my talents on my resumes. It was easier to follow a predetermined path instead of having to deal with the indeterminable fear residing in my identity, even if I was left a little bit discontent.
My company was very conservative and old-timey. They’d finally started realizing that they didn’t have many women at their workplace; the existence of gays was somewhat an urban legend. In a patriarchal world where comments like “a woman wouldn’t do” were commonplace, keeping myself hidden was my best option. In such a prehistoric company, there were countless unwritten rules. The finality of a superior’s decision was of course one of them. If I were to turn down an offer to get drinks after work, my assessment would be tainted by the word “uncooperative.” Even if I knew that all that awaited me was an entourage of preachy criticisms of my personality, saying “no” was not an option. I had turned an invitation down once due to stomach flu, only to be drop-kicked while being yelled at: “who do you think I am? I’m a bureaucrat of the head office!” Even as I laughed off such an absurd scenario straight out of a cartoon, I dug my nails deep into my hand until they drew blood. Even then, I persevered thanks to my weekend beers and the forever eventual eventuality of finding a new job.
I had always been considered to have an abundance of mental strength. I too, along with the rest of society, believed I needed to be tough, and strived to act accordingly. To repress my emotions, to be self sacrificial for the sake of others, and to endure anything I didn’t like. I was even finding my self-realized version of mental strength virtuous. In this world, those with strength get to decide all, and others who disobey them will be reprimanded. Disobey your parents and you get no dinner, do the same to a superior and you get demoted. I rather dug my nails in the palm of my hands and wait for the storm to pass than to make such a fruitless move. It was peaceful and had its merits. Maybe there was even a pinch of arrogance in seeing my acquiescing self as the adult of the situation.
But one day, when I was trying to speak to one of my coworkers as I always did, I found that I had trouble doing so. My speech became slurred. A hazy sensation took over my head. From that day on, my body increasingly refused to function as it always had, and, unable to keep up with my numb insides, finally broke down. I had seen an article online on symptoms similar to mine; an article on depression. Knowing I was making the decision based on dubious information, I went to the hospital with a large mask covering my face. To think that I, of all people, would go to a mental clinic, and on top of that, be diagnosed with depression. The doctor told me I must either quit my job, or at least take a leave of absence. My heart pounded, fearing for my position at the top of the coworkers of my age in a well-respected company, after being able to move to a department with a promised promotion. I lent no ears to the doctor, and asked foolhardily if I could keep working if I took the medications. Eventually, I surrendered to my doctor’s strong suggestion, and confessed the situation to my family and company. Expressing my true feelings, especially where I felt vulnerable, was embarrassing. The worst part was that it felt like I was running off track. But in reality, everything ran smoothly, and nothing around me changed.
My stubbornness made me continue working, but I was supported by those around me and was able to get a tiny amount of compensation from my company. My friends and family listened to anything and everything I had to say, and even invited me to excursions to blow off steam. At work, the treatment that I got from my superiors changed, and I was feeling less stress, albeit with an awkwardness lingering to their attitude. I knew then that I had fallen off the ladder to higher positions, but I wasn’t really bothered by it.
After getting a load off my body, I started to practice how to focus on myself. I know it may sound foolish, but after having trained unconsciously to numb myself to emotions, I had no idea of even the most basic of things such as what I liked, and how I was feeling at each moment. While I was thinking, stumped, the stack of books that I had left in the corner of my room to be read when I got the opportunity caught my eye. I turned down the offer to drink that weekend, and decided to spend the entire day with the unspeaking pages inside my room. After a while I caught myself being distracted by my smartphone, but I pushed it underneath my blanket. I even once took a paid leave on a weekday to visit Enoshima from the early morning. With some bread and coffee that I found alluring on my way, I spent the day daydreaming on the beach.
I had my parents, work, drinks, and SNSs; first-aid anesthetics of relief crowding all around me. Being aloof without having those to support me was terrifying. But once I took the leap of faith into that void, my emotions and my body felt relaxed, and the internal conversation with myself began. What I didn’t like, what I wanted to do; I could see my very own path that I wanted to take. As I took a bite out of my bread at Enoshima, I suddenly realized that I hated the people at my workplace, and I hated the work that I was doing. As someone who had been thinking of how to continue working at that place, I was surprised by my true feelings.
And so, I made the first autonomous decision in my life. I’m wasting my career, I’m running from it, say whatever you may. But if it’s a social status, a position that I don’t know who it’s for; I don’t need it, and I don’t even know what I would be running from. The only thing I can say for certain is, that even after running off track, I was still alive, and I still am today.
translated by Daigo Sugiyama