The third and final break-up

Two years and a few days have passed I finally broke the news to him.

A month prior to that, I had decided that I had to leave him, leave my job, and leave Japan. I had no choice so I plowed through to the best of my ability, but deep down, it wasn’t what I wanted.

Throughout January, I watched him, and paid as close attention as I could to all everything going on – when and where do I tell him? What words do I use? How do I make the situation go as smoothly as possible? I secretly wished that things would still somehow work out, but I knew that wasn’t an option.

It was at night that I finally told him. We were sitting across from each other at the kitchen table. We were talking – he was talking – as usual. I don’t remember how I did it, but I told him I was leaving. I would visit my sister in New Zealand in the spring, and then I would leave Japan and move back to my parents’.

He took it surprisingly well. He was supportive, and offered to help me move my things back to my apartment: my fridge, my kotatsu, my futons and blankets, my TV, my dishes… but of course within a week or two, things changed. He messaged me at all hours, asking if I wanted this or that, saying we should get together to figure out how to “work together” and get through this, telling me to pay him for rent, hounding me for medical information and the date I would finally be leaving him in peace.

On February 11th, I took about a weeks’ worth of clothing and moved in with Kei. Her boyfriend would be in the States for two months, so I was instructed to stay with her for my own safety. I was reluctant at first. I didn’t think I needed to, and assumed I’d be going home to my own place before long. It turned out to be the best decision I made – or more like the best decision they made for me. I stayed for two and a half months and only went home occasionally.

When I did go home, she messaged me to make sure I was safe. Did the lion talk to me today? Did he message me? Did I eat? Did I sleep enough? I was often afraid of being alone. If anything happened, there was no witness. I sometimes found things he’d left outside my door. I always had as few lights on as possible, hoping it wouldn’t look like I was there. I once found him walking past my apartment (which was not a necessary route) in the morning – we were both on our way to work, and seeing him scared me. I walked as quickly as I could, and took a round-about route to where there were more people, waited until I knew he’d passed, then continued on my way. I arrived at work to find this message: “You don’t have to make efforts to avoid me. That was just a coincidence and I’m leaving you as much space as possible. Have a good day”. It was the third last message I received from him.


What motivates us?

Recently, I read Murder Without Borders: Dying for the story in the world’s most dangerous places by Terry Gould. Murder Without Borders shares the lives of 7 journalists who were killed as a result of their work. They lived where they worked, uncovering the truth behind atrocities in their hometowns.

Since 1992, 819 journalists have been murdered, motive confirmed. The journalists who appear in Murder Without Borders knew they were going to be killed, yet they continued their work. But why? What motivates someone to this degree? “They believed passionately in the principle that the powerful should be prevented from oppressing the weak” (p4). This hits close to home. I have very strong opinions of human rights, women’s rights, children’s rights. I feel personally connected to these, to the continued Metoo movement – and still others. But what am I doing? What’s different between me and them? What’s different between us and these journalists, who sacrificed everything?

One journalist, Guillermo Bravo Vega, was described as “maximally energetic and passionate for his age. ‘In love’ because he was in love with everything about life” (p32). This man didn’t have an easy life, and it ended violently. Yet – he was in love with life? At one point, he ran for parliament, and is quoted as saying in a speech: “Get up, look at the new morning! It is filled with life and strength! Breathe the light of the sunrise! You have the strength of your own energy! Wake up! Walk, fight, come with me! Make the decision and, with love and faith in life, you will triumph with me!” (p42) Even though all I did was read the words, black ink on an off-white page, I still felt compelled to stand up and do something. But – how many days have I not had the strength of my own energy? What are my sufferings, compared to countless others who share this planet with me?

Toward the end of his life, after years of fighting, Bravo “became very discouraged, very depressed. He said it was like ‘planting in the desert'” (p45). I wonder how many others, who’ve dedicated their lives to protecting the unprotected, giving a voice to those who don’t have one, shouting into the ears of those who don’t listen… how many lose hope? How many don’t lose hope? Gould “came across this quotation from the diary of the president of the Patriotic Union, Bernardo Jaramillo […]: “When the things that we fight for and believe in – what we’ve always believed in – dissolve into the reality of the world, men seem to find, almost happily, death” (p35). Although I feel sad, deflated, and yet oddly comforted for having felt similarly – after experiences not similar at all – I smirk to myself: Good thing I’m not a man, I guess.

As I read, I continue to ask myself question after question. The internal dialogue continues as I turn pages. It continues even after I put the book down, having finished it. The photos of the women on the front cover lock eyes with me, one smiling, the other not.

What motivates you?

Setsuko Thurlow, Yann Arthus-BertrandNellie McClung, Munir Said ThalibHarriet Tubman, Desmond Tutu, Malala Yousafzai, Louis RielElizabeth Fry, Chiune Sugihara, Rosemarie Kuptana… and so, so many more. Not all are journalists, not all are famous, but they all rose to their calling. People who fight for what they believe is right – what motivates them?

What motivates you?

How much are we willing to do, how far are we willing to go for what we believe is right? How much of our personal life experiences influences what believe to be right and wrong? How much do these experiences influence the things we chose to fight for? What allows us to turn and look away from a crisis?

Gould’s conclusion is entitled: “Journalism as an act of courage”. The letters on the page look up at me: What are you doing as an act of courage? The question itself gives me courage.

Quoted in the very beginning of the book is Václav Havel, a former president of the Czech Republic:

“I am not interested in why man commits evil; I want to know why he does good (here and there) or at least feels that he ought to… It seems to me that even when no one is watching, and even when he is certain that no one will ever find out about his behaviour, there is something in a man that compels him to behave (to a degree, at least) as though someone were constantly observing him.”

What motivates us? What gives us courage? What are we fighting for?

(Although I admit that I’m also curious to know why we commit ‘evil’…) Why do we do ‘good’, even when no one is watching?

Don’t give up.

[English below]





抱負とは言えなくても願いが一つあります。2018年は「諦めたくない一年にしたい」。やっぱり、色んなことを諦めたくない… 自分のとこを諦めたくない。

I don’t like the idea of new years resolutions…. If others want to do it, that’s totally fine, but it’s not for me.

I felt pressured into participating in a share-your-resolution-circle one New Year’s Eve a number of years ago and I felt so fake making things up on the spot. I wasn’t lying, but I wasn’t being honest either. Even before I opened my mouth to speak, I knew I wouldn’t follow through with what I was saying.

I prefer doing things when I’m ready to, and when I want to. “New year, new me” isn’t my thing. Not for calendar years, anyway.

This year though, things felt a little different.

I have one wish, one desire for 2018. I want it to be the year I don’t give up.

Five other things I’m thankful for

1. I became a better cook while with him. It was about the only thing he complimented me on.

2. My 3 Turkish scarves from him. I quite like them, actually. He had friends in Istanbul who were selling them online or something. Anyway, they’re pretty, and “Turkish scarves” sounds fancy.

3. Not taking French stuff seriously. Paris is the most romantic city? Oh, please. French men are charming? Puh-lease. I now know what “so French” means, and I roll my eyes. It’s kind of great.

4. Côtes du Rhône. It’s not his favourite (which is also a plus), but he recommended it to me once, and now I really like this red wine.

5. Some sounds in the French language I can make better because he drilled me. My overall pronunciation is far from perfect, but at least some sounds are better than before I met him.

Things I’m grateful to the lion for

I tend to talk about negative things, but in keeping with the warm fuzzies of the holiday season and our new-found love of turning everything into lists, I present to you 5 things that I’m grateful to the lion for.

1. An opportunity to understand the depth and power of friendship

I’ve always been blessed with good people in my life. But, around the time I left the lion and started sharing with my corner of the world what had been going on, I was dumbfounded by the magnitude of the power of friendship. It was almost like seeing colour for the first time. There is so much beauty in black and white, but it’s just not the same. These people stood up for me, they housed me, they fought for me, they checked up on me, they fed me, they helped me move, they asked me how I was doing, they gave so much and asked for nothing in return. They loved me at my lowest. They were, and still are, consistently there for me. They don’t even seem to understand how much of a mark they left on me and on my life. I have redefined friendship because of these people. Words can never fully express how grateful I am, not only for what they did, but also simply for being in my life.

If I’d never met the lion, would I have had this same opportunity to learn about the depth and power a friendship can have? …It’s possible, but at least for now, I doubt it.

2. Rediscovering who I am at my core

I’ve experienced a few identity crises so far in my life, but this was… yeah, it was up there. He started to redefine who I was. I lost interest in travel – perhaps my biggest love – among a number of other things. I dwindled down to a meaningless mass of shit. And yet, I found the strength to pick up and start moving forward. It’s taken time, but I’ve been able to rediscover who I really am, thanks to him. I work hard, I am kind, I do love traveling and music. Singing is my outlet, my sanity. I value my family and friends. I would do anything to protect my sisters. I tend to put the needs of others before mine (I’m learning to better balance this). I am a feminist and I believe in equity – as compared to equality. I feel strongly about human rights. I love learning. I am Japanese-Canadian. This is who I am, and this is how I’ll always be. Every time my world goes bleak, these things keep coming back.

3. Lighting a fire

He let the gas leak, slowly but surely, for over a year. It got pretty tough and I couldn’t breathe, but then I reached for a match, lit it, and blew it up. That lit a fire within me. To be fair, the explosion happened very slowly. But. It happened, and here I am. I’m on fire. It’s sometimes so quiet I barely notice it, but other times, the flames of determination engulf me. He put me down for not teaching him Japanese the way he wanted me to. He put me down for not learning French the way he wanted me to. He put me down for being ‘a stupid North American’ (we, in North America have no history, we don’t learn history, politics or anything apparently). He put me down for a lot of things. But now, I want to show him. I never will, but if this voice of his that lingers in my head will shut up and I can be proud of what I’ve accomplished – because I chose to do it, then it’s all worth it. I am not stupid. I am not useless. I am not helpless. I am not hopeless. I can learn – about politics, about history, about science, about coding. I can, and will, learn French. Because I’ve wanted to since I was a child. Since way before I knew him. Think I can’t do it? Watch me.

4. Setting the stage for association

I’ve become interested in, attended events, and met people that I may never have, were it not for my experiences with the lion. I’ve had the chance to talk to or reconnect with people who I may not have – at least in the way we did – were it not for him. Of course he wouldn’t have meant for any of this, but what happened and what I learned from my experiences has given me opportunities to be associated with people and things that I may not have otherwise. This blog and all that I’m learning as I construct each post, all the incredible messages of support I’ve received, the amazing therapists I have, resources that exist for those who have experienced abuse, the ability to comprehend people and situations… I wouldn’t have met my therapists, I wouldn’t have learned about resources for survivors, I wouldn’t have searched for statistics on women’s health, trauma, or resilience, I wouldn’t have read about patterns of abuse, types of abuse… My life would have been different without these people and this knowledge. And no, I don’t regret any of it.

5. The chance to be kind and understanding

Being kind and understanding isn’t always easy. Sometimes being strict, brutally honest, or setting rules and boundaries are aspects of kindness. When people have had painful experiences, they’re more likely to be able to understand someone going through a similar storm. Note how I say “more likely to be able to”, because it doesn’t always happen. Sometimes there’s too much pain to be empathetic. Sometimes you just can’t handle hearing a similar story. It happens. Some people can’t face their trauma and instead of healing, they take their anger out on others. There’s always variation in human reaction. When we hear stories, when we read stories, when we share stories, at least we have the chance, the choice, the opportunity to be emotionally available, empathetic and supportive. I’m constantly searching for more resources, more ways to understand what happened and why, and what can be done in the future to prevent, protect, and spread awareness to us all.

I was told recently, “Be kind, but also to yourself”. I really need this sometimes, and I’m sure I’m not the only one who needs to be reminded to be kind to ourselves too. Being kind to myself sometimes takes the shape of telling others to back off and leave me alone. Sometimes it takes the shape of a delicious, whole-milk latte from a friendly little neighbourhood café. Sometimes it takes the shape of taking a stroll down memory lane, allowing myself to react however I need to, and sending love and gratitude to the people I hold most dear. There are many ways to be kind to all the entities that exist around us, including people, animals, and the environment. There are also many ways that we can be kind, loving, and forgiving to ourselves. And in doing so, I think we move – even if it’s in baby steps – toward healing, hope, and confidence.

Equal or greater benefit…?

“Every adversity, every failure, every heartache carries with it the seed of an equal or greater benefit.”

~Napoleon Hill

If nothing else, I’d like to think this is true for me… The longer I live, the more time passes, the better I am able to determine whether I feel as though it’s true or not. I’ll never know ‘factually’ whether it’s true or not, but that’s not what matters. What matters is how I feel, and how I determine the quality of my life, my self, my past, my present, and my future.

(Napoleon Hill may be a bit of a ‘scammer’, but there are a number of encouraging quotes attributed to him.)


Emotional First Aid with Guy Winch

When we have a physical injury, we’ll put on a band-aid, we’ll take cold medicine… we’ll go to a doctor or hospital. But when we sustain emotional or psychological injuries, do we do this? Chances are, we don’t.

I discovered Guy Winch when I came across his TED Talk a while back. I watch it every few months, when I feel the need.

He has a blog as part of his website too, which I recommend taking a look through.

Common psychological injuries we sustain include loss, failure, loneliness, ruminating, rejection, and low self-esteem… Like physical injuries, psychological injuries can irritate or even create more injury:

Untreated rejection can cause damage to our self-esteem, which can make us behave defensively and push people away, which can makes us become more socially isolated, at which point we find ourselves feeling lonely and brooding about how our friends have stopped caring, which can lead to a full blown depression.

We tend to seek advice from, or confide in trusted friends, family, and partners when we sustain emotional or psychological injuries – but that can’t always be done; it doesn’t always give us what we need. We don’t always have someone to turn to and seek help from. That person may not be able to provide the support we want. Sometimes the person we would turn to is the one causing emotional injury.

Give thought to your emotional needs in such times, and take steps to apply emotional first aid techniques by reading […] and finding the techniques that work best for you. In time, you will develop your own psychological medicine cabinet—one you can use for many years to come, and one you can share with your children and family members.

In another article, Guy Winch gives us a list of 5 steps to better our emotional hygiene:

  1. Pay attention to emotional pain
  2. Stop emotional bleeding
  3. Protect your self-esteem
  4. Battle negative thinking
  5. Become informed about the impact of psychological wounds

It is never problematic to learn about yourself and how best to provide for yourself, to love yourself, to take action and start moving forward. Emotional first aid is just as important as physical first aid. We all have baggage, but how great would it be to lessen the load and be free (and in the process, decrease the chances of injuring others and ourselves)?

The Set-Up

I met him in September 2014, within a few days of him moving to Japan. It wasn’t long until he started sending me messages about going out for a drink. He wouldn’t leave me alone. It was pretty obvious he was hitting on me and I took that as a compliment, but I was busy doing my own thing – I had consciously decided to dedicate the next year to work and school – and his pestering was getting annoying. I finally gave in, and we met one evening after work.

We met for two ‘dates’ – in a row, if I remember correctly – and that was that. The relationship progressed quickly. He kept things at my apartment (he only had a tiny room in the university dorm that housed a lot of young, international students) and so I gave him a key. We had gotten together only a few days before I started commuting to Tokyo on the weekends to study interior design. It was an expensive and time-consuming (over 3 hour commute each way) endeavour, but I’d spent a year preparing for it and I really wanted it. I didn’t mind him having a key; I didn’t have anything to hide. It was all kind of exciting, anyway.

The bad stuff started happening early on, too. Within about 10 days of being together, he had a difficult conversation with his ex who is Japanese, living in Yokohama. Haruka. They’d been together for 6 years, and had often talked about being together again (she had been mentally unwell and had to return to Japan after living with him in France for a few years). He’d decided to come to Japan to be closer to her, but he’d met me and I’d ruined the chances for her. He had to cut ties with her. He blamed me for it. He’d loved her. They’d wanted to have a family too, but she wasn’t mentally well enough and he couldn’t trust her with his future children so he’d sent her home to get better. He’d also had a short, fun relationship with a very intelligent, beautiful, multi-lingual woman just before moving to Japan and she‘d gotten upset that he jumped into a relationship with someone new (me), almost exactly one month after the move. She was angry and decided to stop talking to him. That was my fault too. I clearly remember that evening. Conversations with both women, and with me, all happened with an hour or two.

I thought it was a bit odd at the time, but he made it sound like a sacrifice that he was doing for us. It upset him to lose these two women, but it had to be done to ‘clear the way’ for a relationship with me.

He had a foul mouth and called me a lot of names from the very beginning, but the set up was that he was just like that. He meant it in an endearing way. It was a compliment.

We had a group from work that would have lunch together everyday, and he started pulling me away to get me to help him with filling out documents and helping him find an apartment. He wanted a place with as few neighbours as possible (ideally a corner unit in a building), and multiple rooms. He was too old to be in a university dorm. Why multiple bedrooms? Maybe he’d rent a room, maybe he’d have a roommate. Maybe he would’t live alone. Why a corner unit? He winked. You know, noise. These requirements were a must. I spent hours searching online, communicating with rental companies, going to viewings, interpreting and helping him sign the forms when he finally chose one. Then, I went shopping with him for furniture and whatever else his heart desired. I had my own apartment that I loved, but he wanted my opinion on everything. He wanted me to like what he’d have at his place.

His apartment was a 3 bedroom unit, plus kitchen and living room space. His favourite room was the washitsu, the Japanese room with paper doors and tatami. The unit was in a building that overlooks the river. One floor was one unit. His was the 5th and top floor. We could even climb up to the roof of the building from his big balcony.

The evening he moved in, his young friends from the dorm rented a small truck (he couldn’t drive), helped carry all the furniture and appliances up the staircases (no elevator in the building), and helped set things up inside the apartment. They’d even helped bring some things from my apartment that I didn’t mind sending over. There was a little house-warming party that night. I was going to go home to my own beloved apartment, now that his was settled, but he didn’t want me to leave. I felt uncomfortable, but there were others around and I didn’t want to make a scene. These young international helpers seemed to think we were a great couple.

He moved in to his apartment 3 weeks into our relationship. And by ‘he moved in’, I mean I moved in too.

All of this was a secret at work. We didn’t talk about it. There were women at work who were interested in him, he told me – it was funny for him – but work life and private life should be kept separate. We should keep things quiet, at least for a while.

He didn’t let me stay in my own apartment again. We started moving my things over, carrying things by hand. He made it sound like a happy and exciting thing, but also scolded me for not sending more over earlier, when we had access to the truck and helpers that night.

I didn’t sleep in my own apartment, but I continued to pay rent. I didn’t want to let it go. It was the first time in my life that a space had really felt like it was mine. We decided that I would contribute to electricity and water bills at his place, and when I let my own apartment go, I’d start paying rent at his.

His contract to be in Japan was for two years, so I had to start learning French almost right away to have be good enough for when we moved to France together after. It’s virtually impossible to get a job in France if you don’t speak the language, he told me. Plus, his family doesn’t speak English. How would I communicate with them? There were a few other places in the States that were possible places to go do research after the two years, including Harvard (he was in high demand, you know)… but he needed to start thinking about that very soon to start strengthening networks. Haruka had learned French to stay in France. She had loved France (and why didn’t I love France as much as her?). He’d started learning Japanese for her. All of his associations with Japan involved her, so it was my responsibility to re-write it all. Except that I couldn’t teach him Japanese, I didn’t know how, I didn’t have the confidence. I had underlying issues with that. I told him from the beginning I could support his learning, but I couldn’t teach him. I was a trained English teacher.

The language exchange that he’d dreamed up for us didn’t happen (especially the way he’d wanted it to), and he brought it up daily for months and months on end. It was my fault, and he never, ever, let me forget that. It was always my fault. Everything was always my fault. Didn’t matter what I did – it was too much or too little. But he was doing it all for me, so that I could learn to be less selfish, less arrogant; so that I could learn to be a better partner, a more supportive partner. He was always trying to show me the way, so that I could become a beautiful, sophisticated, intelligent woman. He wanted to be proud of me.

There were so many red flags, but I didn’t see them, I minimized them, I ignored them. (How many did you count as you read this?) I wanted to think that maybe I’d finally met the man who would sweep me off my feet, that would treat me well, unlike some other men in my life who had for years manipulated and taken advantage of me.

In a way, he did sweep me off my feet.

The more time we spent together, the more he tore into me. Picking away at my mental and physical health, every minute of every day. I often didn’t even realize what was going on. He was always there in constant texts and phone calls, if not in person. (Looking back, it’s interesting to note that as the relationship got worse and both of us had declining mental health, his name-calling faded away.)

The ill-treatment I’d received in my lifetime leading up to my relationship with him had apparently only given me a higher tolerance for it. And like most other things in my life, this was something I felt had to fix myself. It was up to me to do something. But, I tolerated it, I put up with it, I sometimes even appreciated it.

“A scar means, I survived.”

“I ask you right here please to agree with me that a scar is never ugly. That is what the scar makers want us to think. But you and I, we must make an agreement to defy them. We must see all scars as beauty. Okay? This will be our secret. Because take it from me, a scar does not form on the dying. A scar means, I survived.”

~ Chris Cleave







「ココロは自分の体調の悪さを隠せるから他の人は気付いてないんでしょ、どれだけ苦しんでるか知らないんでしょ…だからココロが心配なんだよ、表に出さないから。他の人を優先するから。」14年ぶりに会った憧れのお姉さんに言われてしまったよ…いつから知ってたんだろう。 思わず涙が出たよ。重い病気で苦しんでるのに…私のことなんか心配しなくて良いのに。