“You learned to run from what you feel, and that's why you have nightmares. To deny is to invite madness. To accept is to control.“ - Megan Chance
It's August 2017. Summer in the land of the rising sun and unbearable humidity! I feel the sweat beads run down my back and stick to my work shirt. I'm so self conscious of how disheveled I look and GOD, how I must smell! I make sure to put deodorant on and spray myself silly with fragrances but I still have a fear of smelling funky! I have just finished biking up what feels like, a 90° angle hill to get to the second café of the day where my private English student was waiting. An hour later, I will be doing the same thing again to meet another student at another café. The endless cycle of sweat and the self consciousness goes on and on until 9pm when the cafés close for the day and I call it a day.
This was my after work routine. On lucky days, I get to stay in one café and teach a few students. If I wasn't...well, then it was off to biking to 2 or 3 different locations and drinking 3 cups of coffee (mind you, I like coffee but not THAT much). It wasn't unlike me to be jiggery on my bike ride home and unable to sleep from all the coffee in my system. Now, my day off routine? Did I have any days off? I must have but I was either too tired or too anxious to remember ever having them. I worked. What else would I do?
This all started in 2016 when I was still living in Nagoya and working at a Japanese printing company. I surrendered myself into the first non-teaching job that would take me. The job paid a fraction of what I used to make as an ALT (assistant language teacher) but I took it because I wanted to prove to others that I had broken out of the English teacher bubble and gotten myself a "real" job in Japan.
Honestly though, one of the biggest reasons was because I refused to feel the pain of the breakup from the first person I ever fell in love with, someone whom I had anchored my entire future on. When our relationship ended, I cut ties with my feelings, with the present, the future, and reality. I couldn't handle how dangerously large and empty the world suddenly became. I retreated into the past and replayed the memories of our relationship like a broken record. The more I remembered, the more I began feel like I had lost all value as a person. I felt pathetic in my new job that I couldn't keep up with and lonely in a new city without friends. I became a recluse, depressed and hopeless. Many nights I would cry as I walked home because I was so miserable. But I was also so scared to tell anyone about my failures. I was stupidly stubborn and somehow still holding onto a last thread of pride. I didn't want people to see how pathetic I was or the fact that I had no plan or idea of what to do with my life. I simply plastered on a smile and continued to toil on and work because money in my account made me feel like it quantified my existence. I started to look for alternative income. Slowly, I found and started to teach a small number of students. Working became the perfect cure to my empty days. I became obsessed with finding ways to increase my finances in order to add value to my existence. And so I started on a path of becoming a negligent and unhealthy workaholic.
When I was called in for my second year evaluation, I shocked my boss and myself by unexpectedly breaking down in tears. I quit immediately and found myself moving to Osaka, the city I had dreamed to live ever since I landed in 2009. The city of new beginnings! But as you read, nothing much had changed. If anything, my addiction to working became worse because of the vast market of ambitious students in Japan's second largest city, Osaka. At the peak of my workaholism, I was working well over 60 hours a week. I was mentally and physically exhausted and becoming evermore anxious about my finances. It was so strange. The more I was making, the more horrifyingly real that I really meant nothing except the numbers in my bank book. It was never enough! And so I would push myself to work even more. I would always tell myself that I was having fun meeting new people and that my hours were nothing compared to corporate workers who sometimes worked 100 hours per week in Japan. But then again, Japan is famous for karoshi, death by overworking, so that should have put off a siren in my mind on how delusional I had become.
Being a workaholic isn't necessarily a bad thing. It becomes a problem when you have the wrong intentions. Take me for a perfect example. I was filling up a gas tank with the wrong kind of fuel and flooring the gas trying to go as fast as I could. Meanwhile, I was also driving blindfolded, praying that I wouldn't crash and being totally unaware of the damage the bad fuel was causing to my car. There was no end in sight and I didn't realize how dangerously off track I have strayed. Hell, I had no idea where I was headed... only that I was headed towards a miserable and meaningless life.