Ahh, the classic tale of the modern girl-boss, and perhaps the inevitable burnout. Glorified and hyped up between our female friends, I too, was a shameful devotee of that lifestyle. But after reconnecting with my school friends and seeing the similar obstacles we were facing, I have decided that it is so not worth it.
Gnawed by feminist doctrines from our all-girls grammar school, my friends and I were inflicting unattainable expectations on ourselves. The goal was to be high achieving but brilliantly witty and relaxed; motivated but sensitive and understanding; independent but a fiercely loyal friend, daughter, and sister. Yesssssss, pussy cunt slay, we would say, while chugging our third energy drink of the day. Our busy fingers flicked through pages of economics textbooks written by cis, old, white men (the usual suspects) trying to cram principles about rationality and productivity. Minds which were already wandering off to that other essay, internship, surprising him for his birthday, checking up on mom, and on and on. When we step outside the door, we would carry ourselves with poise, only to return home to face the snowballed commitments we had cornered ourselves into.
And now that we were slightly older, self-awareness that this was not so “slay” was kicking in. So, we would search for momentary relief. Maybe we would amuse ourselves by wallowing in mutual self-pity over a glass of supermarket wine. Or maybe we would compromise self-care with retail therapy, hair appointments, or boy talk. We do not have the time to take a break and face ourselves, we would say. And self-denial told us we did not need it anyway.
So, head in the sand, we would go on, feeling quite smug for being oh-so-self-sufficient. Meeting or even exceeding expectations that we had set for ourselves.
Only... it was just plain silly.
There were moments when my friends and I would look at each other and burst out laughing at the burnt-out, painted smile we had. A smile that felt like home. Here was yet another (immigrant) daughter who had tied her self-worth to the number of accolades she had received.
It was well-done stickers, parents’ praise, or Instagram likes (especially from our crushes) that spiked our dopamine. Not once did I feel like I was enough, which, in hindsight, is not only ridiculous but also super ignorant of the pedestal of privilege we sat on.
It took seeing my friends struggle to sober me up. I was desperate to help them, but I knew that I did not have the answers. Extending a helping hand now would only satisfy my convent narcissistic need for validation. I did not know anything about what mental healthcare actually entails. I came to realize how frightful this was. Next year I graduate from a university. As I hopefully find my place in the world and become an adult, I did not want to be one of the too many people who let their unaddressed “grey spots” taint colorful relationships or their view of the world.
So, I was finally willing to put on my big-girl pants and admit I wanted to change. I wanted to learn more about my mind, mental health, and coping mechanisms. I wanted to learn about my emotions from an objective non-judgmental place. About how I reacted to different situations. How to deal with unplanned obstacles in a constructive way. What truly made me happy, without external validation.
It has been about two months since I have started to address my mental health, and I already notice the small differences. I cringe to admit that my Notes app is filled with quotes I would have once eye-rolled over. “Replace expectation with appreciation,” is one of them. I know, ew, but it is true. Irrespective of success or failure, I have made it a habit to find a moment of tranquillity in a cup of morning coffee. I am learning to understand my feelings from a compassionate but logical perspective. And even though I am still ambitious, I am learning to let go of high expectations and to appreciate my position for being able to have so many options in the first place. It is a day-by-day process, and sometimes I feel I regress more than move forward. Still, I pat myself on the back for taking the first step.
When I was chasing that Girl Boss archetype, I dismissed mental wellness as an incompatible lifestyle. That matcha-latte drinking, puppy-yoga-loving, dream-journaling person is just not me, I thought. But even though it is true that wellness is severely aestheticized, the fact remains that mental health should be an integral part of all of our lives. Just like we have check-ups or go to the gym to care for our physical bodies, mental health requires maintenance and, unfortunately, some time off our busy schedules. Investing that time might not always come with tangible rewards, but I figured I would much rather prefer to be foolishly content no matter where I ended up than be a girl boss in solitude.
Lastly, I acknowledge that mental health resources are not always accessible to everyone. Overcrowding the mental health space to talk about my trivial issues and take away attention from underprivileged communities is the last thing I want to do. Being a girl boss often roots in the struggle to better the quality of your life, particularly for those who are in disadvantaged positions. Those who must worry about putting food on the table, particularly for others, may not be in a position to discard the hustle mindset and focus on themselves. As a student who still largely relies on her parents to live comfortably enough, I am in no position to convince you why you should refrain from the girl boss attitude.
So, I extend an invitation for open dialogue, in an effort to hear more about your experiences and advance the discussions for accessible mental healthcare. In the meantime, please find the list of free mental healthcare resources you can find in Japan and internationally. And for the rest of us, let the lack of resources be an eye-opener and an inspiration for future advocacy.
I need immediate help:
Yorisoi Hotline: (+81) 0120-279-338 A hotline offering telephone consultation in multiple languages. Note that not all counselors are certified officially (although most usually have one or are in the process of obtaining one).
Tokyo English Life Line (TELL) : (+81) 03-5774-0992 Offers free anonymous support every day via phone or online chat. Also offers professional counseling and children’s psychological assessment in their Tokyo and Okinawa clinic (see here). *Please note counseling sessions are not free of charge.
I want someone to talk to:
7 Cups (website/app): https://www.7cups.com/ Online chat group offering support towards the LGBTQIA+ community. Offers paid online counseling services with professionals.
AJET Peer Support Group: https://www.ajetpsg.com/ Offers free counseling via Skype or phone (8 pm - 7 am every day including weekends and holidays). No professional counseling but they may be able to refer you to an English-speaking professional.
Problem Shared: https://www.problemshared.net/ Access a network of professionals who can offer personalized counseling. Students may be able to access the service for free through the ‘University Space’, as long as your uni is a partner.
IbashoChat (talkme): https://talkme.jp Free (anonymous) counseling via 24 hours chat service. Not a professional counseling but great if you just want to vent or relieve stress. Please note that they do not offer English-speaking services, but may be able to talk in simplified Japanese (yasashi nihongo).
I want to learn more about my mental health:
Moodfit (free app): https://www.getmoodfit.com/ Helps track your emotions and moods which may help you understand your feelings better. No professional counseling is provided.
Wellness with Ella (podcast available on Spotify, Apple, and YouTube): https://deliciouslyella.com/podcast/ Candid discussions with guests who open up about their mental wellness journey. Could be a place to start learning more about mental health in general.
Radio Headspace (podcast available on Spotify, Apple, Google, and more): https://link.chtbl.com/radioheadspace Introduces research-backed tactics and personal stories to understand how to declutter our headspace. Short episodes might be appropriate for those looking to squeeze a few minutes of self-care time into your day!
TED Health (podcast available on Spotify, Apple, Google, and more): https://www.ted.com/podcasts/ted-health Discussions about our wellness from a medical perspective, often cite new scientific discoveries and breakthroughs.
Never not creative (podcast available on Spotify, Apple, Google, and more): https://www.nevernotcreative.org/podcasts Interviews with mental health professionals, consultants, and creatives. For the aspiring girl boss, check out ‘More Than Checking Podcast’ (aired Sept 2022) for a personal story about being successful at your own pace. Also, check out ‘Exploring Mental Health’ (aired June 2022) which discusses mental health in a work environment + men’s mental health.
Get Real: Talking mental health & Disability (podcast available on Spotify, Apple, Google, and more): https://www.buzzsprout.com/922639 Discussions about mental health x disability through interviews with people with lived experiences, frontline workers, and policymakers.
Written by Karin Shimoo
Edited by Emiru Okada
Graphics by Claudia MacPhail