Contributed by Ava Senaratne of TCK Town, Multicultural Stories from Around the Globe
I’ve had this conversation with a few times with some friends already (and you might have too): not one country really does mental health “well”. From what I’ve seen through my journey as a TCK, we still haven’t cracked the code.
In Tokyo, the record is abysmal for healthy working practices. On the way to work on rainy days, it became second nature to leave earlier than usual because desperate salary men and women threw themselves in front of trains when the weather turned grey. And don’t even get me started on how harmful gender stereotypes are over there. From what I’ve experienced from the older members of my family who grew up in Sri Lanka, there really hasn’t been much awareness at all about good mental health practices to pass down to our generation (my grandfather’s favourite phrase, unfortunately, is “steel your mind!!”). In Melbourne, although there is some relief (my friends, colleagues and I can openly talk about issues regarding anxiety, depression and seeing our therapists), it’s not good enough yet. I am still haunted by our ridiculous “vote for gay marriage” questionnaire that would have shattered the mental health of many who have already struggled for years under the many burdens that come with LGBTQ+ identities.
Despite the downfalls and disappointments, I have learned. One of the invaluable traits of being a TCK is my ability to sort through the chaff and store away the golden pieces of wisdom I’ve found. I’ve developed the skill of adopting ways of thinking that suit me best without being prejudiced by where those ideas came from.
Here’s my TCK collection of good mental health practices that I hope serves you as well as they have served me:
When you’re not okay, and someone asks, “How are you?”, tell the truth. I’ve made a big effort to commit to this over the last two years and have found that the people around me have been receptive and supportive every single time I haven’t answered with, “Fine! You?”
If you’ve been feeling lethargic and unmotivated for more than a week or so, check in with your GP, and see if you need to get on a mental health plan. In the same way you can’t fix a broken leg on your own, you need the support of a therapist when something doesn’t feel right. Motivational internal dialogue and ‘sucking it up’ can patch the problem up but it won’t fix it. In the same way that letting that leg ‘heal on its own’ instead of putting it in a cast could have you limping for the rest of your life, not addressing the state of your mental health now will have repercussions later, and how you’re feeling is not just going to ‘go away with time’.
Ask your friends for help. It can be for big things like, “Can you help me pack before I move?” Or, “Can you check in on me over the next few days? Need a bit of support.” It’s embarrassing, but if you have good people in your life, it will never go astray. (If you’re not sure if you have good people in your life, this is a great way to get rid of the crap ones!)
Show up. Is your friend upset and stressed out about law exams? Is someone you know having a hard time with their family? Make them dinner, ring their door bell, drop the food off and say you wanted to do something to help them out through this difficult time. Or catch up for a 20 minute coffee in the morning before work. Calls and texts in this time of connectivity are awesome but in my experience, it can mean we take the necessity of intimate and genuine connection for granted.
TOKYO (BUT MOSTLY QUEER EYE):
Grooming is not a form of vanity, it’s a form of self care. While you don’t have to put on a full face of makeup or wear a suit before you head to work, make time for applying nourishing oil on your skin after your morning shower, or a bit of wax in your hair to elevate your look. It will make a difference to how you start your day.
Get away from the city whenever you can. I’m not a hiker and I don’t drive so trekking through mountains or cross-country road trips were never an option. I’d visit temples with dense foliage to block out the busyness of Tokyo, or huge gardens like Shinjuku Gyoen, where you can only see the tops of neighbouring buildings. New environments will help you gain new perspectives, especially if something has been worrying you for a while.
Food is nourishment. Whether it’s nourishing your soul (put your take-out on a nice plate, grab you cutlery and pour yourself a glass of wine next time you order dinner) or your body (make the effort to add one serving of something healthy to each meal), showing up for yourself in small ways reinforces that you are worthy of love and nurturing. As lovely as some humans can be, we are still not very good at practicing these sorts of kindnesses for ourselves, which in turn affects the way we treat others. Start small, and it will eventually spill over into other areas of your life.
SRI LANKA & MELBOURNE:
If you only take one thing away from this article, try and make it this: Practice mindfulness. No, that doesn’t mean sitting in the lotus position and humming in your bedroom. On the way to work, when you’re getting dressed, when you’re flicking through Instagram, check in with yourself. The digital communication era has given us a million ways to numb ourselves to what’s going on internally, and I think many of us have subscribed to more of it than we think. Here’s an easy way to start:
How am I feeling physically? – “My feet are cold on the bathroom floor. My hands are wet and my lips are tingling from the toothpaste. The back of my shoulder blades are a little tense.”
Look at your physical experience in more detail – “I think my shoulder blades are tense because I’m a bit stressed out.”
Look again – “Why am I stressed out while I’m brushing my teeth?! Oh, because of the presentation I have to do at lunch.”
Look again – “I’m uncomfortable because I misinterpreted the brief yesterday and I don’t want to be on the wrong track with this preso again today. That would be really embarrassing.”
Sit with how you feel for a bit and don’t try to ‘resolve’ it – “Yup, it makes sense that I’m nervous. I’ve only been working here six months. And I tend to be pretty hard on myself when I mess up.”
I find that bringing the subconscious into the conscious and then practicing acceptance about how I’m feeling (instead of “don’t worry, it will be fine!”, which is a great way to negate your experience) often acts like a release. I’ve acknowledged what’s wrong and that means my body and mind are not internalizing the stress. It’s out in the open so that I can get on with my day instead of holding all of it in. With practice, you’ll get much faster at it and be able to work through this train of thought anywhere.
What small (and big) mental health practices have you learned from your countries? Comment below. I’d love to learn more and add to my collection!
Ava Senaratne is the Editor-In-Chief of tcktown.com, a journal which celebrates cross-culturalism with raw and real stories from around the world. Ava is from Australia, was born in Sri Lanka, grew up in the Middle East and has lived in Tokyo too. Her many homes have made her a passionate advocate for diversity and connection, values she tries to live everyday.