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Nov 6, 2018

When to Quit: Anxiety Attack Edition

    Around 18 months ago, I took a part-time job with an eikaiwa that served a nearby kindergarten. The Japanese assistant teacher they set me up with was meant to go over lesson plans with me and drive me to the school, then help with the lessons themselves. She did these things, but her expectations were hard to understand despite her high English fluency. If I didn't promptly respond to her emailed lesson plans, she had her manager text me in complaint. If I disagreed with something on a lesson plan, she ignored my suggestions and proceeded as she had planned. This lesson plan business was never about getting my opinion, I have recently realized. It was about her asserting control. The same went for our arranged meeting time. If I arrived at her car at the arranged meeting time of 9:50, she would say I was late. If I was earlier, she would complain about that, too.

    She was affable enough with small talk, but I've lived here long enough to avoid putting too much trust in this behavior from Japanese coworkers. Is it friendliness or just politeness? I'm no expert, so I responded in a friendly-professional manner.

I was getting paid less than what I deserve given my experience and abilities, but I was happy teaching the little kids and I didn't have to put together the lesson plans or props. It was so easy, I reasoned, that the pay was acceptable.
When to Quit: Anxiety Attack Edition photo
View from Above. Now imagine it's dark and gray, with little visibility due to rain.

    Then came a morning a few weeks back when I got to our "meeting place" (which happened to be a large parking lot, her choice) and stood in the rain. Since the wind was too strong to use an umbrella, I was there, getting completely drenched for a full ten minutes, waiting for some sign from any of the gray cars waiting in the parking lot. No sign came until my phone vibrated from an email from her telling me to "just go shopping" as she had "waited long enough" and was leaving without me. Shocked, I replied that I had been waiting there in the rain for ten minutes, only to be interrupted by a text from the manager, asking where I was and why she was leaving without me. I explained my situation to the best of my ability.

When to Quit: Anxiety Attack Edition photo
In the rain, everything but that one red car would appear gray. Could you spot the right car? I couldn't.
    

    The manager asked if I would take a taxi. By this point I was shaking and nauseous, but could still do the math. I didn't make enough in a day on that job to afford a taxi to the school and back. I couldn't imagine trying to get a ride home from the lady who left me standing in the rain and blamed me for it. I declined, explaining that I felt I was about to vomit and would not be able to come to work after all.
    I did as suggested and went through the nearby grocery store, grabbing things for dinner while my chest pains and confusion grew worse and worse. By the time I got home, I was just together enough to google the symptoms of an anxiety attack and self-diagnose. 
    Before this incident, I had never suffered an anxiety attack. Despite levels of social anxiety I face daily, I have never had this combination of symptoms coalesce before. I always get out of tough situations before much more than a little shaking or rapid breathing takes place. I know when I am uncomfortable and how to manage it, but this was different. 


    A friend who lives nearby rushed over to help me and agreed that the situation was unreasonable. Once calm, I texted the manager, who had called twice since I had explained that I wasn't coming in. When I explained that I had just had an anxiety attack, she responded by demanding that I call her back, insisting that I "must use the phone."
    On a good day in my home country, I get anxiety from talking on the phone with people I don't know or like very well. Add on an anxiety attack abroad and there is no way I can do this. Not sanely. Not safely. 
    So I didn't respond until the following Monday, when I informed both the manager and the teacher that I would no longer be available for classes as I had taken on other work at that time.

    Business culture in Japan is much different than that of other countries and the demands put upon workers can seem extreme. Some of these things can be tolerated as cultural differences, but when you have serious physical, emotional, or mental problems stemming from your treatment, it's time to look for other work and get out as quickly as you can. If you're a native English speaker living in Japan, you have a marketable skill and can likely find work that doesn't actually inflict pain.

JTsuzuki

JTsuzuki

A working mom/writer/teacher, Jessica explores her surroundings in Miyagi-ken and Tohoku, enjoying the fun, quirky, and family friendly options the area has to offer.


5 Comments

  • TonetoEdo

    on Nov 6

    I’m sorry you were abused like this. Your description makes it sound like power harassment. Can the labor board do anything to get compensation?

  • TonetoEdo

    on Nov 6

    I’m sorry you were abused like this. Your description makes it sound like power harassment. Can the labor board do anything to get compensation?

  • Jackson

    on Nov 6

    Wow, that is pretty gross. Sorry to hear that you had to go through that!

  • JTsuzuki

    on Nov 8

    @TonetoEdo That's what I thought, too, but I'm not sure how to go about anything with the labor board here. Since I wasn't a properly contracted worker, just a part-timer with a verbal agreement, and the job itself was for classes that only occurred nine times a year, I don't know that it's worth the time and effort. Thanks for the suggestion though.

  • JTsuzuki

    on Nov 8

    @Jackson Thanks. It was not awesome.