The green digits twinkled on the screen and my vision blurred. That’s enough for one night, I thought.

I was exhausted, having slept only five hours a day in the past week. But, in some idiosyncratic way, I felt fulfilled for having finished the tasks before me.

Work was on track, and my social life prospered in Tokyo. Life finally felt comfortable. When I moved to Tokyo from Paris, I was determined to have the time of my life and enjoy it instead of indulging in books each weekend. There was no shortage of people around me. There were bankers, artists, lawyers, teachers, head hunters, television celebrities, models, and executives … The effervescence of the crowd and my friends made my head spin. People kept coming and people kept going — I couldn’t keep up! And in the midst of the whirl of colour that was my social life, there was within me a melancholy that was more marked, a profound annihilation. Something was missing.

I was a hamster running non-stop on a wheel in a small cage. However bright a lime green or magenta it was, it was still a cage. A claustrophobic one at that. The glass doors boxing me in provided an illusory sense of comfort and contentment. It was the world in which I was brought up and told to follow the rules, to abstain from drink and drugs. It was the world in which I was told not to have sex before marriage because it was unholy, and to attend Sunday school every week. It was suffocating.

I gazed out to the unknown world, wondering if there could be life beyond the constricting walls of the cage.

No one seemed to understand why I was dissatisfied with my current environment. To every other hamster, it seemed that I had the best layer of hay under my little paws. I was in my prime, and the future could only be dazzling with a pristine career path, luxury apartments, captivating parties, and important business trips.

I did not want to be a hamster. Every time I ventured towards the cage door, I could hear my mother growling and feel her disapproving eyes boring into my back. I would open the door for a peek and slump back in anguish.

I should have enjoyed what I had! I should have learnt to be grateful! Surely I should have been happy in my company role — it was what was expected of me after gaining top honours in university!

Was it wrong to want something different? Was it rebellious to want to explore? I imagine anyone who peered into my life would criticise me for being an ungrateful little prick; there were starving children in Africa, and even homeless people just next door — I should have been thankful I had a job! I pacified my conscience by helping to distribute food to the homeless at Ueno Park every other Sunday afternoon.

The little voice in me warned me to take time to breathe. It jumped up and down to catch my attention. Life didn’t need to be this way — not the way I was living it. I didn’t need to eat instant noodles every day. I didn’t need the obsession with the title on my business card. My body conspired against me, giving me frequent colds and drowning me in chronic fatigue. I swatted it away as though with a tennis racket.

Oppressed by peer pressure and obsessed with what society considered success — money, a title, a corporate job — I soldiered on.

Excerpted from “Stress in the City: Playing My Way Out of Depression”, available on Amazon and Trigger Press, and retail bookstores.

Originally published on Medium.

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