Cover Photo: photo by 紀念你離開的那個夏日 ’ マンダク / flickr
photo by 紀念你離開的那個夏日 ’ マンダク / flickr

憂鬱 (Yuutsu): When Mental Health Is Mistranslated

How could I navigate my Japanese-language emotions in pursuit of a Western psychiatric label?

This is Mistranslate, a monthly column by Nina Li Coomes about language, self-expression, and what it means to exist between cultures.

The Magic School Bus,

Crazy Like Us,

aha! Instead, the DSM provided only disappointment. Awash in checklists and qualifiers, all I found were metrics for what an insurance company would pay for and what amount of distress would fall under the category of “Mental Disorder.”

Even so, later that semester I found myself in the waiting room of the undergraduate mental health center, wishing I had found a label to describe how I felt, so I could stride into the office, sit in the chintz armchair and spit out a diagnosis, easy to understand and easy to treat. I was left only with confusion for how to translate this yuutsu. How could I navigate my Japanese-language emotions in pursuit of a Western psychiatric label? Did my heart have a cold? Should I be medicated, in therapy, or both? Was I depressed, anxious, or disordered? I tried each word out, spinning them like coins on the tip of my tongue. Every time, they fell flat and false.

Nina Li Coomes is a Japanese and American writer, currently living in Boston, MA. Her writing has appeared in EATER, The  Collapsar, and  RHINO Poetry among other places. Her debut chapbook haircut poems was published by Dancing Girl Press in 2017.