憂鬱 (Yuutsu): When Mental Health Is Mistranslated
How could I navigate my Japanese-language emotions in pursuit of a Western psychiatric label?
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.
More by this author
Hafu carries insinuations of otherness; of not belonging, but being fetishized. How do I carry this name and this history at once?
Nukumori can refer to a kind of existence not dependent on physical proximity, allowing a person’s presence to linger with you even if they cannot.
When he asked me how to say “I love you” in Japanese, I translated linguistically, but mistranslated culturally.
More in this series
To me, ‘daiji’ embodies the struggle to prioritize two languages, homes, and selves.
‘Setsunai’ implies something once bright, now faded. It is the painful twinge at the edge of a memory, the joy in the knowledge that everything is temporary.