Trials and tribulations – I’ve had my share

I’m not really sure where to start! I mostly just want to get a 2013 post underway, really, but so much has happened since the last entry–and so many things from before then I never wrote about–that I don’t know what to say. I feel like most of it has been largely positive, though. I’d like to say that. In the fall, I was struggling, kind of majorly. I was having panic attacks and feeling alone and sort of freaking out. Everything chafed. Mostly, it was unexpectedly stressful – I wasn’t prepared for it at all. I hit a few low points, including the time I went over a curb on my bike and felt like it had rattled my head enough to cause some sort of health crisis and was so worried something bad was on the verge of happening that I called both the Japanese equivalent of 911 (accidentally – I had the number out but didn’t mean to dial it) and my branch manager, and had him talk me down, or rather just have a normal conversation with me to distract me. Shortly after that incident, I felt so desperate one night I called a foreigners-in-Japan helpline, cried on the phone to the nice woman on the other end, and considered starting video-based therapy. In the end I didn’t because I didn’t like the vibe I was getting from the service I was going to use (also it was going to be very expensive, but because I have a job they didn’t see why I would balk at paying full price), but I did go on my old antidepressant (taken for anxiety) for a month. I think that helped.

I feel much better now, but looking back on the fall, it was kind of a harrowing experience. One of my friends here said he experienced the same thing and his first 2-3 months in Japan were just a hectic blur. I was hoping it wouldn’t take so long for my initial adjustment period to calm down but it did.

Weirdly enough, the winter break trip I took sort of cemented a lot of things for me. I left Japan with a lot of anxiety centering around my chest region–I couldn’t tell if I was experiencing a lot of persistent heartburn, or actual heart problems, despite my youth and health. I had stopped exercising as much as usual because I kept getting too freaked out by anytime my heart beat fast. Somehow, I returned to Japan and then traveled around it by myself before coming back to my city and by that time so much of my anxiety had just dissolved. I’ve been able to exercise again, I haven’t worried about chest pains, and while I still feel anxiety and panic from time to time, it’s much more manageable. I feel more settled in my life here and I love so much of what I am experiencing every day. Of course, I’m also leaving in two months–of course it’s always like that.

My winter break trip was… I don’t even know how to describe it. It started out okay, it took a nosedive and hit absolute rock bottom and became hellish and terrible, I spent $500 to get back to Japan early (and had to restrain myself from spending another $1,500 to come all the way home to the US for a visit – was on the verge of doing it, too, but ended up deciding it was too much money for too short a time), I decided to travel by myself even though that hadn’t been the plan at all and it was nothing I would have ever chosen for myself. I spent three nights in one city and three nights in another, and came home changed – as stupid as that sounds. I let go, and managed to land on my feet–not only that, but take off running. I felt like a phoenix risen from the ashes. Exhilarating. Of course, the negative aspects of the trip have resulted in a probably temporary loss of a family relationship, but that’s not my concern for now. I feel good because I’m taking back my equal right to dictate the terms of that relationship, and I’m not wavering until things are more balanced. Until then, I can be patient.

I just can’t even express how wonderful it was to discover that I could have a freaking fabulous time traveling around Japan by myself. First of all, I was thrilled to come back to a country where I spoke the language. It didn’t even feel foreign, it felt like a relief, especially compared to another country where I didn’t speak the main language. Then, meeting friendly, fun people in hostels, even ending up spending a day sightseeing with them, and going out New Year’s Eve with those other hostel guests and some of the hostel employees–and then, in the early hours, fulfilling my dream of experiencing hatsumoude in Japan, especially great as the weirdo shrine aficionado I’ve become–was just perfect beyond expectations. Plus I got to spend time in major cities and soak up all the things I can’t get in mine. I would have never planned a solo travel trip for myself unless it was an absolute last resort, but now I like the idea so much better and I won’t let a lack of a traveling companion get in the way of my visiting anything I want to from now on. Sometimes if you choose the wrong person to travel with, the trip can be even more stressful than if you were alone – I learned that. That person and I were going to travel together again, so one positive thing to come of that very bad situation is that we won’t be planning those sure-to-be-miserable trips anymore. Also, I agreed to go to a place I wasn’t wholeheartedly interested in going to mainly so I could have a traveling companion – I won’t make that mistake again either. Nevertheless, once I took control of my destiny again, things turned around miraculously and in the end it was all worthwhile. I can’t say enough how transformative the experience was, how much confidence it gave me and how much more secure I feel now in every regard. I was accused of insecurity, and maybe that was true, but I think it was more the general situation than anything intrinsic about me. I also really, really enjoyed just traveling in Japan, not working. It made me like Japan better, and forget some of my bitterness over the little ‘microaggressions’ you have to deal with as part of life in Japan as a person who is visibly non-Japanese. Slipping into tourist mode can be so refreshing, even if it means a higher likelihood of people assuming I can’t speak Japanese, or trying to assist me if I spend too much time looking at maps and timetables (this happened twice – once we just ended up chatting in Japanese as the college student escorted me one block to the AEON that contained a Saizeriya I’d been searching for, and once the girl flounced back to her boyfriend to announce “She speaks Japanese!” with maybe a bit of a disappointed air that I wasn’t so helpless as she’d thought. In both cases, though, I applaud their bravery for approaching me with English).

Then I worked for a couple weeks before leaving to go abroad again (taking time off work), this time for four nights in Hong Kong to meet one of my best friends that I’ve known since third grade. I got to be spoiled by her parents as we all wandered the city together and they paid for my meals and transportation (feeling, wonderfully, as protected and safe and thus relaxed as if I were with my own family), meet a bunch of her relatives, and have a more authentic experience than I would have otherwise. I also got to complete my tour of every currently built and completed Disney park in the world by going to Hong Kong Disneyland. But I have to say I experienced so much pushy rudeness from the mainland China people there that I have no desire to visit the Shanghai park when it’s done. That’s one of those cases where Japanese people, whatever their other faults, are sooooooo much better; so polite and so courteous. The park was good, a cool experience because it feels almost identical to the LA park which is my favorite, but it’s missing too many rides and the lands are not fleshed out enough as a result. But we were able to virtually walk right onto Space Mountain and ride the best version of it (nearly identical to the LA version, which is perfect), which is never possible in LA because it’s super popular so the line is always long and you can never ride it more than once in one day unless you want to spend half the day waiting. But I was able to ride it twice! Ahh, so great. Poor Ena though, she’s not the biggest fan of roller coasters and is not used to them at all, so while she gamely rode the rides with me (including one in the kids’ land that reminded both of us of one roller coaster from the fair we used to visit for band competitions in middle school), she was freaking out and screaming with real fear the whole time!

I really had a great time with her though; we hung out a lot with our other friends after we all graduated college and came back home, but she moved to the other side of the country for grad school after a few years and lives there now. I missed her most recent visit to our hometown and she hadn’t been back for a while before that, so it had been quite a while since we’d seen each other last, which just meant we never ran out of things to talk about because we had a lot to catch up on! Really great trip and amazing experience; so glad I got to do that.

Oh yes, and my birthday was my day of travel to Hong Kong, so it was kind of a weird birthday (even though several people from my city had offered to do something for me that weekend, as it fell on a Saturday, but I wasn’t going to be there and had to postpone those offers). I did get to spend the morning (time to kill before my flight) relaxing at a public bath, which was very nice, even if some bossy old ladies tried to tell me what to do. One told me I should wear my locker key bracelet on my person even in the baths (something I never do because I’d like to be able to relax in the baths without the feel of something on my body, I always leave it somewhere nearby instead – it’s Japan! No one is going to take it and steal stuff from my locker, especially not on the women’s side of a public bath!) and one made me get all the way in the cold bath… but once we got to the city and Ena’s grandma’s apartment, her mom brought out a bunch of leftovers including some Chinese BBQ pork/char siu. Yum!!! I actually ate a ton of that this trip… it was all delicious. I love BBQ pork. Anyway, I guess I’m 27 now. I’m really not thrilled about that, or the lines I can now see under my eyes, but it’s basically a しょうがない (can’t-be-helped) situation.

From now on my goal is to line up a job before my move to Tokyo at the end of March. Oh, and I’m studying N1, hoping I can be able to pass in July. I suppose more on that later. Kirk also bought plane tickets to come visit me around that same time period!! Super exciting! But yeah, I’m now busy planning our trip and job hunting (and eventually I’ll need to think about finding a place to live, too). I’m starting to get a little worried about my chances of success, as a few things that I was really interested in have not panned out at all it seems, but I’m getting a moderate degree of initial interest and I’m going to keep trying. Hopefully something will come together…

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