Monday, May 24, 2010

Make A Joyful Noise

        Spent a bad weekend curled into a fetal ball eating pocky. That's leetle  Japanese chocolate dipped pretzel sticks for you folks not in the know. It was a rainy weekend, but that wasn't the source of my angst. I just suddenly got the feeling that nothing was quite right in the world and nothing could make it better. Not even two boxes of pocky and that usually solves everything. I had taken a walk earlier in the rain, which normally I love, but which in this instance only made me wet, and cold. I came home feeling anxious, lonely, and unaccountably tense, almost like I was having a breakdown.  Even my skin itched.
Have you ever gotten the feeling that somewhere just out of sight, behind the sets, and the bright lights that fool us into thinking we live in "reality", somewhere the real world is just falling apart? It's a consequence of being separate. Of feeling like other people aren't really real. It's that I'm the only real person in the universe, "One is the loneliest number" feeling you get when depression looms over you and you wish one person would acknowledge you.
     I think other people are better about combating this feeling than I am.  It has always seemed to me like every one else is just so happy (hawk, spit- ptooey!). And I'm not- not all the time, not exuberantly happy like some people. It quite literally makes me want to go to sleep and not wake up some days. I sometimes have the feeling that if I just went to sleep in my bed one night and didn't wake up, my body would just evaporate. And I would be okay with that.
     Feeling that disconnect is not a modern problem, but it is a growing one. It's so easy nowadays to be apart from people physically, and emotionally. Here in Japan, it's a legitimate mental illness with an "exotic" name. People who refuse to leave their homes here are called hikikomori- literally  "pulling away",  or "to be confined" ( Suffering from acute social phobias, they withdraw and repel any attempt to bring them out  of their isolation.  I felt a little taste of that this weekend . It's a horrible, cramped, suffocating feeling to be cut off from the rest of the world. But I was lucky- just when I needed it, someone noticed me- I got an email, a smile from a neighbor, the rain stopped- all at once. As bad as my two days were, I can't imagine  how someone else who is struggling to live that way now, has been struggling, will still be struggling in a few years, feels. I made a choice a few years ago to do whatever it took to overcome my own depression- but for one weekend, I almost let it get the better of me. In the end, by luck, happenstance, pure coincidence- I didn't. (And those of you who know me, know I don't believe in any of those things.) It wasn't luck at all. It was love- love for myself. I didn't want to lose who I have become. Love from  my family- who sent that email just in time. Love for life- because I'm not done here yet, and I don't want to miss out on anything ever again. You don't have to believe that what I suffered was "bad"- I'm sure some people won't have anything but condemnation for someone who spent a "weekend" depressed. It was my battle- not yours. I fought it- not you. More important than your measurement of my pain, is my measurement of my success. I didn't give in , (or at least not for long). This morning I got up, and went to my job, and spoke to friends and the world didn't wobble. That's my victory. And yes, it was one weekend...after years of being numb, unable to sleep in my own bed because of panic attacks and being  unable to go to work without medication. One weekend.  I am truly more blessed than I can know or appreciate. Today I heard a song I had never heard before that said exactly what I had been feeling, and miracle of miracles, I was here to hear it.   Tomorrow, maybe I'll be able to sing a song, rusty voice and all- and be glad that I am here to sing it.  There are no coincidences. The war is never over, every battle spawns a new one. But victory can be won. Hope can live in the heart again in spite of the dark spaces. For today, I will whisper my gratitude that one weekend wasn't a year, or a decade, or a lifetime alone. Thank you to everyone who "spoke" to me then - by email, a smile, whatever.Tomorrow, I will raise my voice, or lift my pen, or write one more blog, so that someone else will be able to win their own battle. There are no coincidences- only connections, and consequences. If you have the time and the heart,  make a joyful noise today. You won't  be the only person who hears it.

"I like living. 
I have sometimes been wildly, despairingly, acutely miserable, 
racked with sorrow, 
but through it all I still know 
that just to be alive is a grand thing."

--Agatha Christie

Monday, May 17, 2010

Always Coming Home

Is your heart at home? Do you know your place in the world?
In a little over two months I will be going back home. Well, not home exactly, just back to the U.S. To what, exactly, I don't know. I really haven't missed the U.S. all that much.The things that I've been homesick for aren't really physical- although, there have been times when I would, if not kill, at least cheerfully maim someone for a Mcnugget. What I've really missed is the feeling of stability- of knowing the details of my friends lives, of feeling inconspicous in a crowd (and whoever thought I'd miss that feeling.). I miss lazy Sunday mornings in my local bookstore, and drinks with friends. I miss having a daily routine, with all the people I most care about in it. I miss the grounded feeling that home gives you- of knowing where you belong.  But the truth is, I can't go back to the home I knew as a kid. I can't go back to the house I bought and made my own. I can't go back to the town I left, because I know deep down that it won't fit me anymore. Never did I guess- or I wouldn't have left.  People's lives have gone on since I've been gone... and so has mine. Over the course of a year abroad, I've changed, and those who are nearest and dearest to me weren't there to see it. Will they welcome back the stranger in their friend's clothes?  Maybe.  Can I settle somewhere new and make a home all over again?  Of course I can. "Home is where the heart is." And at heart, I am a Southern girl- who likes magnolias, iced tea and barbeque. I like good gospel music, good greens and fried chicken. But I also like J-pop, sake and (not so much) sashimi.  I like the idea of weeks on the Riviera or quick jaunts to Brazil.  Having opened my door to the world, I'll never be able to close it again. So what is a mixed up, cosmopolitan (hah!) jet-setting girl to do? Love the one you're with. When you don't know where home is, you make it where ever you go and whoever you're with.  I've spent a year doing something I never dreamed I would. Paradoxically, I am both completely different from and more completely me than I ever have been before.  A change in locale was just a kick in the pants to begin a change in me. And I'm glad I did it. Because now I know what I want- who I want in my life, what I want my life to be, what my heart longs for. And wherever I land next, I'll take that with me. I guess  a year in the "real world" is a good idea for anyone who really wants to be able to appreciate exactly  what it means to " go home" wherever or whoever that may be. Everyone needs a home. After all "home is the place where, when you go there, they have to take you in." Robert Frost  So, I hope that all those out there who like me,  have yet to find that soft landing place they can call home, find it or make it, somewhere on that country road.

Where is home? Home is where the heart can  laughtwithout shyness. Home is where the heart's tears can dry at their own pace. 
~ Vernon Baker

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Don't Worry, I'm A Stranger Here Myself or Down The Rabbit Hole

Listening to a little Nina Simone and trying to collect my thoughts, which like every day, have wandered like a flock of schizophrenic sheep.  A week or so ago, I was in Korea on vacation. I went thinking that it would be easy to handle - after all, I already live abroad, right? I went without knowing the itinerary, having the correct money, or speaking Korean. Sounds familiar- when did I do that recently? Oh, yeah, when I moved to Japan. It appears that some risks bear repeating.  So I went to Korea, and promptly found myself engulfed in madness, unable to communicate, at times feeling both older and more tired, and younger and more stupid than I had in - well, okay- that's how I usually feel. But usually, I have a hidey hole to escape to. This time, I was in Korea, in the middle of a market, surrounded by little old ladies with faces like wrinkled walnuts, unfortunate squids, screaming bargainers, and vendors who knew only two American phrases- "You buy?" and when I didn't want their merchandise, "Goodbye, goodbye, goodbye!"- accompanied with a shooing motion. (to be fair, I did buy a perfectly beautiful kimono- it only cost me about 20 bucks more on the market than it would have in the store. Oh well, it  was a good experience anyway.  But,) I really missed Japan. Then I got back to Japan and realized...I really miss America. Then I realized that it wasn't any place in particular I missed so much as a state of mind. Of knowing that I can communicate and be understood. And that hadn't happened in America, which was why I came to Japan....where didn't happen....again.  At some point, I realized that I was like a rat in a maze chasing it's own tail.  What I want most in the world is to  understand and be understood- by myself and others. What I'm most afraid of is that I do understand myself... and there really isn't all that much  to me, after all.   I get tired of acting old and wise, and I'm definitely tired of feeling young and stupid- but have come to the inevitable conclusion, that for most people, that is the definition of the human condition.  It's so odd the connections our minds make, how disparate thoughts come together and create our beliefs, and our personalities, and yet, how little do we understand how those neurons work. What sparks the sparks that carry the impulses and thoughts that make us, us? In the crowded spaces of my mind, I wander, picking up memories like knick knacks on the shelf of an antique store. And only occasionally do I find a mirror that shows me darkly who I am, or depending on how warped the glass is, who I could have been, still could be, could never have been, but wished desperately I was. I'm a stranger to myself and that is both frightening and strangely exhilarating. If I don't know who I am- then I can still change. I can still see myself differently. I can be free of even my own preconceived notions. If my thoughts are not in order, I can be free of them, free to think new ones. So, in a way, Korea taught me that it's okay to be a stranger, to not know the "lingo" as it were, to get caught up in the frenzy and give up any hope of understanding and to give in to feeling, to live the experience. So, thanks little old Korean ladies, (but not the one who pulled my hair).   Maybe, today, and every day,  I'll be a stranger to myself.... but instead of feeling frustrated with my unorganized thoughts, I'll spend my time getting to know myself anew all over again

            Happiness is not being pained in body or troubled in mind.
                                                                  Thomas Jefferson 



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