Tag Archives: Anxiety

What Iffing

Why am I finding it so overwhelming to plan for Japan?  Is it the language barrier?  I’ve traveled in places like Jordan and Palestine where I spoke none of the language except for marhaba (hi), la (no), and yanni (a sentence filler like ya know).

Is it because I will stand out and look different?  No.  I remember standing in a square in El Salvador, all 5’ 3” of me. I was six inches taller and ten shades whiter than everyone else.  I had a great time.

Am I worried about the expense of a month in Japan?  It’s not a cheap destination.  I quit my job in December.  I’m working on contract for my former employer but after June there’s a cliff.  So yes, cost is on my mind but it’s not what’s making my gut churn.

Is it the sheer number of accommodations, train rides, entry tickets, and restaurants that must be found and booked?  Partly, but my Japanese sister in law and Lynn, my British friend who will join me for two weeks, are both working on this plan too.

The closest I can recall to feeling this panicky is planning three weeks in Italy, Malta, and Spain. The what ifs took over.  What if I can’t figure out how to get from the train station to the hotel in the dark and have to sleeping in a park?  What if I can’t figure out how to use the subway and end up on the wrong end of town, and the subway closes and I have to sleep on the floor of the station?  What if I miss the last bus back to Sorrento and have to sleep on a bus bench?

My worst-case scenario always involves sleeping outside, exposed to muggers, rapists, and crooked cops who try to shake me down for bribes. It is always dark, cold, and raining.  There is always an unshaven man in a ratty coat who tries to steal my suitcase.

I think it goes back to my young adulthood of living on the verge of eviction, bounced check fees, and going to food shelves.  But in all my travels, nothing like this has ever happened.  If it did, I would deal with it.  I’m no longer a passive, vulnerable young single mom. So thanks, blog, for helping me analyze my irrational fears!

I am going no matter what, and if I have to sleep in a train station Japan is the place to do it because it is so clean and safe.

Maps, guidebooks, and websites are not particularly helpful in planning a Japan itinerary, unless you enjoy falling down a rabbit hole.

While my map of Australia was overwhelming due to the vast distances, the Japan map is so densely packed it requires a magnifying glass.

I had found Frommer’s Easy Guide to Australia helpful; it boiled everything down to 300 pages.  I bought their Easy Guide to Tokyo, Kyoto, and Western Honshu.  Notice it’s not the whole country, just two cities and their region.

This was my attempt to focus in using post-it flags.

This got my attention:

“One difficulty in finding your way around Tokyo is that hardly any streets are named.  Think about what that means: 9 million people living in a metropolis of nameless streets.  To make matters worse, most streets in Tokyo zig-zag—an arrangement apparently left over from olden days, to confuse potential attacking enemies.  Now they confuse Tokyoites and visitors alike.”

And this:

“Tokyo has a unique address system.  A typical address might read 7-10-1 Ginza, Chuo-Ku.  Chuo-ku is the name of the ward.  Wards are further divided into districts, in this case Ginza. Districts are broken down in to chome (numbered subsections), the first number in the series.  The second number refers to a smaller area within the chome—usually an entire block.  Thus, houses on one side of a block will have a different middle number than those on the other side.  The last number refers to the building.”

Lynn wrote, “We’ll have to accept we’ll get lost more than usual.”

I will remind her she said that when we’ve passed the same intersection for the fifth time.

A Case of the What Ifs

In three weeks I will be on my big road trip to New Orleans.  My friend Lynn arrives on Saturday afternoon from Scotland and we’ll head out the next morning.

Here’s the itinerary I’ve mapped out:

Sunday, April 3: 8-hour drive from St. Paul to Chicago with a stop for lunch with cousins and a niece in Madison, Wisconsin.  I am told we must see the protest singers at the state capital.  I have no idea who or what they are.

Monday, April 4: A full day in Chicago—Millennium Park, architectural boat tour, another niece

Tuesday, April 5: 8-hour drive from Chicago to Memphis, check out Beale Street and Sun Studio or the Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum.

Wed, April 6: Visit the National Civil Rights Museum which is in the Memphis motel where Martin Luther King was assassinated, then hit the road for the 7-hour drive to New Orleans

Wed-Sun, April 6-10: In New Orleans for 5 days!  French Quarter Festival will be on, and there are so many other things to do, like an alligator swamp boat ride, plantation tours, and fabulous architecture, gardens, and cemeteries.

Monday, April 11: 6-hour drive from New Orleans to Oxford, Mississippi.  The University of Mississippi at Oxford is where America’s university system was forcefully integrated.  I also wanted to stay in at least one sort-of-small city.  Oxford’s population is 20,000, although I don’t know if that accounts for university students.

Tuesday, April 12: 6-hour drive from Oxford to St. Louis.  Dinner with a friend from grad school, preferably in The Hill neighborhood renowned for its Italian food.  At least eight people have told me we must—must! visit the City Museum.  They say it’s lots of fun, that you can play around on the art like a kid, but it’s really for adults.  I’m not that good at fun, but it is something I’m working on.  I wonder if Lynn, being English, will find it fun.  I’m not at all clear on what it is, but we’re going to find out.

Wednesday, April 13: 8.5-hour drive from St. Louis to St. Paul to get Lynn to the airport in time for her late evening flight.

Whew.  I admit I am anxious about how it will all play out.  What if the route times on Google maps don’t allow time for bathroom breaks or lunches?  That would mean all my times are off.  What if the routes aren’t scenic?  What if Lynn thinks all Americans are racist yahoos?  What if every city is just a mass of Walmarts, Star Bucks, and strip malls?  What if my GPS breaks and we get lost?  What if one of us is mugged?  What if the museums aren’t open on the day we’re there?  What if my back hurts from so much driving?  What if we get into a fight over what to do in New Orleans?  What if we arrive after dark in one of these big cities and the hotel has no record of our registration?  What if a meteorite hits the car?  What if the car breaks down in a bayou and we hear banjo music?

My anxiety is nothing like it used to be, but it’s interesting to notice it.  I’ve learned a lot of tricks for dealing with anxiety over the years.  Some of the ones that work best for me are to:

– bring myself out of my head to focus on my surroundings.  Notice that I am not currently in my car surrounded by alligator-filled swamps or muggers, but in a chair in my dining room writing this post.  This usually helps bring me back to reality.

– remember that nothing lasts.  I may feel anxious right now, but it will pass if I don’t latch on to it.  It’ll probably come back, but then it will pass again.  So it’s not permanent.  If it did get to be constant and lasted for a week, I would call a professional.

– know that, if I do end up surrounded by hillbillies, I will deal with it then.  For now, I only need to do the next indicated thing—finish this post and post it.  And so I will.