Tag Archives: Anxiety

Shoguns and Squats

I’ve already written a bit about Nikko, how I arrived there on my fourth day in Japan and it was there that the anxiety that had trailed me from the US ebbed away.  As I wrote in my last post I am feeling a lot of anxiety of late, but I know it comes … and goes.  I’ve never had a full-blown panic attack and ended up in the ER like some people I know.  I get out and do things despite feeling anxious about them.  Ninety-nine percent of the time everything turns out okay.

And sometimes, like in Nikko, physical exertion, attraction distraction, and serenity of a place help the anxiety disappear.

Nikko’s claim to fame is that it hosts tombs of the early shoguns.  The shoguns were hereditary military commanders who ruled Japan for nearly 700 years, until Emperor Meiji was given real powers during the Meiji Restoration in 1868.  “Shogun” is Japanese shorthand for “Commander-in-Chief of the Expeditionary Force against the Barbarians.”

Now here I came, a barbarian wandering among their tombs.

The structures are unique because they are Japanese interpretations of Chinese shrines.  This means that, unlike the simple, spare style seen elsewhere in Japan, the shrines in Nikko are over-the-top ornate.

Guidebooks and online advisories will say you can “do” Nikko in a day. Maybe that’s technically true—if you arrived by tour bus and had a guide barking, “hurry, hurry, on to the next shrine!”

But why would you want to hurry?  Nikko is so much more than the shrines, as I discovered.  I spent three nights there and could have easily spent a fourth.  Or the rest of my life.  Nikko is in the mountains and the soothing sound of water coursing along little streams and springs is ever present.

I found the pedestrian entrance to the shrine complex, which encompasses half a dozen shrines, each of which encompasses a dozen structures. Every shrine charges an admission fee of $2 to $12.

I climbed and climbed the irregular stone steps, in the rain, to the main square, then wandered around trying to decide which shrine to visit first.  I could just catch glimpses of golden rooftops.

I decided on the mausoleum of Iemitsu, grandson of the first shogun, Ieyasu. The shoguns often have a birth name, a warrior name, and military titles that makes keeping them straight challenging.  So I didn’t try.

I figured I should use the toilet before entering, where I encountered my first Japanese-style toilet.  No, not the ones with lots of electronic features, but a squat.

Pivot: Iemitsu designed his own mausoleum to be “subtle” so as not to outshine his grandpa’s.  This is just the hand washing station at the entrance.

Ladle up some water, wash your left hand, then your right, then have a drink out of your cupped palm.

I remember this as “the quiet shrine.”  It is set in ancient woods and the only sound was birds calling back and forth.  I was one of only three people there that day.

Near the handwashing station there was a jumble of mountain scenery, with two stone statues that I only noticed because I stopped to contemplate the forest.

More steps, and through an ornate gate with fabulous protectors on either side, borrowed from Hinduism.

This structure was basically a storage unit for giant bells and drums used during special events.

There were a thousand stone lanterns, all “donated” by feudal lords to the shogun. I liked the moss and fern hat on this one.

I stopped at each landing to look out over the tree tops and listen to the birds.  At last I arrived at the top and the inner shrine, where photos were not allowed.  There wasn’t really anything to do there, so I slowly walked back down.

I guess most of the lanterns can be lighted, and I would see this later in my trip.

From somewhere, I heard the music from the Waltz of the Sugar Plum Fairies wafting through the forest.  What it signified, I had no idea, but I chose to take it as my dinner bell.

There—just writing this remembrance has brought me a sense of calm.

My Name is Anne, and I’m Anxious

I need to write an honest post about anxiety.

I could tell myself it’s not logical to be anxious.  I should be grateful, even.

I don’t have to commute or work full time. I haven’t touched my savings since quitting my full-time job in December.  I’m healthy enough that I feel safe forgoing health insurance—which would cost me over $800 a month for a lousy plan—and instead use a healthcare sharing program, which costs $220 a month.  I enjoy my contract work with my former employer, working on million dollar proposals to the UN and US government.  I enjoy my very-part-time job at the YMCA minding little kids.  It’s summer, and I’ve got free time to go berry foraging or biking the wild paths along the Mississippi.  I live in a charming and affordable duplex.

Vince, who less than three years ago emerged from prison with nothing, owns a home, is a dad, and is getting married in 10 days.

Yeah, I know I have it good.

Then why do I get ice-cold stabbing pangs of fear in my solar plexus?  It’s not every day, or all day, but it can last for hours and it’s extremely unpleasant.

I think it is thanks to my nemeses, the what ifs.

My financial future is uncertain.  What if my contract isn’t renewed next year?  Should I get another full-time job?  What if no one wants to hire a 59 year old?  I recently read that the average job hunt for someone my age is 12 months. Maybe I should have started looking months ago!

Could I try to live off my savings?  It’s not my regular monthly expenses that are a problem; they’re very modest.  There are always things like new tires ($$), a new phone ($$), and a crown on my molar ($$$$). What if my engine gasket blows, or I need two crowns next month?

I have a plane ticket to Panama for December but haven’t booked accommodations.  What if Panama turns out to be super expensive?

Those are the semi-rational what ifs.

If I allow it free reign, my mind conjures up additional scary possibilities that are unlikely to ever happen.

I saw a sign warning of coyotes at the river today.  What if I was attacked by one on my walk and couldn’t work?  I would lose everything and end up one of those homeless people on the freeway exit holding a sign that says, “Sick.  Can’t work.  Anything helps.  God Bless.”

I swore at another driver on my way home from the river as we both fought our way through a traffic jam. What if I lost it, rammed someone with my car, and ended up in prison?  How humiliating would that be?

Images of these things happening actually flash through my mind.  Usually I am barely aware of them, and I can laugh them off.  But they probably contribute to the anxiety

And those are just the neurotic thoughts about me and mine.  I despair that my country can put a man on the moon, find a cure for Hepatitis C, and produce all sorts of genius inventors and entertainers and artists but we cannot come up with a single solution to gun violence.  One of my neighbors was killed in a mass shooting in 2012.  Will I, or someone I care about, be next?

Then there’s climate change.  Contrary to what millennials seem to believe, not all of us baby boomers have been callously disregarding the environment all our lives.  My first environmental protest was in 1974.  We were calling on the government to clean up the Mississippi River.  And it got done.  But as I sit in my car writing this—at the river, on the latest of a series of unusually hot days—I fear we are all doomed.

When I travel I do feel nervous about finding train stations and such. But mostly I am in the moment every moment and my anxiety is fleeting and mild.

I’m went to the Mississippi today to hike uneven terrain, to throw myself off kilter so I would have to focus on each step or I’d pitch headlong into the dark, swift current.

There I go again!

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.