The Doldrums

posted in: Journal, Musings | 18

Last march, during the long break between semesters at my university during which my employers prohibit all teachers from taking off anywhere during the two month time off from teaching, I ended up spending many days holed up in my apartment with no where to go and no one to do anything with. I vowed after that never to allow myself to spend that much time alone again and in such a manner that my mental stability seemed at risk.

So I planned a whole month’s worth of hiking and visiting friends during this month-long summer vacation. Originally I had planned to visit Vancouver in Canada, but the plans to meet my brother fell through. Then his plans to visit Japan fell through. Then, on the day before the vacation officially began I cut I had gotten on my right shin a week before suddenly bloomed into a bad infection and for a week I’ve had to lie in bed trying to recuperate, with occasional limps to the nearby Seven Eleven for basics in food. This place being what it is it’s been a week now since I’ve talked to a living soul (except once to my brother on the telephone and a few emails to my wife in Tokyo). I think I am going to lose my mind if this keeps up much longer.

I don’t like to post about this here, but I also just need to connect to people, anyone, so as to feel like I’m not living in some tomb. It’s like my mind is falling down the stairs and I need to catch myself before I hit the bottom.

If anything, the situation here has made it clear once again that I’ve got to make the move away from here now before more damage is done. That was my main reason to go visit Canada this summer, so as to begin to make the changes, so not having gone has been a real blow to my confidence. Worse, this constant disappointment and lack of movement is nurturing an incredible anger inside me that I don’t know how to dissipate. I feel desperate all the time now, especially in conversations with people, as if I’m losing a tenuous hold on sanity. And of course that only tends to drive people away and make me feel more isolated.

The weekly exercise get-together that I had faithfully gone to all spring and in which I thought I had begun to finally make some much-needed friends mutated into more and more intensive concentration on the exercises alone and less and less on the camaraderie of people getting together to have a good time. When one of the original members started losing their temper at those of us laughing and enjoying each others’ company I knew that the whole endeavor had turned a point where those for whom getting in shape was the sole purpose of the gathering began to dominate the whole thing. It ceased to be fun. The exercise started getting so intense that some people were beginning to get injuries and several times came close to passing out. The whole thing turned into a big competition to see who could suffer the most and to push the limits every time. I tried to voice my concern, but my words went unheeded, even met with consternation on occasion. So I began to drift away and stopped going to the workouts.

Needless to say, the sudden disappearance of everyone’s company really left me bitter. And I’ve let my body slowly lose all the gains I made for six months. Not a good direction for diabetes.

I’m really okay. I just need people to talk to. To not be alone all the time. It’s playing havoc with my sense of humor. I opened up to the doctor who treated my infected leg, an old Japanese guy whose hands shook from his alcoholism, telling him , when he insisted that I come in again in two days time, that I was losing it just sitting around the apartment, needing to get out to the mountains where I was sure to meet people and get away from this awful small town. You know what he replied? “Don’t you have any hobbies?” For an alcoholic he certainly had some nerve!

So forgive me for opening up yet more depressing stories about me. I’m not seeking advice or for my hand to be held. I just need to talk.

18 Responses

  1. marja-leena

    How very bizarre and controlling that you must stay home during a two month break! I remember you mentioning it before and finding it totally unbelievable in a modern country. It’s too bad your trip here did not work out, it would have been a refreshing and restoring break for you. I hope you can make it soon. And I hope your leg is healing, that you can find people to talk to, and a way of getting out for your beloved long walks for the sake of your body and mind. Keep well, please.

  2. Pica

    Butuki, you are heard. It’s good to hear you.

    Please don’t worry about seeming to complain!

  3. dale

    Gah! You must have far more equanimity than me, to not have gone completely raving mad.

    You’re not working but you can’t go away? The worst of both worlds :-(

  4. Rana

    That sounds very stressful – to say the least.

    If we’re ever on FB at the same time, please feel free to ping me for a chat. It’s not as good as a chat in person, but…

  5. andy

    “I just need to talk”. Anything I say here may turn out to be a case of the blind leading the blind, as they say; much as I want to help in some way, too many of those symptoms you mention are all too familiar. In spite being surrounded by people most of the time, I’ve been communicating less and less, to the point where, even though I know the benefits I might feel from beginning to connect with people again, it just seems like too much effort. So I just maintain a façade; a bit of social give and take, but little real contact.

    Now, I know my reasons and circumstances are very different from yours, but the result has something in common, all the same. “It’s like my mind is falling down the stairs and I need to catch myself before I hit the bottom”. Some days it feels that way for me too; living in a bubble that bounces around in the real world, yet with nothing connecting the world in the bubble with the world outside. That’s scary, because then there are no constraints to what goes on inside the bubble.

    I wasn’t going to post this as a comment, but send you an email instead, as I felt guilty about spending too many words talking about my own situation. But I guess, like you, I just need to talk too. Talk can be therapy, as I know from the 18 months or so I spent having counseling. I packed it in because I knew I was becoming dependant on it, and I knew I needed to find another way of fulfilling that wish to explore what it is to be an open, sharing, compassionate human soul. For a while, it seemed that blogging itself might be that alternative therapy (looking back a few years, that time seems now like a golden age of blogging!), but without the weekly injection of hope that counseling brought, I gradually became more and more withdrawn and less and less communicative. Without a means of dissipating it, the anger you spoke of can turn inwards.

    Nevertheless, expressing thoughts and feelings in words, in tolerably coherent sentences, sharing them with another and experiencing them reflected back seems to be a necessary part of exploring, understanding and eventually moving through and beyond those feelings. That, I think, was what I discovered in counseling, and what I now miss. So, for what it’s worth, it seems to me that your last line contains holds the key.

    Talk here whenever you feel like it; we’ll do our best to listen without judgement, without telling you what to do.

  6. butuki

    Wow! Everyone is still around! And I was wondering if the old readers were no longer around after my endless absences! Good to see everyone here. And thanks a million for listening and responding and talking. Though it can’t take the place of meeting people in person, just getting a response and a live interaction makes the time here less one way.

    My leg has finally healed enough that I might be able to take off on a hike on Tuesday or Wednesday. I’m going to have to plan the rest of the month and see if I can get a good long walk in. In the meantime I might very well take some of you up on Facebook chatting or Skype talking. I really appreciate the camaraderie here. Thanks!

    It may be that I need some counseling just to help me get to the point of making some important decisions about my life. Hard to find a place that speaks English in Japan. When there are good friends around, though, I almost always gain back my sense of humor and confidence. That’s what being with other people can do. Just can’t take too many people too often, is all.

    But I agree with you, Andy. Blogging, no matter how much it allows you to find and interact with people around the world, people who you would never have met otherwise, it can never be a replacement for really talking face-to-face with people. It is but a representation of what all of us need. For all that, I’m still glad that I’ve met all of you.

  7. zen

    interestingly sad,… yet when I tried to hook you up, you ignored me…

  8. pohanginapete

    Miguel, sometimes in India, in places where English was rudimentary at best, I began to long for a conversation where I didn’t have to agonise over how to express even simple ideas. Those places affected me so strongly, got me thinking hard, but I couldn’t discuss the ideas. And that was only for a month or so, and I knew I’d be moving on. I think my notebook became something of a substitute for conversations, but I can still remember the delight of finally being able to talk freely with other people — to concentrate on the ideas, not the words.

    Drop me an email if you feel like arranging a time for a yarn. Unfortunately I’m not set up for VOIP.

  9. Chris (

    Miguel – I’m pleased that your leg is better, and that you feel well enough to get out for a decent hike. Not being able to exercise properly and surviving on convenience store food cannot have helped, on top of everything else. The mountains are looking especially beautiful this year, I’m sure they will be just the tonic you need.

  10. butuki

    “interestingly sad,… yet when I tried to hook you up, you ignored me…”

    Zen ??? Erm, you did? Hook me up with…? I ignored you? I’m afraid I’m at a loss about what you are inferring to. If I did, I’m really sorry.

    Pete, it’s really hard to explain sometimes to people who don’t live outside their own cultures just how isolating it can be, especially when you’re in such a place as Japan where there is constant, active xenophobia and extremely strong clique mentality. Living out here in a small, economically very depressed town among a populace that isn’t so much unfriendly as indifferent (completely different from my experience ten years ago in Shizuoka, next to Mt. Fuji), I can’t even make friends where I am. And it affects everyone that I work with, too, so there is a constant sense of everyone wanting to leave and not making any bonds. Community is important to me, as is friendship. Much as I treasure my solitary time in the mountains and even at home, I also very much need people to talk to and be with. I adore Snufkin’s way of life, but even Snufkin needed to visit his friend Moomin every now and then.

    Chris, I’m sure you can just imagine how disappointing and frustrating it has been to lose my chance to walk the length of the Japan Alps. Doesn’t mean I can’t get in some really wonderful walking still, but I wanted so much to spend most of this month outdoors. Since I don’t have a car the nearest place I was able to get to was the ten minute walk to the Seven Eleven (the new super market is a thirty minute fast walk away… to give you an idea just how much of a life saver this super market is, I discovered it while walking in the hills above the town. I just happened to stop at a view point and noticed a new building that I had never seen during my walks to work. After months of having to rely on Seven Eleven… they do have healthier food than American Seven Elevens… I was so happy that I actually danced on the spot!) and I can tell you, I’m TIRED of eating salmon rice balls! But I guess I shouldn’t feel too sorry for myself… I know how much you want to get out there, too. Don’t you just LOVE the long Japanese vacations?

  11. beth

    Hi Butuki! I’m late getting here, but I’m still here too! So sorry that you’ve been having these problems and feeling so trapped – your depression is totally understandable. But it sounds like you’re feeling a bit better. I hope you can make some concrete plans for the near future and really get out of there and make some changes in your life. In the meantime, I am happy to talk to you – on Gmail chat or by email. Don’t hesitate. I think all of us have times of feeling like we’re going to go nuts if we can’t talk to someone, and your situation has been pretty extreme in its isolation for a very long time. If there is a way you can come to Canada, I really hope you will do it. Sending healing wishes and love to you.

  12. vegetablej

    Hi Miguel:

    I haven’t posted or awhile but I’m still a reader and appreciater of your writing, pictures, creativity, and unfortunately, being as I was in a virtually identical situation to you for years in Japan, am able to empathasize fully. It was one of the reasons I recently left. I’m in Eastern Canada now trying to carve out a new life. I would be more than happy to talk to you any time you like, if you feel like it.

    Now you are getting away for a walk, it’s bound to improve your mood, even with the thunder and lightening. Interestingly enough we had a similar storm just a few days ago, but so thankfully, not interspersed with such intense heat.

    You can Skype me as “rivermere”.

    Take care.

  13. butuki

    Beth, I’m so sorry for taking so long to reply to you. You know that I have always valued your friendship and you’ve been there, literally, for me during some of my hardest times. I’m actually quite resilient in my heart, able to eventually maneuver my mindset back to the center. I guess it helps that in general I really do enjoy time alone, just not too much of it. I do have quite a number of caring, important friends here on the internet and in various places around the world, but part of the problem in communicating with everyone is that the points of reference are so scattered that I can’t keep up with all the different ways of talking: email, blog comments, Facebook, Skype chatting and webcam communication and calls, online friendship sites, cell phone email and calls, telephone calls, and handwritten letters. Sometimes there is so much input from friends going on that I get very flustered and haven’t the slightest idea where to start. Who has that much time to spare every day? And almost no simple, face-to-face talking, the one way to communicate that I need most. There is a Japanese expression, “Kokoro to karada de butsukariau”, meaning “crashing into one another with heart and body”, meaning that the full expression and fulfillment of human happiness resides in two souls engaging each other, that our existence as humans cannot be fully realized alone. I completely agree with this and feel it is the root of so many social problems today.

    VegetableJ, as ever your experience of Japan mirrors mine in many ways. Mine and many other non-Japanese. Quite of few of my Japanese friends keep telling me to change my attitude, but that’s really hard to do when people stand up when you sit next to them on the train or can only see the clown value of your presence in the country or completely refuse to acknowledge that you are actually speaking fluent Japanese to them as you speak to them!

    I hope things are working out for you in Canada. Must be hard to switch cultures so drastically. And it must fill you with chagrin to think that one reason for leaving Japan was the loneliness it engendered.

    Hopefully the big storms have passed, but since the weather report is forewarning yet more rain tomorrow, I don’t know.

    I tried to register your Skype name, but Skype can’t seem to find it. Maybe I typed it wrong?

  14. vegetablej

    Much later, I just found your reply. Things are shaping up slowly back here. I just started work recently as a substitute teacher. As a career choice, I don’t recommend it, unless you have a basilisk gaze that strikes respect in those littl’uns bent on fun and revenge. :)

    Reverse culture shock has been ongoing. Things are so big here, spaces, supermarkets, people’s expectations, consumerism, and waste. We have just elected, again, a conservative government. I miss many things about Japan, except the isolation.

    To find me on skype, you have to click “add a contact” and then do a search for my name. If you aren’t doing that, perhaps you have an outdated version? If you want to try again, its: rivermere, or send me _your name_ at: [email protected]. My account is set up to accept voice messages.

    You haven’t posted for awhile; hope all is well.