Anxiety · Japan · Minimalism · Osaka · Overseas · Photography · Stress · Travelling · Visas · Zero Waste

Umeda Sky Building, Grand Front Osaka, and Germany Update.

IMG_0655

Dillon and I visited Umeda Sky Building today, where I took this photo from the rooftop observatory. We were over 150m high and could see the whole city as well as the mountains that surround Osaka and out to the sea. We still have not visited Abeno Harukas, the tallest building in Japan at 300m tall, but we will go there in early December to visit an exhibition on Studio Ghibli, so hopefully we will get a chance to take some more photographs of Osaka from above then too. In the gift shop, I managed to find some beautiful handmade Japanese craft items, including some handkerchiefs, hand towels, and body towels, all with lovely traditional designs. I also bought a little pouch in the shape of a rabbit to keep the smaller items in, as well as a kanji keychain for us both. I have been looking for items to bring back from Japan, but I have some criteria that they must fit into first:

1) The item is light, and will not take up much room in our suitcases

2) The item is handmade in Japan, and meaningful to our experience in Japan

3) The item is something I have already been looking for because we need it

We also visited Grand Front Osaka, a huge shopping mall with a whole floor dedicated to gorgeous stationery and specialist stores. I have never seen anything like it, and I don’t think there is anything like it in the UK that I can think of. I often find it is too difficult to buy anything when I visit those places, because there is so much choice, and everything is so special, so I just enjoy walking around and looking at different things instead. It is giving me lots of ideas for nearer the time when we leave Japan and I will be looking for some gifts to get people, though.

Finally, an update on our move to Germany: after going back and forth trying to get the right documentation, I have managed to set up an account to transfer money from Japan to the UK, so we will be able to pay for things like our plane tickets and deposit on a new apartment now. Secondly, I have completed the work documentation necessary for me to begin working in Germany, and we are lucky enough that the relocation agency who are helping us to move have said they will organise all appointments needed and provide translation services whenever required as part of their service. Lastly, we have sent a copy of our marriage certificate to the UK to get an apostille, and once we have received that we will be able to continue with the visa process for Dillon. We are a lot further along now than we were two weeks ago, or even last weekend, so I am feeling more relaxed about the situation now.

Anxiety · Decluttering · Fashion · Japan · Minimalism · New Year's Resolutions · Overseas · Photography · Stress · Zero Waste

And now for something completely different …

Tomorrow is Respect for the Aged Day in Japan, one of a number of National Holidays that fall in the autumn and winter months, so Dillon and I are currently in the middle of enjoying a three-day weekend. I thought I would do something a bit different today, so I’m going to do a personal update about the different things that I’ve been working on and some changes that have been happening in our lives.

The first photo you can see here is my half of the clothes rail in our apartment. While I don’t hold too strictly to it, I like to try and ensure that all the outdoor clothes I own fit on the hangers I already have. We have a build-in storage area with two sectioned areas separated by a shelf, so we store our suitcases on the floor and our towels and other belongings on the shelf. I keep my lingerie and pyjamas in this section, and I have one pair of shoes out in the hallway, but otherwise all my clothes are shown hanging on this rail (my two other pairs of shoes are below the clothes, unpictured).

I came to Japan in March a UK size 10 (US 6), at that point still eating meat. Walking at a decent pace to and from work for about an hour every day, and adapting my diet slightly due to the different products available in Japan, I began to get a bit slimmer, although since I did not measure myself and I do not own scales, I am not sure by how much. I have struggled with chronic illness in the past, and was diagnosed with IBS in 2014 and put on medication to deal with numerous symptoms, the worst of which included persistent vomiting and literally immobilising stomach pain. Because of this, I am highly conscious of the effect the food and drink I take into my body has on my health and well-being. A couple of months ago, I watched a number of documentaries on the effect of eating animal products on individual health, the environment, and the welfare of animals. These included ‘What the Health’, ‘Forks Over Knives’, ‘Cowspiracy’, and I attempted to watch ‘Earthlings’ but couldn’t get past the first ten minutes.

Dillon and I adopted a plant-based diet and went vegan on the 1st August. Since Dillon and I eat our meals together and he had been a vegetarian for a decade, and I had almost cut out meat entirely by accident due to our move, in the end I only had to make a couple of changes: stop eating ice-cream, stop eating snacks that contained animal products, and remove the egg from my rice meals. I have to say that it was a fairly painless switch. I didn’t find myself craving any foods, and at this point roughly six weeks into veganism, I have no desire to eat any animal product. I also found myself eating more healthily by necessity: I had the desire and motivation to research what foods to include in my meals, and the results for me personally are beyond anything that I could have imagined.

  • I have slimmed down further, to the point where my clothes were at risk of falling off me at work (which was my red flag moment to go and buy the clothes pictured above). I am now a UK size 6 (US 2), and measure 32″ 23″ 32″, certainly the slimmest I have been since I hit puberty. My stomach is flat (though not toned), and I have a thigh gap. I should say that I don’t mention these things to intimate that they are better or worse than any other way of looking, only that they are important for me to recognise, and to feel proud of achieving personally.
  • I have huge amounts of energy. On my commute to and from work I can walk faster and for longer without tiring. I feel lighter and brighter in myself. After about seven hours of sleep I am wide awake and ready for the day, without needing an alarm clock.
  • I am far more confident in myself and with my body. I have lost the sensation that people are looking at me. I have lost the dysmorphic sensation of looking at myself in the mirror and seeing an idea of what is there rather than what is in front of me. I am able to go into clothes store changing rooms and come out feeling happy.
  • I have experienced no menstrual cramps, bloating, or PMS symptoms.
  • I have experienced no IBS symptoms, which has meant I have been able to get rid of my medication.
  • I feel far happier and calmer in a day-to-day sense. This may also be to do with taking up daily yoga and meditation, and listening to meditation and anxiety management podcasts in the evening, as well as using the ‘Sleepy’ body lotion from Lush, but taking up these practises was also connected to my adoption of a plant-based diet, so I’ll include it here too.

Now, I have aspirations to go further. I still need to buy a jumper or sweatshirt for the weekend, and one work dress, as well as bras in my correct size, but I am determined to maintain my minimalist approach to clothes shopping and consumption, and my new project is to transition to a zero waste lifestyle. Dillon and I both bought a stainless steel water bottle from the Natural History Museum in Osaka, so we no longer drink from plastic bottles, and I have cut my consumption of drinks from vending machines down to one a week, with the aspiration to cut them out completely. I have some documentaries to watch including ‘Speciesism’, ‘A Plastic Ocean’, and ‘Fed Up’, and I am gaining so much value and enjoyment from learning about different ways of living that leave a lighter impact on the planet.

PSA: I hope that by exploring this article, my readers are able to accept and appreciate the positive impact that veganism is having on my health and wellbeing. I am conscious that there are a number of topics I have written about today that may make some readers react differently. While everyone is free to think what they like, I would encourage you to consider – after reading through my bullet point list of the benefits I am experiencing and how much happier I am in my life currently – whether it is necessary for you to tell me that you disagree with the choices I am making in my life. Just a thought!

Anxiety · Japan · Nature · Osaka · Osaka Castle · Overseas · Photography · Teaching · Travelling

Nishinomaru Garden, Osaka.

This morning Dillon and I went to visit the Nishinomaru Garden by Osaka Castle. Despite the cloudy skies, it was over 30ºC, but because we went out early and there was a little bit of rain, the garden itself was very quiet. We spotted a cat in the grass, and when we paid our entrance fee the lady at the counter invited us to write out wishes on a piece of paper and tie it to the bamboo tree in the grounds, which is part of the celebrations for the Tanabata Star Festival.

In Japanese legend, on the seventh night of the seventh month, the weaver star and cowherder star travel across the Milky Way to renew their ancient love. Wherever you go during the first week of July, you see countless pieces of coloured paper tied to bamboo trees with wishes written on them, and on the night of Tanabata ceremonies are held at numerous shrines to burn the bamboo and wishes. 

This was my final full week at work before the end of the first term. We took the students on a field trip to the Meiji Chocolate Factory, and I had my first formal observation and appraisal. It was very different from the system I’ve been used to in the UK! Instead of a number of senior members of staff standing at the back of the room observing my teaching and taking notes all lesson, the vice-principal stayed for about thirty minutes and sat doing his own work for much of the time, took a look around my room at the displays and what the students had been working on, then thanked me and left. It was a pleasant surprise not to experience any anxiety before or during my observation; during my PGCE year I would be experiencing panic attacks before every single lesson. Instead, though, I’ve been having reoccurring nightmares about being told I have to do another observation, or the observation happening in the nightmare and going terribly. Very strange!

 

Anxiety · Illness · Japan · Nature · Osaka · Overseas · Photography · Recovery · Shinto · Stress · Teaching · Travelling

Sumiyoshi Taisha Grand Shrine, Osaka.

It’s been a while since I last updated, but I’m glad to say that my illness has passed, my fatigue has now lifted, and I’m feeling much better. I always experience a few days to a week or so of real exhaustion and fatigue after illness, and it always takes me a couple of days of feeling that way before I remember that I experience CFS, so I need to take it easy on myself and let myself recover properly before throwing myself into everything again. That’s difficult for a definite Type A perfectionist like myself, especially when you have a job that means you have to be a leader, a positive role model, and alert and effective from the start of your day to the end of your day, but I think I’ve done a fairly good job of managing it over these last couple of weeks.

This morning, Dillon and I walked to Namba Station and took the Nankai Line overland to visit the Sumiyoshi Taisha Grand Shrine, an important Shinto site and originally the entrance of the Silk Road into Japan. It was lovely to see people paying their respects to the trees and the water, and lots of newborn babies had been brought to the shrine today as well. As it was so hot in the afternoon, we walked back home through Namba Walk, an underground shopping mall that runs underneath the street that takes us from Namba Station back to our apartment. We stopped at Mos Burger, the first place we have eaten out in Japan, to have lunch, and it cost us the equivalent of £2.50 each to have a really tasty burger.

This week I have been trying to do work on a number of different strategies for my anxiety. I had previously cut out caffeine by stopping drinking coffee, as the smell is enough for me to enjoy without needing to drink it, but I had not been consistent with cutting out soda, which I am trying to do better at now. I listen to a number of podcasts to help relax me in the evening and encourage a nighttime winding down routine, including Audio Dharma, Tara Brach, Anxiety Slayer, and my favourite, The Anxiety Coaches Podcast. I do yoga and meditate while listening to these in the evening. I have also started hula-hooping, thanks to Meagan’s advice!

My anxiety is usually worst in the morning, when my cortisol levels are naturally highest, so during these times I am trying to focus on mantras such as ‘Right now I should be sleeping’ or ‘My thoughts are like clouds passing me by and I don’t have to engage with them’. I am also trying to use my morning commute for mindful awareness of my surroundings and positive reflections, and to leave work behind at the end of the day by shedding my worries and stresses as I walk down the stairwell on my way out of the building. I am doing a media fast and have blocked all access to anxiety and stress-inducing websites on my phone. I am hoping that by being consistent with these actions I will see real improvements with my anxiety levels.

Anxiety · Day Trip · Japan · Nature · Osaka · Overseas · Photography · Stress · Travelling

Keitakuen Garden, Tennoji Park.

Hello from Osaka!

This morning, Dillon and I visited Keitakuen Garden, a City designated Important Cultural Property in Osaka. Keitakuen Garden is located in the Tennoji area of the city, near to the zoo we visited last weekend, and was originally the residence of the Sumitomo family. It contains over two hundred varieties of trees, and has a lovely pond in the centre that is designed to be a reminder of the ocean. We saw large carp and koi in the water by the summerhouse, watched turtles swimming in the water beneath the bridge, and enjoyed the calming sound of a waterfall in the peaceful surroundings. The smaller white building in the background of these photos is the Osaka City Museum of Fine Art, while the huge skyscraper is Abeno Harukas, the tallest building in Japan at 300m high.

Other than that, this week I was invited to the cinema with one of my colleagues, so we went to watch Beauty and the Beast on Saturday afternoon. The cinema is the closest one to where Dillon and I live, so it was only a couple of minutes’ walk away, and I discovered it was on the top floor of a huge shopping mall, which isn’t that uncommon in Japan. The cinema itself was wonderful – spacious, low-lit, air-conditioned, comfy and completely silent throughout the whole film. As well as the mini-adverts common in Britain reminding people to turn their cell phones to silent, the adverts in Japan also instruct people not to talk, or make any noise, or disturb others, or kick seats! Something else that I found interesting was that no one in the cinema moved to leave until after the very end of the closing credits, which I thought was another example of the respectful culture in Japan.

Following the haircut I gave Dillon a couple of weeks ago, I have taken a few inches off my hair this afternoon, so I’m in a better position to cope with the weather becoming hotter. We have also ordered some natural products to manage mosquito bites and repel them naturally. The plants that we have been growing on our balcony are coming along well, although we have not seen any flowers yet.

I had a meeting with the vice-principal this week, a bit like a check-up on how the first term has been progressing so far, and it was incredibly positive. The word ‘perfect’ was thrown around a lot, and the fact that he said he uses my class’ e-portfolio to demonstrate to other members of staff how they should do theirs made me feel particularly proud of myself. As someone who struggles with anxiety and self-doubt, is a perfectionist and spends a lot of time questioning whether I am even meeting a fairly good standard, I really appreciated the praise he gave me. I also really appreciated the fact that the principal took the time to speak to me about the terrible events in Manchester earlier in the week, and to check how I was feeling. I feel very lucky to work in such a supportive environment.

For various reasons, I lost most of my planning time at work this week, but I was still able to get all of my planning and resourcing done at school during the couple of sessions that I did have available to me, which meant I had little work left to do over the weekend. This makes me feel very positive about my time management, productivity and workload going forward into this week.

Until then!

Anxiety · Day Trip · Injury · Ireland · Minimalism · New Year's Resolutions · Photography · Recovery · Stress · Travelling

Slowing Down, by choice then by force.

Warning: This post contains descriptions of pain, injury and A&E visitation that you may find upsetting.

Most people can recognise when their stress is becoming too much for them to handle, and take steps to manage it. For some people, it might take someone close to them sharing their concerns before they do anything about it. Me? Falling down a flight of stairs and dislocating my shoulder – that was my wake-up call.

Before becoming injured on Sunday, I had planned on writing a blog post about managing difficult emotions, and how I was trying to deal with the stress that turns anxiety into constant, low-level irritation and intermittent bursts of anger directed at loved ones. Dillon and I had gone to Dublin, where my overestimation of how much we could manage to do, and underestimation of how tired the day would make me, had turned what should have been an enjoyable day into one that I wrote off mentally in the end as I just couldn’t cope with it all.

I had high hopes to do as much sightseeing as we could, as well as run some important errands, but had conveniently forgotten how exhausted my Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) makes me, how much anxiety I get from large crowds of people, and just how much walking we would be doing throughout the day. I wanted to show Dillon all around Dublin and have a nice day out together, and I couldn’t manage it, but in the end I just took my frustration out on someone who didn’t deserve it.

Then, just as I was thinking about how I could deal with this stress in my life in a better way, ironically even saying to Dillon: ‘Please remind me to slow down if I’m getting anxious’, life hit me smack in the face. And the legs. And the ribs. And the arms. And the shoulder. (Seriously, I fell down a lot of stairs – and smashed into a large ornament at the bottom of them too!) I had missed a couple of steps as I went downstairs, tumbled, slammed into the wall, rolled over, trapped my right arm underneath my body as I fell, and dislocated my shoulder. Luckily, I am left-handed, so of all my limbs for this to happen to at least it’s the least important one!

The pain was like nothing I had ever experienced, and I was later told that what I was feeling would have been twice as bad as giving birth (which, to be fair, gives me some confidence for the future!). At A&E I had an x-ray taken, which confimed that I had not broken anything. The pain was so intense that my worries left me – all thoughts of anything except following the instructions of the medical staff were completely gone. Pain like that narrows your focus – narrows your life, your experience of the world – to the point that you are only breathing, waiting to be told what to do next, and trying your hardest to do it, before the cycle repeats itself. Laughing gas was an experience in itself. The worst part was when the nurse asked me to count to 10 in my head as they proceeded to force my arm back into my shoulder, and my shoulder back in place, and they had not managed to do it by 10 so they just kept counting. (It was back in place on the count of 14, if you’re interested in that sort of thing!)

I’m proud of the fact that I managed to stay calm and tear-free until we got home, when I had a huge panic attack, and needed to sit by the open window until the feeling that I was dying subsided. I think it’s amazing how our bodies can just force anything unnecessary out in times of extreme trauma, and only after they are over we feel the full impact of what has happened to us. Interestingly, while the pain was excruciating at the time (that car journey to the hospital was worse than any rollercoaster ride, which, if you know my feelings about rides, is a sentiment you will appreciate), as soon as my shoulder was back in place it felt like little more than a bad bruise.

With my arm in a sling, and under instructions to keep my shoulder perfectly still while it healed, I needed help with literally everything. Until recently I couldn’t lower myself at all, so any reaching/picking up/sitting down was out of the question. Getting in the bath was impossible, and I couldn’t shower until last night, when I was allowed to take my sling off. Even now that I can keep my sling off except for sleeping and going outside, all strength in my arm has gone, and it is very stiff, so I need help with most things.

Putting in contact lenses to see? Yep. Opening a book? Impossible alone. Putting on and taking off clothes? Same. Going to the toilet? Washing my hair and my body? I need Dillon to do it all for me. That’s difficult for someone both as self-reliant and stubborn as me, but I know I’m beyond lucky to have someone so supportive and kind to help me. I don’t know how someone who lives alone could manage. I also understand now how easy it must be to become housebound if you are old or frail and become injured; in terms of the mental strength it takes, descending the stairs is a real challenge for me now, but I’m trying not to let it get me down.

There is physiotherapy to come, and I have some basic exercises that I am doing regularly to prevent the onset of frozen shoulder, but my arm is now out of the sling and I can type at my normal speed. I wanted to find a method to force myself to slow down, appreciate the moment, and get a better sense of perspective on what matters and what doesn’t, and I suppose life found a way to provide me with one. I’ve got to admit, recovering from traumatic injury is something that even I can’t rush through.

Anxiety · Decluttering · Japan · Minimalism · Overseas · Travelling · Visas · Yakkan Shoumei

Update on Visas & Preparations for Japan.

The morning Dillon and I were leaving our accommodation in Youghal and travelling to Mullingar, I received an email from the vice-principal of the school I will be working for in Osaka. His email confirmed that our visa application has been submitted successfully, and is now in the process of being approved!

It is estimated that the certificate of eligibility we need in order to get our visas will take between 2-6 weeks to arrive, so we should receive it in the post at some point in February. We will then need to take it to the Japanese Embassy in Dublin, where they will issue our visas, which should only take a couple of days. That means we are on track to travel to Japan in March.

Me being me, I immediately started thinking about all the things we will need to organise before we arrive in Osaka. This is quite an overwhelming process; even though I would describe myself as a very organised person, there always seems to be something else that I haven’t thought of that we will need to sort out. These realisations always seem to have a way of hitting me in the middle of the night when I’m trying to sleep as well!

Something that I have found really helps me deal with my worries and not feel so overwhelmed is to make a list in a Word document of all the things I have to do, and change the bullet points to ticks once I have completed the task. As well as being able to clearly identify what I still have to sort out, it also means I don’t lose track of what I have accomplished already. I can also helpfully group the tasks I have to complete under subheadings based on when I can feasibly achieve them, enabling me to prioritise what I choose to do first.

My priority at the moment is to get together the documentation I require to apply for a Yakkan Shoumei, which is an import certificate that you need in order to bring things like medications and contact lenses into Japan. You can bring a month’s worth of supplies into Japan without one, but realistically this isn’t enough for me. So I need to get a recent prescription for my contact lenses from the optician here in Mullingar, as well as a signed medical note from my doctor confirming that the birth control and medication for IBS that I will be bringing into Japan are for my personal use.

Finally, as Emirates Airlines have a generous baggage policy for long-haul flights, we have decided to get new suitcases with more storage capacity (yay, Blue Cross January sales!). There were a few belongings I mentioned in a previous post that I regretted leaving with my parents, so they will be able to bring these over before we leave Ireland.

By necessity, our situation has meant that I have significantly stripped down the things I own, and by and large this has been a positive experience. It was by chance that I ended up reading The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo, which led me to read a lot more about decluttering, organisation, and the minimalist lifestyle, and in a way I think that mentally prepared me a lot for how much I would have to leave behind. I’ve learnt that simple things like a notebook, or a set of coasters, can hold more value than expensive electronics or so-called ‘status’ items.

Have you applied for a Yakkan Shoumei certificate before and could give me some advice? Are you in the process of moving and trying to declutter or KonMarie your belongings? Let me know in the comments and I will reply to you.

If you would like to keep up-to-date with what’s happening in the lives of two people with four suitcases, please consider following my blog. The link is to the right.