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.