Lately, I have been thinking that I have lived a life of focusedextended long term travel. Now, long term travel usually means grabbing your largest and sturdiest backpack and taking the plunge to travel for a period of anywhere from a couple of months to year. The focus of long term travel is getting to experience the world and its various cultures. Perhaps you spend a month in Tibet, a couple of weeks in Japan, or a few months travelling around Europe. However you do it, long term travel means being away from your family, friends, and the world you know. You can learn more from these articles: Laidback Trip and Road Affair.
Some people would say that I am an expatriate and/or migrant and/or immigrant. I wouldn’t disagree with any of those labels. What I know for myself is that I have been a traveler since childhood. My first plane ride was at the age of nine. I decided to move permanently to the U.S. at the age of fourteen. I lived temporarily in Germany in my early twenties. In my early thirties, I moved to Italy with an undefined goal–I stayed for five years. By my late thirties, I moved to Japan, where I currently reside. It’s been quite a journey.
So, what’s the point of this post? Well, as I begin to prepare for another move (within Japan), I found myself thinking about the importance of knowing what to keep.
One of things I have learned about myself is that I have a natural tendency towards keeping everything thatcould be potentially important in the future. It’s not a bad tendency. However, it can lead to some negative consequences, like keeping a lot of unnecessary paperwork that could be easily digitalized (if they haven’t already been).
Over the past 35 years of traveling and moving, I have developed 6 Keep Rules for myself.
Rule 1: Keep all identification documents (passport, license, etc.) updated and accessible. Have a notarized copy, if possible.
Rule 2: Keep important documents relevant to where you are currently living (housing agreements, etc.). When it’s time to move on, review and dispose of most, if not all. If you are worried, scan it and discard.
Rule 3: Keep receipts for electronic equipment, tax and home-related payments. I have not found much use in keeping other receipts, except for itemized tax information…and I am not yet about that life.
Rule 4: Keep handwritten letters and cards. Personally, I find it comforting to look back on the thoughts that others chose to share with me.
Rule 5: Keep gifts, large, small, and everything in-between. I believe that if someone took the time to think about you and gave you something as a result, it is important to keep it. Sometimes it isn’t possible to do so. So, then start looking for a good home for that item(s).
Rule 6: Keep favorites. However, everything cannot be a favorite. So, take the time to have a Marie Kondo moment. Try the KonMari method. Look at each item and ask yourself whether or not it brings you joy. If not, then it’s time to discard or rehome.
Well, then…it’s time to move once more. I will share an update about where once I am there. Next time, I will share about the moving process and my rules for discarding things.
Let me know what you choose to keep when you move.
It’s another grey winter day and another coffee shop. This time, I am spending time in Flat White Coffee Factory, enjoying a cappuccino and doing a little knitting. Overall, this moment feels like a great achievement as I have been dealing with a significant fibromyalgia flare up for the past three months or so–perhaps it has been the worst in over a decade.
今日も空はグレー色ですね。冬が続きます。私はFlat White Coffee Factoryにいます。いつもちょっと編み物してカプチーノを飲んでいますね。最近は、大変な線維筋痛症の症状がありますので、私の命について考えます。
Going through a flare up is physically and mentally painful. Still, dealing with it and overcoming it can provide you with some insights into your past and current life. Moreover, it can help to refocus you for the future. At least, I have found it to be so in my case. In this post, I would like to share a little about my recent life and what I have learned.
Since last April, I have been in a training program and have been learning about management and working in a Japanese company. The experience has changed my way of thinking and doing. In some ways, my world feels smaller, more intimate, quieter, and heavier. On the other hand, my mind has expanded, more sensitive to the experiences of others and the ripple effect of every action. I am grateful for what I am learning and how I am changing. I am curious to see who I will be at the end of this training program.
One of the phrases that I often hear (and is often said to me) is that we should think about looking at life as a “marathon, not a sprint.” I have appreciated hearing this. I didn’t realize how much I spent my life racing through to get from one thing to the next, without pausing to truly experience the moment. Of course, working efficiently is paramount.
So, how does this relate to my recent fibromyalgia flare up? Simply that I had not been pacing myself. I was sprinting…and subsequently my body and mind could not keep up. Literally, breathing was painful, my joints ached, my mind couldn’t retain information, and I thought that I wanted to give up.
I had to stop. In stopping, I had to assess the damage done. It was bad, enough so that, after more than 5 years of living without medication, I began taking medication again. Being on medication again isn’t ideal for me. I prefer to use natural remedies (acupuncture, diet, and exercise). I am working towards returning to only using natural remedies. For now, however, I will take medication, so that I can heal.
I am learning about my pace. I am learning that it is okay to go at my own pace. Perhaps it is not as fast or as efficient than other people’s pace, still it is a good pace for me. A long time ago, I learned about “staying in my lane.” Now, I have learned the importance of “going at my own pace.”
Eleven years ago, in 2011, I began this blog to document a new phase of the journey of my life. To be honest, the new phase started in 2008 when I was first diagnosed with fibromyalgia. In 2010, I made a significant decision, the kind that is not easily reversible. I decided to walk towards the unknown. I decided to step within and uncover or discover a different way to live.
Certainly, walking towards also means walking away from. I left behind a life I worked hard to create and tried to live. The reality, however, was that life threw me curveball in the form of fibromyalgia. Back then, I had many reasonable feelings and perhaps some unreasonable thoughts about developing this chronic illness.
My feelings ran the gamut, from anger to fear to sadness to happiness (after all, life can always be worse). My thoughts were both pratical (how can I survive like this?) and seemingly impractical (how can I move to Italy?).
Only two things were certain: the present could no longer exist, and whatever future I have, I would need to trust to instinct and chance because I could not trust my body to function as usual. I needed to learn to accept that I was no longer who I once knew myself to be.
You may be wondering why I decided to write about this topic today. Recently, a friend told me that they were asked by someone else, “So, why did Diedré leave her previous line of work (considering the renown of the hospital)?” It made me realize that it may be difficult for others to understand my path.
Sometimes in life your life may seem ideal to others. They may think, “You have everything I would like.” This way of thinking is not inherently wrong. It is merely uninformed. We cannot fully know or understand the intricacies of anyone’s life. It is enough to take on the challenge of knowing and understanding our own.
So, why did I decide to go towards the within to the unknown parts of myself? Because I needed to find a new way to live, to understand myself, and I am naturally curious about the world around me.
Thirteen years ago, I sat in a fibromyalgia group support meeting. I was the youngest member of the group, by about 10 years. Listening to the group members, I learned how much fibromyalgia had changed their lives… for the worse. They could no longer work, had difficulties with daily functioning, were angry, sad, and frustrated with the hand that life dealt them.
I didn’t see their path as mine. I decided to find a different way, even if others may not understand it.
I am now in same age range of those fibromyalgia group members. Over the past decade, I have travelled quite a bit, studied, and am now working full-time. It is a very simple life that I have crafted based on my abilities and health.
I don’t know how life would have been if I had continued on my original path. I do know that the path I chose has led me to learn more about the world and myself.
If nothing else in life, know this: only you can live your life, and only you can change your path.
And so I break my silence. It’s been more than a year since I posted. In the interim, I have been on a new journey in Japan. I moved to a new city, am trying new things, and learning more about the world in which I live. Life, with all of its many intricacies, is wonderfully fascinating–when we slow ourselves down enough to appreciate the ease and challenge of it all.
Ich wünsche mir, dass wir einen anderen Weg finden können. Jeden Tag versuche ich zu verstehen, was eigentlich der Sinn meines Lebens ist. Ich habe noch keine Antwort. Jedoch bin ich glücklich.
A volte mi chiedo dove dovrei andare. Dove potrei trovare la mia casa, la mia famiglia, me stessa? Dove sarò domani o dopodomani? A volte sembra che qualsiasi cosa facciamo e chiunque siamo o scegliamo di diventare non sia mai abbastanza per gli altri.
Still, I am enjoying the process of it all. As such, I have decided to begin writing again. I am still working on teaching myself Japanese, trying my best to keep Italian and German.
Also, every now and again, I remind myself that my thoughts exist in English, too.
With What Time I Have
let the snowflakes fall, turn my hair from black to white, smiling, I drink tea.
Con il tempo che ho a disposizione
I fiocchi di neve cadono, trasformando i miei capelli da neri a bianchi – sorridendo, bevo il tè.
Mit der Zeit, die ich habe
Schneeflocken fallen und färben mein Haar von schwarz zu weiß – Lächelnd trinke ich meinen Tee.
雪が降って、私の髪を黒から白に染める -。 微笑みながら、お茶を飲む。
Sometimes we cannot understand our paths as we walk. Sometimes we are judged, rightly or wrongly, for what we choose. What I have come to understand is that the most important thing that any of us can do is live…and live now.
So, with what time you have, how shall you spend it?
As for me, I am enjoying my tea and watching the seasons and myself change.
Hitachinaka, Ibaraki, Japan. I cried today. It’s my way of coping with difficult situations, especially those in which I have limited freedom to speak my thoughts.
Surely, we can say whatever we want to whomever whenever…as long as we are willing to deal with the consequences. I prefer to let my tears speak rather than my mouth because I would rather the judgment of my tears than the recklessness of my words.
For many years, I felt ashamed of my tears. I thought crying made me inherently wrong and weak. I wanted to be stoic because that symbolized emotional strength, the ability to “endure pain and hardship without showing [one’s] feelings or complaining.”
In my experience of living in Japan, being stoic has been elevated to an art form. It seems to be the preferred business stance. It can make showing emotions seem not only embarrassing but potentially job threatening.
Still, I am learning that it is far more important to me to be myself, whatever and however that self is. I cried today at work and will likely cry again in the future. Expressing my emotions through tears is just the way I am. I cry when I happy, sad, angry, and fearful.
And nowadays, when I finish crying, I feel a profound sense of relief and release. I can breathe and move freely once again.
Hitachinaka, Ibaraki, Japan. It’s been a long day, and I’d like nothing better than to go to bed. However, I want to spend a little time discussing a topic that has been on my mind: envy.
The American Psychological Association defines envy as “a negative emotion of discontent and resentment generated by desire for the possessions, attributes, qualities, or achievements of another.” It can often be confused with jealousy, which requires a third party to be involved. And it can be very challenging when you experience both simultaneously.
There are various reasons why one might feel envious and/or jealous. At the core of these feelings, however, lies insecurity, which brings me to the main point of this post: difficult feelings (negative emotions), like envy, are just an indicator that you need to stabilize your sense of self.
Your foundation, for whatever reason, has become shaky, weakened and in need of repair.
Yesterday, while roaming the streets of Tokyo, I spent time talking with my friend about her experiences with envy and jealousy. It gave me pause for thought about my journey over the recent years. To say that I felt insecure would be an understatement. I lived with a number of uncomfortable emotions, including envy and jealousy.
Instead of denying these emotions, pulling away because they were undesirable (negative) emotions, I chose to be curious about them. I leaned into them. I wanted to understand why they existed within me. Why did I feel envious? Why did I feel jealous?
Surely, there were external factors and a childhood history that created the perfect breeding ground for such emotions to thrive. Furthermore, I understood my experience of jealousy better than envy because I had encounter this feeling in an early relationship. Being envious of someone was new and, to be quite frank, nonsensical–I had no reason to feel envious. Thinking about it with a rational mind, I could see that there was nothing about which I needed feel envy. Still, I did feel envious…and so I tackled it head on.
Overcoming uncomfortable emotions takes a willingness to self-confront, nonjudgmentally and with grasp on the concept of taking ownership of your feelings. Regardless of what has been outside of your control, you always have the choice to take control of you, of your mind, body, and emotions. By taking control, by understanding that your next step forward is in your hands, your feelings of insecurity can begin diminishing.
Of course, it’s easy to write the above. It’s far harder to live it. Still, one has to decide what is more important: living with the burden of these uncomfortable emotions or living freely and comfortably as who you are.
One key tip: it is far easier to stabilize your foundation and heal when you remove/separate yourself from the toxic relationships in which you have chosen to engage. Do that, and a great deal of change is awaiting you.
Somewhere, Tokyo. For some time now, I’ve been decoding and rewriting my mental programming script. It’s been a slow and challenging process, but an exciting and rewarding experience. Today represented the rewriting of another line of code: I went to Tokyo.
Since arriving in Japan, I have travelled little outside of my prefecture. However, the few times that I have ventured out have been marked by emotionally and mentally difficult experiences. Tokyo (or the thought of spending time there), in particular, has been a trigger for unwelcomed memories, anxiety and thoughts and feelings about self. So, I decided it was time to tackle that. I made a plan with a dear friend to meet in Shibuya for lunch and shopping.
The morning started early for me (I left home at 5:00 to catch the train), and I could feel my anxiety level rise with every step I took to the train station. Luckily, I brought my knitting and crochet to help manage those feelings. By the time I arrived in Tokyo, I felt ready to see the city with an open mind and without the weight of the past.
I met my friend as planned, walked around the city, visited shops, had a great lunch, and laughed a lot. It was fantastic! I felt…happy. More importantly, I felt strong, confident about myself and my place in the world. I am truly grateful to my friend, who has been a like a ray of sunshine for me on emotionally cloudy days. Thanks!
Scale? Check. Tape measure? Check. I’ve got some basic tools for body assessment. Oh, I forgot…I have a full length mirror, too. Check. My eyes, armed with a pair of glasses, seem ready for the task of looking, with extreme subjectivity, at my physical self.
Body image. I’d like to spend time talking about my own today.
First, however, what is body image? The National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) defines body image as “how you see yourself when you look in the mirror or when you picture yourself in your mind.” This encompasses 1) what you believe about your appearance, 2) how you feel about your body overall, and 3) how you sense your physical experience of your body within space. The story that accompanies our perception stems from the messages we received in childhood about our body and the bodies of those around us. Body image, whether positive or negative, can change over time due to various factors. Body image isn’t static, it’s a journey that we are all on throughout our lives.
Given my background as an expressive therapist, specialized in the treatment of eating disorders, I have avoided discussing my body image journey. However, in light of the growing awareness and conversation about this topic, I would like to share some aspects of my experience.
Prior to my diagnosis, my body image was more on the positive side of the spectrum. I saw my body as quite strong, flexible, and healthy, having spent the years prior devoted to weight training, yoga, and maintaining a fairly decent diet. My weight would have been considered on the higher end of my weight range for my height. However, I was not concerned about this due to my muscle to fat ratio. In essence, I perceived myself as a healthy 20-something-year-old with love for dancing as many days of the week as I could.
When I began feeling ill for the first time in 2006, I felt confused and tried to find answers. My weight began to steadily climb upwards while my body’s abilities began a downward spiral. By 2008, I could barely recognize myself in the mirror. My body was no longer fit and the scale showed a number that I could never have imagined at that time. More importantly, my body couldn’t do what I expected it to be able to do.
For the first time, as adult, I felt ashamed of my body…and at a lost as to what to do.
The immense daily pain was unreal and unwelcomed. The fatigue, however, was the thing that made life unbearable. In my mind, I thought I could push through the pain. However, if I couldn’t even get up to begin that process, then what was the point? Luckily, my resilience has always been high. I made a plan to take control. Unfortunately, my focus was solely on my weight, not on the impact that my illness was having on my mind. Furthermore, I didn’t considered the consequences that losing weight would have on my intrapersonal and interpersonal relationships.
I became vegan and began walking for an hour every day. Over a period of two years, I lost twice the amount of weight that I had gained. I removed the word strong from self-description and added weak. I felt weak, tired, and in pain. I was, however, not as heavy as before. However, the years spent with the scale as a companion had had a severe impact on my mind. In addition, when I looked in the mirror, I didn’t recognize myself. It didn’t help that, at that time, I was also in the midst of some major life changes (separation, resignation, moving abroad, etc.).
I made the one mistake that I knew better not to make: I thought, “I don’t have time right now. I’ll have to figure it out later.”
It took almost a decade, but later finally came.
I prioritized creating my new life in Italy, leaving the old life in Massachusetts behind, and disregarding the reality of my increasingly fragmented self. In essence, I didn’t want to deal…and so I didn’t. The alarm bells began sounding about 5 years later when I found myself living in America once again. My weight had dramatically increased once again due to poor self-management while living in a stressful environment. Still, I decided to take the old approach–focus on the weight gain and not the mind. It was easier to focus on that rather than unravel the chaos of my internal and external world. As such my weight went down then up and then down again, while my body image continued its descent to rock bottom.
When You Hit Rock Bottom: There is Only Up
Just over two years ago, I hit rock bottom in multiple areas of my life (with the exception of work). I became aware that I had been choosing a very toxic, self-sabotaging path. So, I decided to change one thing at a time, including my relationship with my body.
If you do a quick internet search on improving body image, you can find countless articles on what steps to take. From what I can see, most of the advice is on point and doable. They are effective, if you are in the mental space and emotionally regulated enough to do them consistently. Fibromyalgia, however, can leave your mental space feeling limited and your emotions seriously dysregulated. So much of your time is spent managing fatigue or pain or both…and trying to manage the emotions that arise as a result.
Once I made my decision to improve my body image, I started with only one thing in mind:
shifting my focus.
I shifted my focus to what my body can do in the moment (not yesterday or tomorrow, etc.)–just here and now. In addition, I created goals, answering the following question: what do I want my body to do?
I put away the scale. I returned my tape measure to my notions container, put a message of affirmation on my mirror. I realized that I had stopped looking at myself in the mirror. Now, I make it a point to look at myself twice a day in the mirror. This is done with curiosity and without judgement.
I decided to become friends with my body. It’s a pretty cool body that can do many things. I want to learn more about what it can do, what it likes, and what it needs. I have also started getting clothes that fit properly and feel good. I want to understand more about my body’s style preferences.
Most importantly, I am grateful to my body for its strength. Despite the high levels of stress, the ongoing pain, and staggering fatigue, my body keeps going. Thanks, body!
Beyond the many lists I have only two tips:
1) become curious about your body, and
2) become your body’s best friend.
We spend a lot of time within our minds instead time within our bodies. We try to use our minds to control our bodies. We may think that we have a problem with discipline, not exercising enough or eating too much. Well, how about just stopping to listen to our bodies? How about letting your body tell you what it needs? Maybe it needs more sleep, massage, acupuncture, stretching, or to go for a nice walk.
You won’t know until you to stop to listen to your body.
Hitachinaka. Let’s begin with the title of this post. The above image is from late last night. I woke up to alarm chimes and sirens, the intensity of which caused me to get up and take a look.
What I saw caused my heart to sink…My neighbour’s home was on fire. I said a prayer for my neighbour and watched as the emergency services frantically worked to manage the situation. Other neighbours gathered and looked on with horror while a news photographer ran swiftly to capture the unfolding event.
As of this morning, a lone fire engine remained; the firefighters seemed to be investigating the little left of what was once there.
It is a sad reminder that this is also life: managing catastrophes and surveying the damage to make sense of and learn from what has happened.
In contrast to last night’s sad event, I have been spending time considering the concept of home. For most of my life, I have never been able to define it, with little success until now.
I’ll be honest, the thought of defining home has been terrifying. Home, up until recently, brought forth nothing positive in my mind. Like Deirdre of the Sorrows, home represented conflict, isolation, and unhappiness.
Home was a structure filled with the intentions and will of others, a place in which I acted a part that fit the psychological and physical needs of others.
In my previous post, I wrote about my issues with codependency. So, let’s be clear: I chose, whether consciously or unconsciously, to live in this manner. As an adult, I have always had a choice in how I live my life and with whom.
For over two decades, I chose to avoid creating my home, internally and externally. The past, luckily, remains the past.
What matters now is now.
My life in Japan has taught me that I can create home, a home that is peaceful and filled with harmony and love. More importantly, home lies within me. I can take it wherever I go, recreate as I choose because it is mine.
Perhaps one day I will decide to create a home with someone else, one that can hold the love and happiness as well as the challenges of a family. Even then, my home would still remain.
Home is a sacred internal space that one manifests externally.
As my neighbour’s home burned, I thought about my physical home and felt calm. My home is within and so can be recreated. Thus, I live free from the suffering of worry of losing home.
To my neighbour, I continue to offer my prayer and hope for the safety of all. Let the sorrow of this moment pass as all emotions, with time, do. Homes can be rebuilt. Let the next one be filled again with love and happiness.