The Silence of Passing Time

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

Veins stark against skin.

Winter’s shadows, vision dims.

My voice, ticking clock.

The other day a younger friend said, “D, I wonder why your life has been filled with so many challenges.” We’ve known each other for almost four years. It’s a fair statement. It’s true, my life, over the past five years and longer, has seen its share of ups and downs.

Still, I wouldn’t have had it any other way. Who I am now is a far better person than who I have ever been. And the person I am crafting myself to be will better than who I am now. This is the process of choosing personal growth above all else.

Challenges can be presented or self-generated. However they present themselves in my life, my goal is to face them and learn from them. Since 2015, I have been confronting the special challenges of my mother’s aging process. It is a delicate and difficult situation for her as well as her children. It is a part of the human experience. As we become elderly, the likelihood of our needing support from those around us increases. Typically, we look to our children, who are likely middle-aged (around ages 40 to 60). I am 42. My sisters are 48, have children and are experiencing being in the sandwich generation, having to provide care to their children and parents. With the pandemic, the situation has only become more stressful for them.

Self-portrait, 2020

Back to my younger friend, who, in her twenties, has yet to but will likely experience the challenges that come with parents aging. Our conversation took place just three days ago. Since then, I’ve spent time pondering about the other challenges I have faced since we met: issues related to fibromyalgia, dealing with seasonal affective disorder, working through likely C-PTSD, rebuilding financial stability after being mostly unemployed for 6 years, and choosing to be in a romantic relationships that included narcissistic abuse.

Those last two points were completely self-generated. So, I’d like to address them.

Yes, I am dealing with the fallout from a 10-year-old decision to leave my position as a full-time employee, move to Italy, and become a full-time student. There are many reasons why I made the decisions, some relating to health, some relating to relationships, and some relating to fear. I do not regret it.

Looking back, would I have made the same decision? Yes. However, I would have gone about the process differently. Thus, I gladly accept the responsibility of rebuilding my professional life and financial wellbeing, and I am enjoying the process of doing so…even if the path is not always easy or clear.

For all the knowledge I have related to psychology, it is true that I have not always chosen relationships that promoted mental and emotional wellbeing. I admit that I have not had clear and healthy personal boundaries. It is easy to find an answer as to why by looking at my childhood. However, my goal is to look forward. I know my past fairly well. I’ve spent decades unraveling it. So, the work now is setting boundaries within self and with others. The challenge for me is learning that I don’t have to deal with abusive behavior just because I am used to it. I can walk away from it. It’s taken me a while to get to this point, but the most important part is: I am here now.

I’ve been hibernating for several years, silently listening to the passing time. I’ve been busy rebuilding my inner strength and outer resources. I am not where I aiming to be. I am, however, much farther along the path than when my younger friend met me.

So, to my younger friend, thank you for your question and concern. Your question positively provoked me to this craft this response.

My life of so many challenges is one that leads me to continue my self-exploration and healing. It would be and will be great when there are fewer. For now, I gladly face each that life presents.

Until Tomorrow,

D

Life in Japan: Still so many things to learn…

Robot host

Hitachinaka. I’ve spent the past two weeks in a bit of a fog. Physically, I have been a bit drained. And mentally, I am over winter…well, at least, this winter.

Still, I have been keeping busy learning new things about myself and living in Japan.

Sakura

Spring is almost here. Lately, I’ve been reflecting on the (almost) three years that I have been living in Japan. I’ve been wondering about the person I have become as a result of conforming to Japanese cultural norms.

I have become even quieter, preferring silence to talking. I enjoy nature even more than before. And I am less forthcoming with my opinions and more likely to go with the flow.

Mt. Fuji

Of course, this could just be a part of getting older.

I’ve learned to compartmentalize even more. My personal life is shared in slivers. And, from what I have experienced, I perceive this approach as the norm here.

Gate

I’m still learning the art of keeping conversations light–which is no mean feat for someone who enjoys delving into and understanding the psychology of others. By the way, the weather is actually quite lovely this afternoon.

I’m learning to read the air (場の空気を読む, ba no kuuki wo yomu), to be more KY. That is, I am working hard to better understand (from a Japanese cultural perspective) the situations in which I find myself and to know what is the expected behavior (again, from a Japanese cultural perspective) in those situations.

Kanji

Of course, the major challenge is my temporarily linguistic limitation. At the moment, my Japanese language abilities are basic and must be improved. That leads me to the next thing that I’m learning.

I’m learning Japanese. And while my initial thoughts were that I only needed to learn enough to survive while living here. I have come to the self-understanding that, regardless of how long I live here, I do wish to embrace all that I can of Japanese culture to the best of my abilities.

Reading, writing, speaking (formally and informally), and listening comprehension, beyond a basic level, are all essential.

Yes, here, I will, most likely, always be an outsider. That is the nature of what it means to be a foreigner living in Japan. However, that doesn’t mean that I can’t create a space for Japanese culture inside me.

So, now, I’m off to study Japanese (今、私は日本語を勉強しましう). Wish me well! And, as always, thanks for reading.

D.

Mini Post

Hitachinaka. It’s been a busy period. So, I haven’t been able to update my blog. However, I will be back to posting this week.

Thank you for visiting my blog.

D

Brushing against narcissism

Hitachinaka. It’s another lovely spring-like winter day. It was also the continuation of hair day–if you don’t know what I mean, check out this post about wash weekend day for natural hair by NaturallyCurly.com.

I finally finished rebraiding my hair around 10:30 a.m., just in time to make an 11:00 a.m. knitting time at Starbucks with a friend…except I am crocheting today. Strangely enough, although I am a little sleep deprived from dealing with my hair, I am feeling pretty energized and managed to get a few rows completed while we were together.

Still, my hair-washing-blanket-making day isn’t my reason for writing today.

I started the morning as I ended the night before: watching a number of videos on narcissism. This morning I watched a documentary, Surviving Narcissists and Psychopaths: Narcissistic Abuse, produced by Aletta Meijer.

I enjoyed and related to the documentary on many levels. And I would recommend it to anyone who has experienced or is experiencing narcissistic abuse. It features the story of three people (two women and one man) who have experienced abusive relationships with people who may have exhibited grandiose narcissistic traits moreso than vulnerable narcissistic traits.

Of course, I use the word may because the documentary implies rather than overtly states that these people displaying abusive behaviours were grandiose narcissists. Although the documentary, in its entirety, was informative and truly inspiring, I was most interested in the latter part.

Towards the end of the video, the interviewees discussed why they were attracted to the people who were abusive to them. The women both reported that they grew up in homes were there was, at least, one narcissistic parent.

From my understanding, for both women it was their mothers. The man reported that he did not grow up in an abusive household, which rendered him naïve as he had always been a trusting person…now, he is less so.

Some years ago, I encountered a person who opened my eyes to the reality of narcissism…and narcissistic abuse. Although I understood, diagnostically, the traits of narcissism, I had never encountered the reality of it until the moment I allowed that person in my life…or so I thought.

To say that that person tried their best to destroy my self-esteem would be accurate. However, I have no intention of discussing the details here as my experience fits the recognised pattern of narcissistic abuse.

For a long time, after that experience, I often felt anger towards that person and myself. Over the past five years, however, I have worked to understand, not only that relationship, but all of my relationships…and the root cause for my having chosen and accepted that person into my life.

It led me back to…

Childhood. It may seem cliché that the root of many of our issues lie in our past, specifically, to the time when we had no control over our lives. Of course, whether you focus on the past, present, or future, in my opinion, the most important thing is working towards self-acceptance while improving self and finding resolution for past issues within self.

Without going into details, I can say that I learned that, for the majority of my life, I have been surrounded by people who have displayed both grandiose and vulnerable narcissistic traits. I was raised in a highly narcissistic, and thus toxic, environment.

Being the product of such a family system was the reason I decided to become a mental health counselor…because I wanted to fix whatever was broken in my own family. I wanted to save my parents who could never see their children as anything but extensions of themselves, trophies to be displayed…or garbage to be discarded. I wanted to save my older sisters who were suffering from internalizing the abuse and addiction they witnessed and suffered.

Little did I realize that that goal I made for myself at the age of twelve would lead me to exhibiting codependent traits and trying to save the many narcissistically inclined people I attracted into my life.

More importantly, it lead me to this point of learning that…

the only person that I can save is myself…

Coincidentally, or perhaps not, the year that I met that person was also when I woke up, through therapy, to fact that I had chosen a career not for myself but in response to my family. I had forgotten about that promise I made at age twelve. All I believed was that I was good at understanding others and longed to help young people, especially girls, overcome trauma.

That revelation shook me to the core. Fully waking up to the idea that the career I had chosen might not be what I truly wanted to have was devastating.

It took almost seven years of self-healing to understand that I still would have chosen a field in which I could help others to learn about themselves and the world. Also, I am glad I chose psychology, more specifically, expressive therapy, as it helped me to create the me I am now.

What I thought was a short-term abusive experience with someone who displayed narcissistic traits turned into a journey of self-healing through confronting myself and my past. It isn’t a journey that I would recommend to take alone. Finding a competent therapist whose therapeutic approach matches your needs is key, in my opinion.

Well, this has been quite the long post. If you read this far, thank you. Also, if you haven’t, thank you for reading some of it. If you are my sibling, thank you and I love you–the journey continues, so let’s always do the best that we can in each moment of our lives. If you are my parent, I love you as you are and thank you for whatever you could and did do that ultimately benefited me.

D

Tomorrow is today

Winter shawl (photo by D. Blake, model and knitter M. Beddingfield)

Hitachinaka. Today is the annual Katsuta Marathon. Running is a way of life in this area, so a variety of races are easy to join throughout the year.

I was hopeful to participate in this year’s marathon. However, I find myself sitting at one my local Starbucks, spending time with friends and working on a rather fast-growing crochet project. To be honest, it feels good to be inside, warm and dry. It’s bleak weather outside.

To be honest, I am disappointed that I wasn’t able to run this year. Of course, there is a reason. There always is when we don’t achieve our set goals.

Winter shawl II (photo by D. Blake, model and knitter M. Beddingfield)

Sometimes, the reason is in our control: something we didn’t do or did do. Sometimes, it’s out of our control: something we couldn’t do.

In the end, the result is the same, a goal left unaccomplished or partially so.

It’s easy to get bogged down in what we haven’t done, couldn’t do, or should have done. However, what’s the point of doing that? What’s the benefit of getting caught up in the lost yesterdays?

Today is what we have. And whatever we choose and are able to do today is what will inform our tomorrow, and thus our future selves.

Winter shawl III (photo by D. Blake, model and knitter M. Beddingfield)

We get hung up on promises we make to others and, especially, to ourselves. We feel defeated when we cannot or have not fulfilled those promises or met some conscious or unconscious expectations by some specified deadline (whether internally or externally defined).

Again, what’s the point? Why wrap ourselves up in the worry of who or how we cannot yet be or what we cannot yet do?

Winter shawl IV (photo by D. Blake, model and knitter M. Beddingfield)

Don’t get me wrong. I am not saying that we don’t need to be mindful and make efforts to accomplishing our goals, fulfilling our promises, or meeting expectations.

I am saying that whatever happened, whatever we have or haven’t done, whoever we couldn’t be is yesterday’s news.

Focus on today. Let today be your guide for what you do and who you will be tomorrow. Because, in the end of it all, all that each one of us has is…

Winter shawl V (photo by D. Blake, model and knitter M. Beddingfield)

today, this moment, this hour, this minute, this second.

We aren’t guaranteed time. However, if we are still existing, then we can always do our best to do and be the best that we can in each moment. The last moment is gone. Now is what you have.

Let that knowledge guide you toward your bliss.

Thanks for reading. And thanks to M. Beddingfield for allowing me to use the above photos.

D

A long train ride

Tokyo (Credit: WordPress)

En route to Tokyo. I often find long train rides a great time to catch up on some pleasure reading, studying, knitting or crocheting, and self-reflecting. I’ve done some studying and read some more of the Pete Walker book, both of which left me in great space for self-reflection.

So far I have been lucky enough to experience the gaijin (外人, がいじん) seat” phenomenon, which has left me with space to spread out and relax and do a bit of knitting.

Nippori Station

I transferred trains at Nippori and continued on to the Ginza area of Tokyo. I’ve been there twice before, but never on my own. In fact, as I travelled, it dawned on me that this was the first time in a long time that I have travelled alone.

During my journey, I came to realize that, since I began living in Japan, I have always been surrounded by people who care about me (even minimally).

It’s a very comforting thought, i.e. not being alone in the world.

Rooftop nature, Ginza area

Cities overwhelm me–Tokyo, especially so. There is so much of everything: people, buildings, cars, and the rushing to experience all that man can make. Even nature feels manufactured and customized for convenience. I couldn’t wait to get back to my small countryside-city.

Still, I had a very good reason for going to Tokyo. And, to be quite frank, I felt and still feel nothing but gratitude for having been asked to go.

Ginza area

Now, I am back in Hitachinaka. I enjoyed my time in Tokyo. I am still not a city person, but I can understand the appeal. Moreover, the trip gave me a chance to reflect positively on some aspects of my life that I have been finding challenging.

Time and space can bring much needed clarity. And I believe my short visit to Tokyo gave me that.

Current knitting

Also, I found the following proverb that provided me with a healthy dash of simple wisdom:

泣いて暮らすも一緒、笑って暮らすも一緒“- Japanese Proverb

“ないてくらすもいっしょ、わらってくらすもいっしょ”

“Naite kurasu mo issho, waratte kurasu mo issho.”

“It is the same life, whether we spend it laughing or crying.”

In this life, how we respond to our many experiences, whether past, present, or future, is up to us.

Let’s choose to smile or laugh and do what brings us closer to internal joy and harmony.

Thanks for reading.

D

Back to school

Walking to Mito

Monday. I wake with the realization that winter vacation will end once I begin the journey to Mito for an afternoon company training session. The weather is beautiful, and I am excited to enjoy the sun while bracing myself against chilled air.

I could take the train or even drive. Either would be faster and far more comfortable. Still, I am longing to move my body more. And this is the perfect opportunity to do it.

I make it just in time. I am tired but feeling accomplished.

Cowl, (modeled by Maria)

Tuesday. I am back at elementary school. The day moves quickly. I even have energy to design and knit a simple cowl. While doing that I begin listening to Pete Walker’s Complex PTSD: From Surviving to Thriving on Kindle.

Last winter, I read his first book, The Tao of Fully Feeling: Harvesting Forgiveness Out of Blame, which I found not only enlightening, from a psychological perspective, but truly helpful personally.

Katsuta Station

Wednesday. It’s been a hit-the-ground-running start to the new school term. And I haven’t quite settled into my new daily routine plan.

It’s a reminder that everything is a work in progress. And I need to give myself more freedom and space to adjust to meeting my own needs.

Lately, I have been wondering what it means to manifest the healthiest version of the self. I wonder how I can shift my daily actions to move closer to that idea.

How about you? How has the new year been? How do you move yourself towards becoming your healthiest you?

Thanks for reading.

D.

A sweater of my own

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.” -R. Niebuhr

The day has grown late, and I am awfully tired. I need to sleep. Last night ended early this morning as I finished weaving in the ends for what is my first sweater.

Unblocked sweater

It’s made from acrylic tweed bought in various Daisos (100¥ shop). I had been collecting the yarn (22 skeins) to make a yoga mat for a friend, but it wasn’t the right material for her in the end.

Acrylic yarn is very harmful to the environment, even if it is inexpensive. I make no excuses for having bought it. Still, given that I had already done that, I decided that I would find some use for it.

Thus, I began making a large rectangle, and then another. I steamed blocked them and crocheted them together. I picked up stitches around the armholes to make sleeves. And then decided the sweater would be for me.

My sweater

Without blocking it again, I put it on this morning. And I felt happy.

Yes, it’s acrylic. I cannot change that. It was the yarn I could afford then. What I could do, and have done, is make something from it.

And so…I made a sweater that is cozy, warm, and filled with my creative energy. The thing is, I see making this sweater as a bit like moments in life.

Sometimes we make the wrong decisions because it’s best that we can do (or know to do) in a situation. Unfortunately, we usually can’t undo those decisions.

My sweater, sleeves and edging

However, we can choose to take ownership of the results of our decisions. We can choose to work with or through the consequences.

We can allow ourselves to be positively transformed through learning how to deal with the things we cannot change.

So, now I have made a sweater that’s like me: imperfect and unique. We both have problematic pasts that we cannot change. However, we are exactly as we are meant to be.

Thanks to my sweater for the life reminder. And thank you for reading.

D

Starbucks, knitting, and serenity

Frost on wood

Hitachinaka. It’s after 7:00a.m., so the sun is already up when I begin my walk to the other Starbucks. It’s near the city’s main attraction, Hitachi Seaside Park (part botanical garden, part amusement park).

I am trying to get the most out of my winter vacation, which ends tomorrow. The walk is peaceful, and there are fewer cars and pedestrians than I thought there would be.

Sunlight and sun

I am still longing for a quieter morning though. I need to wake earlier. There are many things, I realize, that I need to do as I move forward. In the past, there were many things I wanted to do.

Over the past year, I spent time working on personally defining need and want.

Recycling/Secondhand shop, Hitachinaka

To me, need means that I understand that I have no other choice but to take a specific action(s) in order to achieve my goals. It speaks to the essentiality of the action(s) to my further development.

Want speaks to my more nebulous ideas or actions for an idealized near or far future. When I say “I want,” it doesn’t mean I will. Whereas “I need” does.

By the way, if you have recently moved to Japan, always look out for your local secondhand shops. They are inexpensive options to buy the things you need or pass on the things you no longer want or need.

In Hitachinaka, we have a few, including the major ~Off chain (Book Off, Hard Off, etc.), as well as King Family.

Baked Sweet Potato Factory & Bakery

In addition to secondhand shops, look out for direct sales food factories, like the yakiimo (焼いも, やきいも) factory pictured above. You can often get good deals.

Last week, I bought three bunches of bananas for 90¥ from this place and a friend bought a deliciously warm baked sweet potato for less than supermarket prices.

Starbucks, Hitachi Seaside Park

7:45. It’s already crowded in the Starbucks, but it’s temporary. A group of cyclists are grabbing their pre-cycle coffee before heading out towards tattoo-friendly Ajiguara Beach.

It’ll be a while before the line to order will decrease. So, I suppose it’s time to start knitting.

Knitting for me

I taught myself to knit about 15 years ago. I was a fairly avid knitter from 2005 to 2010, a period defined by illness and loss.

I suppose that is why I put away my knitting for a long time, only knitting gifts for odd holiday or birthday, not for pleasure and never for myself. I didn’t want to be reminded of the things, people or parts of self I needed to let go.

I forgot about the serenity that knitting gives me. That with each stitch, I found comfort and balance. Without knitting, I am not sure how I would have gotten through that time.

I am glad that I’ve picked up my needles again with renewed enthusiasm and intention. I am glad to knit for others and even more grateful that I have arrived at a point where I understand that I can and need to knit for myself.

How about you? What brings you serenity? What do you need to do this year?

Thank you for reading.

D

Hitachinaka has two Starbucks

Frost on winter grass

Hitachinaka. I’ve started my morning later than I intended. The dark winter mornings are proving challenging, or perhaps it’s the cold. Either way, I have been sleeping in more than I wish.

7:15. I leave my apartment and begin the 40-odd-minute trek to one of the two local Starbucks (スターバックス). The other is about the same distance away.

Starbucks, Sawa area in Hitachinaka

I think we’re pretty lucky in Hitachinaka. We have, at least, two of every major coffee house: Starbucks, Saza Coffee, and Tully’s Coffee. They are great places to spend time with friends, study, or just relax.

They all offer free Wi-Fi and the opportunity to sit undisturbed for as long as you wish. Of course, it’s always a good idea to buy something to drink/eat as you while away the hours.

Soy Kinako muffin and iced black tea with cream

8:05. I decide on the soy kinako (きなこ, 黄粉) muffin because I can’t have the current special: Azukinako (あずきなこ) latte. In support of a friend, I am doing a no coffee, no chocolate challenge (perhaps we should call it the “No CC Challenge”) for one month or so. It’s been going pretty well.

Lately, Starbucks has been offering more soy products, which I think is great. Actually, I have noticed more attention being given to providing gluten-free options in both cafes and supermarkets locally.

Closeup, muffin. I think those are raisins.

Today’s plan: meeting a friend at 11:00a.m. knitting on and off, evening yoga and early bed. Winter vacation is almost over.

Today’s goals: focusing inward and listening intuitively.

How about you? What are your goals for today? Does winter affect or challenge you in any way?

Thanks for reading.

D