After moving to college in the fall of 2009, I spent my first month in a daze. I had moved (for the first time in my life) into a dorm building that housed more people than the population of my hometown, and I shared a room with someone I hardly knew at all. I spent most of those first weeks so scared of everything that I didn’t really feel scared at all—just foggy in the head. I quickly made tracks to what became my comfort zones: my dorm room, my three classes, the dining hall, my work-study job. Rarely did I venture out of these places. In fact, I didn’t go beyond these places at all in the beginning, walking the same paths between classes, talking to the same people, eating the same things. I look back now and realize that I was in survival mode then, doing what I had to to stay alive and in school. But I wasn’t enjoying myself, wasn’t exploring, wasn’t making new friends or discovering new things about my environment. Not in the beginning.
I have always, always struggled with change. My mom likes to tell a story from when I was in second grade to remind me of this: I was home sick for about a week with a stomach bug. When I went back to school that first day, my mom got a call in the middle of the day to come take me home because my stomach was hurting. On the third day in a row of this, she knew it wasn’t the remainder of the stomach bug, but something else that was causing these midday stomachaches. After a little investigation, she discovered that the teacher had rearranged the desks in the classroom during the week I had been absent, and coming back to a classroom that was different from the one I had left a week ago made my little second-grade self so nervous that my stomach would hurt from the anxiety. I have little to no recollection of this, but experiences like it have echoed enough throughout my life that I can only shrug and say, “Yep, sounds like me.”
The truth is that moving to Japan has been a big adjustment, and not in just one way.
For one, I have always had roommates or family to live with before. Now I live by myself. In some ways that’s freeing—I can do whatever I want with my space without having to consult anyone, plus I am the sort of person who needs at least a little alone time in order to remain non-cranky, so I get plenty of that. But in other ways, it’s lonely. Especially when Akira leaves after a weekend together and I’m by myself all over again.
Plus there are so many things that are just done differently here. (Not necessarily in a bad way—just different.) I grew up with a clothes dryer; now I hang everything on the line. I used to mail in all my bills when I paid them. Now I take my bills to a convenience store and pay them at the register. I used to throw away garbage willy-nilly however I pleased. Now I have to remember that there are certain days that certain types of garbage are picked up, they have to be in certain bags, and I have to get them downstairs before 8:00 a.m. (Really, by 7:45 a.m. because sometimes the truck comes early.) My shower room and sink are not separate, so if I take a shower without brushing my teeth first, then I have to walk onto the wet shower floor to brush my teeth. Plus, the showerhead isn’t very high on the wall, so instead of standing to shower like I’m used to, I ended up buying a stool so I could sit and shower instead of having to squat all the time.
There are a million little things. Like, food seems to go bad faster here. Things that I would have kept for a week or more in America have to be used within a few days. I am pretty much illiterate in Japanese at the moment, so going to the grocery store or pharmacy can be a struggle if I’m not buying things I’ve already bought before. I can’t drive—I walk or take the bus or the train to the store, to work, to everywhere. (I never realized my sense of independence was connected so much to driving.) And speaking of cars, I still have a hard time remembering that the driver is on the opposite side of the car here! I have walked around to the wrong side of the vehicle more times than I can possibly count.
Honestly, I spend a lot of my time feeling exhausted. Sometimes I get home from work and hardly have the energy to even throw something in the microwave, let alone cook. Getting out of bed in the mornings can be tough some days, and I forget silly little things and sometimes important big things. I’m not normally a forgetful sort of person, but it seems like my mind just can’t hold on to things the way it usually does. Plus, I haven’t been as healthy as I’m used to being, either. I even had to call out sick from work for a couple days last month, which I have literally never had to do. The last time I was sick enough to call out, I wasn’t old enough to even have a job yet! So my mind isn’t the only thing struggling to adjust.
Now, I fully realize that this is a giant list of First-World-Problems, that there are people all over the world with much, much grander issues than whether their feet get wet when they brush their teeth, and that in the grand scheme of life, these are teeny-tiny. So before you start fixing all my problems for me or shame me for complaining, know this: I know it will get better. A lot of these issues will be solved simply by studying Japanese more—the more I can read, the better off I’ll be. And the rest of the things I’ve mentioned here will resolve themselves with time. I don’t regret moving to Japan, not even for one second since I got here. I don’t wish I was back in the States. I’m not trying to get unwarranted sympathy or attention, nor am I trying to blame Japan for all my troubles or convince you not to come here or move anywhere your heart desires.
But all that knowledge doesn’t mean that suddenly everything I wrote about becomes easy, that I’ll stop having hard days and my life will turn into a filtered picture of perfection. I wanted to write this post because so many times I see people sharing their lives on the internet and it all looks so… golden. So beautiful and happy. If you were to see my posts on Facebook, you’d think the same thing of my life. And I know for a fact that lots of people, especially younger, teenage-ish people, look at posts online and think that that’s how life’s supposed to be. And then they look at their own lives and don’t find the same, and they feel bad about it. I just want to show that for every golden moment, there’s an ugly one. Life always has both, whether we share them or not. And while it’s not helpful to wallow in the bad life brings, it’s just as unhelpful to filter it out and leave it to fester. Sometimes it’s healing to know you’re not the only one struggling.
Back in 2009, it took several months of anxiety-induced fog, but that roommate I hardly knew became one of the best friends I’ve ever had, and I discovered a couple of favorite spots on campus and in town. I eventually got comfortable enough with school that I could relax just a little, and I adjusted to seeing more faces per day than I’d ever seen in my life up to that point. And if I could do it then, as a small-town, sheltered eighteen-year-old, then I can definitely do it now.