Anxiety. Terror. Confusion.
A few words that come to mind as I reflect on the past week of my life.
After the earthquake hit last week, my life-along with countless others-was thrown into turmoil. We all have experienced different degrees of disarray. I categorize my experience largely in the confused group. I know that I am in a far better situation then a huge number of people here in Japan. I am eternally grateful that my husband and I are safe.
That being said, it has not been picnic over here. Articles are being thrown around explaining the toxicity of stress and fear. We are 200 km or more from the major disasters wrought by the 9.0 earthquake and following tsunami and 125 miles from the Fukishima nuclear power plant. Despite this, fear and panic have spread like a plague.
Fear and panic are exceptionally contagious. As I have mentioned before, the Japanese people are typically calm and collected people. Even in the face of total chaos, things continue to remain organized. But organization cannot stop the powerful current of fear that is sweeping the country.
It is difficult when put in a situation as traumatizing as this one to focus on anything else. Television sets are constantly being watched. Internet news pages are refreshed every few minutes. People are desperate for news…more specifically: people are desperate for positive news.
As if the devastation resulting from the earthquake, aftershocks and tsunami are not difficult enough to warp ones mind around... At least these things are tangible. Seeing and feeling things, although not always good, is much better than uncertainty. Uncertainty breeds fear. Especially regarding something that you can’t even see: radiation.
Since the troubles with the Fukishima nuclear power plant began last week, there have been an unprecedented number of articles written by journalists, nuclear physicists from MIT, bloggers (hi!), government officials… The problem is that these articles cover the entire spectrum of viewpoints. The facts of the situation are continuously lost in the rhetoric of opinion.
While this might be fine to deal with for someone far removed from the situation at hand, for those of us reading these articles to not only remain informed, but also to know how safe we are-the effects are taxing.
Reading countless articles of widely varying opinions has been immensely exhausting and stressful. Add to that the constant flow of emails and messages from loved ones pleading us to return to the safety of home, and you can just about have yourself a nervous breakdown. I am certain I have lost five or more pounds in a week due to massive stress. The closest feeling I can equate this to would be nerves I experienced before performing on the piano or before getting married. Just make it negative stress and quadruple it.
The emotional and physical responses to the events of the past week have been akin to a hellish roller coaster: Tremendous headaches. Spontaneous crying. Muscles tied in knots. Loss of appetite. Acute hunger. Rapid blood pressure. Lack of sleep.
That being said, we are (currently) relatively unaffected by the disasters themselves. The biggest thing is the lack of train service. The scheduled black outs. The closed gas stations. The Bare shelves at the grocery stores. However, none of these are permanent. Gas is delivered-but consumed in a matter of hours. The same is true regarding food at grocery stores. The blackouts could continue for months. But they are only for three hours at a time.
Even so, my mental health needs a vacation. My heart rate needs to slow down. I have felt like a wreck all week. Karl is a bit better than me, but he also severely needs a break. Not to mention how badly our families need to see us after this immense stress.
Perhaps going home is selfish. Perhaps we are perfectly safe where we are-even from the winds that carry and disperse radiation. Perhaps the fear and panic will subside. Perhaps the nuclear reactors will cool soon. Perhaps the desire to leave is not rational.
It is for these reasons that Karl and I have purchased plane tickets home. Our bodies demand it; our minds demand; our family and friends demand it.
We leave Thursday, the 24th of March and will return to Japan after sixteen days. Even as we are enjoying the company and love of our family and friends in safety; Japan and it’s people will not be far from our thoughts. Our life in Japan has become a significant part of who we are.
But are we looking forward to a break?