It’s moving towards the backend of winter now here in Japan and having come out with most of my sanity still in tow, I thought I’d share a topic that cripples many at this time of year: Surviving winter. The topic is inspired by the winter blues as I’ve been pushed to sit and reflect on the feelings of loneliness and cabin fever that have overcome me at different times during this season.
I don’t usually get cabin fever, this is because most of my life I’ve been a homebody, preferring time spent alone at home engaging in my various hobbies or just spending the time with my family. I remember how happy I would always feel on Saturday mornings when I could just wake up and go lie in my parents’ bed as they chatted away about things that had nothing to do with me. I cherished those mornings because they didn’t require me to use much of my brain or physical energy. The mornings we would go shopping for groceries where nice too because I would get free food and sweets but I still preferred the lazy days.
I grew up and a part of me thought I would grow out of this way of life but it kind of just stuck with me. By the time I was living with my sister in Pretoria West with a job and my own money to spend, I still preferred to just have a lie-in and be lazy all day when I was free. Even when I found myself living alone after my sister went away to stay with our parents for maternity leave, I still preferred to laze around with Norain and Nico curled up in my lap as I played my Xbox games.
Unfortunately, or fortunately for me, I have this insane penchant for collecting humans who often turn into friends. Which means being invited to things sometimes or having to initiate hangouts. To me, these have never really been a necessity to keep the friendship alive but from years of this life thing I’ve come to realise that for some people they are, so I showed up when I could.
So when I moved to Japan, a good 18 to 20-hour flight from my closest humans I thought, hmm, this should be easy for a homebody. In the first few weeks here, I came to the stark realisation that my most recent years of being a homebody had been made better by having my dogs with me. You can’t get cabin fever if you are always having ongoing conversations with your fur babies. In those early days, I’d go for walks every morning to get used to my new neighbourhood and run into dog owners also out for a walk and I would feel a pang in my gut. Was this what it felt like to be completely and truly alone?
Of course, this was silly and all part of the relocation blues or whatever they are called. I know this because at the time I was surrounded by people and there were so many events going on in my town and the next town that there was barely a day I spent away from my fellow English speakers. This went on a good few months actually, and it was great because this is my memory of my first Summer here in Japan. Even though I was melting from being outside, I was melting with my new humans.
This momentum of going out and about doing things with other human beings began to freeze with the emergence of winter. After three consecutive weeks holed up in my apartment, I couldn’t take it anymore. Even though I was going to work every day and seeing my colleagues and children, it still felt like I was stuck in a massive black hole that just wouldn’t stop shaking the life out of me. I lay on the sunny patch of my tatami mat one Saturday morning and contemplated who I could message to take me away from this pit of despair. I think I fell asleep before I could decide and I awoke from my nap with a message from one of my new humans inviting me to bowl. It was like the universe had felt my sorrow and called on someone to remember me as I lay sunbathing on that tatami mat.
Since then, I’ve had the privilege to fly home to see my family and my fur babies so that I could start the new year with a fresh collection of South African memories and sunshine for my energy reserves. If only this was enough. Since coming back, I’ve had several black-hole days, and I have been lucky enough to recognise them almost immediately for what they are. Some people may say it’s because Japan can be a lonely place due to language barrier and general cultural differences when it comes to friendships but the truth is that Winter is cold yo. On the black hole days, I know that I am not the only one feeling frustrated from being holed up because a quick message to any of my humans confirms this. On black hole days I know that even though my mind wants me to go outside to go see people and do things, my body still needs to be convinced to roll out of bed first. It’s not Japan. I’m not feeling isolated here. Actually the opposite. Unfortunately, it’s like that weird rapey song once said: “But baby it’s cold outside…”
I have no real advice to offer about how to conquer the black hole, the negative voices that come with being stuck in there or how to wake up to fight another day on these cold streets, all I can offer is that it’s best not to make any rash decisions when you are still going through the black hole days. Hope you are having a happy Friday folks.