Deodorant, Dairy, and Fear: What I Learned about Worry after Living in Japan

by Ashleigh Frix

Worry and fear shouldn’t stop you from leaving your comfort bubble to see what’s outside. Travelers and explorers aren’t all Gryffindors unconscious of fear. After seven months abroad, I can certainly say worry has been a very real part of my life.

Life in Fear

Deodorant, Dairy, and Fear: What I Learned about Worry after Living in JapanBefore I came to Japan, I worried.

I worried about finding a job, graduating school, my future, having no money, my desire to travel somewhere at some point despite the fact that I had no money, what people thought of me, how my clothes looked, if my car had enough gas, if my conditioner bottle had anything left in it—I worried about everything.

Then, I determined to move to a foreign country. A country whose language I didn’t speak and geography I didn’t know. I had no knowledge of where I would live, nearby resources, or how I would possibly survive.

But I wanted to travel. I wanted to see the world, learn about other people, other cultures, other walks of life—and I still do. I haven’t seen very much thus far, but I’d seen even less when I made the decision to go, and my anxieties didn’t entirely support my choice.

Obviously, living in a foreign country did not stop me from worrying about life. Like most people who consider traveling abroad, I recognized the obstacles ahead. But my desire to broaden my world outweighed my worry, so I made the leap.

But that choice didn’t make my worry disappear.

IMG_0967After I came to Japan, I worried about finding a grocery store, learning to drive on the left side of the road, communicating with my students, communicating with my coworkers, communicating with the ATM, with the phone company, with my mechanic, with waiters, with 98% of people in the country. I worried about buying soymilk, finding dairy-free bread, buying vegetables that may or may not be carrots, paying bills, setting off the fire alarm, setting off the mysterious alarm that may or may not be for dangerous gases in my home (my supervisor, who began as essentially my life guru, said, “This is an alarm. Try not to make it go. Don’t make it go. If you make it go, stay outside.”), learning to use my pseudo-oven, buying deodorant, and basically everything else.

The moments I spent worrying grew closer and closer together until I worried nonstop.

And then I gave up. I couldn’t worry anymore.

Hakuna Matata

I wore the wrong shoes inside, sat on desks, used my feet to close drawers and reposition objects on the floor, and I never said the right greetings to the right people with the right pronunciation. I always forgot to treat my principals with a Japanese level of respect, I never felt guilt over not reading my Japanese mail, and I made countless more mistakes. Not worrying probably made me look like an imbecile, but I didn’t care—because I wasn’t anxious!

11921802_1463004754029003_5398076202983870456_oThe change from worrying wasn’t an active one. I didn’t think to myself, I’d feel so much better if I didn’t care anymore. It wasn’t like that. I was simply so overwhelmed that I just couldn’t handle worrying on top of everything else.

But through this change, I learned a few of lessons that made life easier. I don’t like to reflect on such changes very much, but some people say it’s important. It helps you grow.

So here are the lessons I’ve learned thus far. You may find that they are completely and utterly specific to my situation, or you may find that the broader ideas could fit anyone, anywhere, at anytime.

If you’re anxious about your life, about where you’re headed, about having enough time/money/ability to do the things you want, these are for you.

One: You can’t live and worry at the same time.

When I decided to travel, I signed myself up for an extended period of extremely nerve-wracking situations.

IMG_1397Whenever you visit a new place, you have to navigate that place. You’ve gotta learn how it works, who to talk with, who can help you, where you’re supposed to be at what time, and so on. When you involve a culture different from your own, those small navigations double, triple, quadruple—I don’t know exactly because I don’t have exact statistics on the number of questions I have asked people per day since arriving, but I feel like the more different the culture is, the more navigations you’ll need. For example, if you’re a white girl from a diverse city on the west coast of the US and you visit a small town in a southern state, maybe it doubles. If you visit somewhere in Europe, maybe it triples. Somewhere in Asia—maybe it quadruples. And if there’s a foreign language in the mix? Kablooey. That’s the sound that the number of your daily navigations makes as it explodes into a mushroom cloud of increase.

Those little navigations weighed me down. I was tired for my first two months here. Everything, even the smallest bit of activity, felt draining. I worked eight to five, went home, laid in bed, fell asleep by 10 (at the latest), woke up at 7, and did it all over again. I rarely went out, I made few friends, and I slept and watched Netflix pretty much all the time.

If a tree falls in the forest with no one around, did it make a sound? If Ashleigh never leaves her apartment, is she in Japan at all?

Two: Once you stop worrying, you make loads of mistakes.

11231904_1449193845410094_4393279489747726035_nI don’t think I need to reiterate, but please understand: I’ve made so many mistakes.

However, people are generally forgiving. Only the jerks will give you crap, but did you actually want them in your life anyway? And if that jerk is your boss/a cop/other authority figure, well, hopefully you made some friendly connections, and they’ll help you out. Mine almost always did, especially when I didn’t realize it.

Don’t let fear of doing or saying the wrong thing at the wrong time stop you from experiencing the vibrant life around you. Make a note for next time, shrug off the mistake, and move on.

Three: Those mistakes open you up to a world of discovery.

When you stop worrying about how something’s gonna go, it actually happens, and you learn from it—whether it was good or bad. You learn to deal with all those little navigations. Your critical thinking skills will kablooey as much as those navigations did.

12010591_1475014039494741_8568166115623577435_oI discovered which grocery store was closest to my work and apartment, which had more Western foods, which had more pictures of food on their labels, and which had the mean cashier who always said the price in Japanese without typing in the final key to show the price on the screen, too.

I discovered that it doesn’t really matter which side I drive on unless there are other cars around, and then I can just use them as a guide.

I discovered the Japanese phrase for “Whatever you recommend,” so that I could say it to waiters when a menu is completely in kanji I don’t know.

I discovered that Japan doesn’t seem to care too much if you pay a bill on time as long as you’re consistent in paying it at all, and most places won’t provide notices if it’s late.

I discovered that the mysterious alarm was definitely a gas alarm after I sprayed water-proofing spray a little too close to it at 12:30 on a Tuesday night.

And, most importantly, I learned to beg friends, family, and platonic soul-mates to send me deodorant, because I can’t find anything effective enough to get me through a wet, hot, Japanese summer—or even a light cardio session.

So stop worrying. It won’t add a day to your life. Get up and go, Gryffindor or not.

Is a life spent in your comfort bubble really a life at all?



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