Sunday, July 10, 2016

Diffusing Stress -- Another Name for Escaping Reality? Part Two

In Part One, I talked about how hard my husband works physically. He experiences a kind of stress that comes with using your body too much; fatigue to the max! In order to cope with such a lifestyle, he relies on alcohol each evening; if he weren't allowed to 'drink to unwind,' he would probably blow a gasket and refuse to work ever again! That being said, in the past his drink of choice was beer. He'd buy a large can of it at a vending machine in our neighborhood, and drink it with some "tsumami" (a snack suitable to eat with alcohol) that he'd prepare himself, depending on what he felt like eating that day.

The result of such a lifestyle was a lot of tummy fat accumulating around his midriff, and an elevated uric acid level in his blood checkup results. He was already struggling with high blood pressure at one point, and began paying attention to his diet in earnest. He ate thinly-sliced raw onion faithfully each day, along with "katsuo tataki" (raw bonita fish briefly charcoal grilled and immediately soaked in ice water, then sliced), both noted to reduce the fat globules within the blood. And he cut out beer, drinking "shochu" instead, a clear liquor made from potatoes or other vegetables or grains. Within six  months he had cleaned out all fat in his blood and lowered his blood pressure and cholesterol levels considerably. He continues to stick to "shochu" as his main alcohol each evening, occasionally drinking a bottle of wine during dinner over a few days.

Now he comes home from a hard day at work, and immediately sets up his evening drink and snacks to unwind. I give him an hour to 90 mins, before expecting we begin eating supper together.

In recent months he has developed a new coping mechanism to diffuse stress--going to the mountains by car for a day at an "onsen" (hot spring). He drives out early in the morning, arrives, soaks in the bath, has a hearty lunch with alcohol, takes a nap for three hours or so, takes another soak in the hot spring before beginning the drive home. On the way he always finds some restaurant that serves something he wants to eat that evening, enjoys his meal, then slowly drives home. If he gets sleepy mid-way, he simply pulls over and takes another nap. He usually arrives home by 12:30 or 1 am. He's refreshed from his day away from thinking about work and all the chores needing to be done at home, and psychologically 'recharged' to face more gradual fatigue build up yet again.

I, on the other hand, do not feel the need to leave my home in order to diffuse stress. I have my fair share of stress, partly physical (due to being obese and my joints gradually protesting in pain at having to support my weight), but more of a mental and emotional nature, from the difficulty of living in a foreign land and having to adapt to a culture the complete opposite of America's! There is also an undeniable stress that comes with marrying a person from another country and culture; ah, the challenges of international marriage!! (Okay, don't get me started!!)

For me, the very best way to diffuse stress is to completely escape my world altogether. I do this by watching Korean dramas and TV shows. We don't own TVs in our home, so I rely on my computer and a number of free online sites that sub K-dramas in English for the many foreign fans of K-dramaland. The (world-wide) foreign fans like to write their opinions online about what happens in each episode, and have discussions together, which is fun to read and join in on. I am totally hooked on this method of escaping the stress that comes with my life; I tend to be a pretty responsible person regarding the workplace and my volunteer duties in the community and at church. But I can completely forget EVERYthing during a Korean drama episode (which usually runs a little over an hour straight with the commercials cut out). It is as refreshing to me as my hubby's "shochu" after work. It renews me like his soaks in a hot spring! So I have to be careful to factor in what MUST be done before heading out to a class, etc, before turning on the computer. Otherwise I could easily get myself in a pickle, time-wise!

Yes, I sometimes wonder if this stress-diffusing method is healthy or not. After all, I feel like I am escaping reality for hours at a time, and is this really healthy, spiritually?? I'm still thinking it all through. Amazingly enough, my pastor's sermons lately seem to be directed to me personally, as they touch on how to live a God-directed lifestyle. As I chew it over, I'll probably write about this topic again in the future; stay tuned.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Diffusing Stress -- Another Name for Escaping Reality? Part One

My husband is a really hard worker.  When I first knew him, he was a professional bicycle racer, away for four days in a row at races all over the country for two weeks every month, frequently accepting sudden offers to race as a substitute, or act as a pacemaker (leading the nine racers around the track for the initial four laps, breaking the wind for them) in addition to his usual race load. He never complained. He was a very strong athlete, with great endurance.

After marriage, he continued to race full-time, while planning and preparing a bicycle shop he would then run simultaneously while still racing, for many years. He never took a day off. You think I'm kidding, right? No, he NEVER took a regular day off. Sometimes he would schedule a vacation and fly to France to visit close friends by himself, and occasionally our family would drive up to the mountains for a one-night stay just to take a fast break before diving back into a crazy schedule again. But if he was home, he was usually in the bike shop. So I got used to being married to a workaholic, and ended up taking my son with me to go to church, visit family in the states and Japan, and ended up playing with him (and raising him) the most between the two of us.

Even after retiring from racing, my husband worked nonstop in our shop, never taking a day off, for many years. I don't remember the exact time when he finally allowed himself to take a weekly holiday, but I'd guess it was in his late forties. My son was already in high school by then.

Our shop suffered along with all the other small businesses in Japan after the 'bubble economy' burst in the early 1990's. So my husband began juggling a variety of part-time jobs and has continued doing so ever since. He got his "large vehicles" driver's license and worked as a long-distance freight truck driver for a time. He also worked the night shift at a delivery company, loading and unloading heavy boxes from delivery trucks till he couldn't feel the tips of his fingers anymore. Fearing for his health, he'd search for something else and changed employers. He spent ten years coaching university bicycle racers while developing their club activities. Many jobs were thankless and even payless, as employers made big promises that fell through AFTER the hard work had been done. It was very frustrating watching my hard-working hubby suffer for our sake.

Currently, he does maintenance work at a retirement facility/nursing home part-time, while juggling another job in the bicycle department of a home center (is this expression used in the states these days? It means a really large hardware/housewares store mixed with a nursery/gardening department). He is their star salesman, and can fix absolutely ANYthing broken on a customer's bike! After joining the home center's staff, he got the nickname "Kami-sama" (God) because the bike dept. revenue increased 30% and his reputation had no rival. He's happiest working in that environment, needless to say!

Despite there being laws against such practice, he is often scheduled by the retirement facility to work a day shift, followed by a night shift, or a night shift followed by a day shift, or the absolute worst: a day shift--night shift--day shift combo that really saps him of all energy. Because he is working two different part-time jobs, he tends to over schedule himself anyway, leading to severe exhaustion, more and more common after he entered his sixties.

I've explained all that to lead in to the theme of this post, which is Stress Diffusion. Before coming to Japan in 1982, I hadn't heard much about stress or the need to diffuse it, either. But it's a big deal in Japan! And perhaps you can guess why, if my husband is any kind of representative example. People tend to overwork themselves here in this country. At least before the economy collapsed (as I referred to previously), working really hard for your employer was fairly standard practice; people in my husband's generation are all relatively stoic, hard workers. Thus, having more than your fair share of stress is also a given. I'll expound on that in Part Two.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Getting Back in the Saddle Again

Initially I began this blog as a therapeutic tool to process my turbulent feelings during my father's battle with Alzheimer's, and his death that followed. After the "need" for catharsis passed, I found a new hobby (watching Korean dramas) and haven't posted anything much in years.

My mom is 93 and we speak on the phone every other Saturday night. She is 'allergic' to the Internet, so she hasn't ever looked up this blog herself, but I've sent her printouts of my writings in the past and she is a very enthusiastic supporter. In fact, these days she keeps nagging me to write a book on all my experiences living in a foreign country. It feels a bit overwhelming at this point to revive many  memories that have fallen by the wayside, or have become buried too deeply to recall. Yet, I'd like to fulfil this wish of my mum's, knowing that her belief in my ability to articulate my experiences has largely motivated our extensive written correspondence through the years, as well as provided me the courage to keep journal entries during certain significant periods of my life. In fact, whenever I happen to find an old journal and read through it, I am transported to that event and period in my life as surely as if I rode in a time machine! The written word is indeed a powerful medium!

The concept of "writing a book" is daunting to begin with, so I thought I should just begin blogging again instead. I do have moments of thoughtful contemplation; I simply lost the habit of jotting them down. Because it has been ages since I even took a look at the Blogger Dashboard, I was quite surprised to see some people still check my blog from time to time. For all those kind souls, I apologise for my silence, and hope to get back in the saddle again here on out.