When Life Gives You Heart Palpitations

Anxiety and stress have shown themselves to me in various ways over the years, but never like this.

Historically, December has been a month of great shift for me, and by that I mean a period of upheaval, abrupt endings, or life altering news or decisions. December 2015 was no exception. It was a month of great concern as I had my first ever panic attack followed by weeks consumed by fear, anxiety, and my first mingling with the idea of suicide. The suicide part is what scares me the most. I don’t know that I would ever follow through, but it was just brought to my attention that I actually have the power to end my own life, if I wanted to. Coupled with that, I was experiencing chest pain just above my left breast and heart palpitations both of which I had never experienced before. These symptoms were a culmination of many things, but at the root of it all is, almost 2 years later, I still find it difficult to navigate without my mother’s wisdom and guidance. The person who loved me the most, the person I could call at 3am to cry or laugh no matter where in the world I was is not here in physical form anymore. SO, needless to say, I was spiraling out of control.

At a hospital in Japan, I got a full health checkup and one night I even called an ambulance and went to the emergency room because my anxiety was so high and the heart palpitations were driving me up a wall. However, it seemed I couldn’t get any definite answers from doctors because all the results came back saying everything in my physical body was functioning as normal. It reached a point though where it was so bad that, at the last minute, I hijacked my trip to New Zealand and rerouted to Denver and eventually onward to Florida where I stayed with family for 3 weeks. An expensive but necessary decision.

On the plane ride back to America, my right arm was tingling, the heart palpitations were more frequent, and I truly thought I was going to have a heart attack. I thought I was going to be that person responsible for the plane turning around for an emergency landing due to a medical concern. Not having a heart attack was certainly my first choice, but if something had happened then my life would be in the hands of the flight attendants and doctors. I wouldn’t have to keep trying to figure out what was wrong and hitting dead ends. Somebody else would do it for me. Thankfully, I held out.

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How Did This Happen?
Well, I suspect the chest pain and heart palpitations were symptoms of my menstrual cycle that were irritated by stress. As for the panic attack and anxiety, like I said, it was a culmination of many things.

  • Still grieving over mom’s passing
  • Not giving myself time to reflect on the past year of experiences in Nagasaki
  • Not slowing down after moving to Tokyo
  • No permission to relax aka staying busy
  • Not knowing what my next step was and putting pressure on myself to figure it out before the new year
  • Maintaining a small household on my own
  • Fear of communication in Japanese
  • Exhaustion from translating languages in my head all the time
  • Lack of a stable social network / loneliness
  • Putting pressure on myself to do well in school
  • Built up shame from my adolescence
  • Eating foods that aren’t so great for my body aka caffeine, chocolate, rice, wheat, etc.

Basically, I haven’t given myself time to slow down and just stop. I’ve directed my interests in 100 different directions and stayed busy trying to pursue them all at once because as a human being, I thought that’s what I was supposed to do. I’m wired to think that I have to accomplish everything I want to do ASAP because time is running out. Turns out, that’s not how it works.

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How I’m Tackling It
For starters, I’ve incorporated magnesium and fish oil supplements into my diet and less rice, wheat, caffeine, and sugar. Every morning and evening, I meditate for 10 minutes as a way to check in with myself and clear some headspace. On top of that, I practice yoga for 30 minutes almost every day, I practice more positive self-talk and gratitude, continue with therapy sessions, and give less attention and focus to news and information that don’t serve me. Finally, I’m reading a few self help books and fiction books to strike a balance, and I’m learning a lot about depression, anxiety, cognitive behavior and emotion through Mood Gym.

My trip back to America taught me the importance of being with family, being plugged into a non-judgmental network that can support me emotionally, and finding a community of people with common interests. It was the overdue pause that I didn’t give myself until I was pushed to the edge. My whole winter break I didn’t do anything but read, write, yoga, watch TV, enjoy conversations, and eat. It was wonderful and healing in ways I didn’t know I needed.

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What I’ve Re-learned
I was really nervous about coming back to Tokyo because I didn’t know how I would respond to being back in the metaphorical state of chaos in which I left my life here. These first few days though have been really happy. It has felt like moving to Japan for the first time again.

With long commute times, crowds at every turn, and notoriously long working hours, Tokyo is not an easy city to live in. Energy and motion don’t stop here. That said, this city is not my permanent home, and in order to survive and thrive here in the interim, I need to maintain a slower pace of life and take greater care of my mental health and well-being. The body, mind, and soul need rest otherwise they’ll wither away into nothing.

Come the end of March, it is safe to say that I will not be living in Japan anymore. I may even pull out sooner if things start to head south again, but I will be working to see that it doesn’t. I will never regret the time I spent here though for I have learned far too much about myself, my family, and Japan in the process to not be grateful. Japan was the right answer for a time, a stepping stone in the right direction, an experience I needed in my arsenal to move on.

It’s hard to say goodbye though. Of course it is. This place is all I’ve known over the past year and a half, and when I do leave, I will be parting with a huge piece of my soul. I’ve started to build a life here. I found a home I love here. For crying out loud, I even bought curtains I love. But it’s not working, and when it’s not working in spite of your best efforts, it’s time for a change.

Though my physical body will no longer be living in Japan, I will carry this country’s culture and spirit with me wherever I go. Being half Japanese, nobody can take that away from me. We may be different in our ways of thinking, but I am proud to be of Japanese heritage and I’m so honored to have spent the time I did in the country I love so much.

When I first started writing on here, one of my travel goals was to make every place I go a little slice of home. Japan is definitely a sacred home for me, one that I can return to again and again to find peace and comfort and explore with boundless curiosity. I love you, Japan. I really do, but it’s time to go.

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