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East to West: Blockages, Breakdowns… Breakthroughs?

December 26, 2012

By Angela Jeffs, November 2012

Now where was I? Oh yes, spread-eagled on the Eurostar arrivals platform of London’s St Pancras Station. Aware that a concerned crowd was gathering around, I could think of nothing better to say in a feeble attempt to defuse the situation, than J’arrive. Here I am.

Winded and scraped but with no bones broken, I limped towards the exit to the underground. Then accepting that I was more in shock (again) than I liked to admit, turned around to head for the nearest coffee shop and saw, walking towards me, the very first non-Japanese friend made in Japan in 1986.

British-born but currently living in Texas, and due to fly back the next day after travelling in Europe, she had seen my message on Facebook (“About to leave Paris, arriving mid-afternoon”) and come looking for me.

Life became even more surreal on reaching Ealing, where I was due to stay two nights before heading westwards to Somerset. Within 24 hours I was blocked again, and this time seriously. A visit to an NHS (National Health Service) walk-in clinic confirmed my diagnosis – another bout of diverticulitis, with associated bladder infection – and gave me the drugs I needed.  I then went to bed for three to four days.

I have suffered bouts of DV for a decade, maybe longer but misdiagnosed. Triggered by stress more often than not, it has made me think a lot about how individually we handle difficulty, and where associated emotions settle in our bodies.

For my father, all his nervous energy, disappointment and anger broke his heart, literally. After years of angina, he died aged 51 of a massive heart attack.

In my case I have always swallowed my emotions to try stay in control. Fear? Gulp. Anger? Gulp. Down into my stomach and intestines, creating acid and emotional overloads that manifest as physical blockages. This time? Really bad. Or maybe, in the long run, exceptionally good, for I see every episode as a lesson towards eventual healing.

The friend with whom I was staying (we first shared a house in 1962) had never really seen me sick before.  I know she felt a responsibility that truly was not her own. But with my husband still in Japan, daughter living in Toronto, son on holiday somewhere in Florida, and last surviving elderly relative in a care home, she had no-one with whom to share her anxiety. I felt bad too, having so inflicted my ailments on her.

So guilt and shame confused with pain. Then dreams. Finally hallucinations…if that is what they were. I know there was a point I thought I felt slightly better, but then became alarmed that I was far sicker than I dared admit to anyone, especially my self.

Sleep, I rationalised; I need to sleep. But every time I closed my eyes, there they were: a crowd of faces, men, women, all ages, all nationalities, all looking at me quietly and with concern. They became so familiar in the time that passed – minutes, hours – that today I would recognise any one of them in the street.

Exhausted, I pleaded (and prayed), Please go away. I’m grateful but really, you can leave me alone now. I’ll be okay if you just leave me to sleep.

And so they went, and have not returned since.

The next morning I woke weak as a kitten, but unblocked and refreshed.

Four days later, via the London underground to Euston, night sleeper to Inverness and an exceptionally early morning taxi from Dunkeld & Birnam’s unmanned station. I was finally enabled to reach my Scottish destination. Which is where the breakdowns began.

It was all to do with dying, I recognised and accepted. This made what happened easier to deal with; they were part of a predestined pattern, to help carry me through…

Around me the landscaped died back, golden in sunlight, gloomily autumnal in rain. The days were short, and ever darkening. Soon dawn was at 8am, sunset (if there was any sun) by 3.30pm.

I went through the motions of preparing the garden and land for winter, collecting wood and battening down the proverbial hatches. But I had little to no energy.

Bonfires refused to ignite. Ditto the engine of my Renault, which had to be towed away to the great automobile graveyard in Dundee. My aunt was sad about this; it had been her own lifeline to independence before she handed it on to me.

The same guy who kindly towed it away sold me a new car, a nippy little glossy black Suzuki Jimney. One step back, one forward to where I had been before. Except I wasn’t. I had no licence, so could not drive it anyway. (Long story, as long and taped in red as the tale of Akii’s visa…)

For near two months  – being 10km from the nearest shop  – I was dependent on the kindness of neighbours, the local bus service and hitchhiking. Visiting my aunt in Perth (some 30km distant) proved to take the whole day and involved five bus changes.  But as I told everyone who expressed concern that I was somehow not managing, it was all perfectly do-able. It simply required total surrender to all the forces that were otherwise in control.

Even at what previously I might have regarded as the lowest point – standing alone on a dark country road in sleeting wind waiting for a bus that failed to come – everything was fine. A long way from Japan, bullet trains, convenience stores, family and friends, for sure, but perfect all the same.

Akii and I skyped daily. That helped a lot; with his visa being held hostage in Manila and no news as to where his application was in the queue, he was becoming increasingly depressed.  We ate together, he enjoying a later dinner while I was nine hours behind with an early lunch.

Finally, near four months since first putting in his papers, the British Government granted him entry.  A huge step forward.  Suddenly he began breaking up big-time the home we had so loving created.  Attachments being as they are, it was as painful as liberating.

One morning, the world was white. Temperatures plummeted. The path to my log shed was a skating rink; ditto the roads. Even with a licence I was not going anywhere; instead I sat in my car and read, or listened to the radio.

As the snows melted, surprise, surprise: a licence arrived. Instead of the 185 days I had been originally informed, it had taken less than 40. I was back on the road.

Heading into December, it really did begin to feel as if the tide had turned. Akii had a leaving date; the cat was cleared to travel (albeit on a different flight).

Soon it would be mid-winter, and days begin to lengthen. Also an old era was coming to an end, a new one beginning. The way ahead was clearing…

Then my aunt died.


Late summer 2012 writer and journalist Angela Jeffs moved from Japan, where she lived for 25 years,  to Scotland from where she reports monthly on how her life is changing. This is the third installment. See here for part one, and here for part two.

About the author: After training in theatre and Laban dance, Angela Jeffs stepped sideways into London publishing. She worked freelance as an editor from 1973, then reinvented herself in Japan as a journalist and writer from 1986. She was a weekly columnist for The Japan Times for 22 years, and Japan Correspondent for Asia Magazine in Hong Kong from 1989-1996. Her book Insider's Tokyo, commissioned from Singapore, was published in 2001. Since 2005 she has been developing and facilitating a programme of therapeutic creative writing under the title Drawing on The Writer Within ( Her first eBook will be published next month.
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