Here Is Good
I stare out the plane window at the twinkling lights in the darkness below. That’s Japan down there. Hitting the ground feels like victory: a life’s dream of coming here fulfilled in the matter of seconds. With a big smile despite my tired eyes, I step out of the arrival gate and drink in the scene I imagined so many times: Signs written with strokes unknown to me, well-dressed Japanese people waiting for their loved ones, chauffeurs quietly holding name signs to pick up their guests, the soundtrack of a language with a familiar rhythm softly spoken.
Because my aeroplane was delayed and no public transport is running, they will compensate me with a night in a hotel – a treat my budget would never allow. Driven there in a taxi, childlike excitement rises within me and I have to hold myself back not to laugh out loud: could this get any better?
But the next morning, the world looks different.
The shiny lights outside the hotel window are replaced by grey skyscrapers. That warm, exciting feeling in my stomach turns cold. Last night I couldn’t wait to throw myself into the bustling metropolis. Now the world out there feels like a challenge I am unprepared to face.
As I brush my teeth, I examine my face in the bathroom mirror. I start accusing my intimidated reflection and the questions snowball from there: I don’t know what I’m doing! How am I going to pay for this? Why didn’t I sort accommodation past Wednesday? How am I going to navigate this huge city without speaking a word of Japanese?
I try to tune these thoughts out, but fail. Why the heck did I think I could handle this? My heart beats faster, my lungs tighten up and that feeling of excitement turns to fear. At a hundred miles an hour, my mind thinks through possible versions of what could happen if I step out of this room. I can’t. Panic hits me like a wave. I can’t breathe.
I’m not a stranger to panic attacks. Anxiety first rocked up in my early teenage years and threatened to paralyse me for life. It’s also not the first time I’ve arrived somewhere with no clue how the coming days would unfold. When I left my home in Germany at 18 to live in Ireland, I at least had structure – a house, a job to wake up to in the morning, a community to belong to.
Still, I remember those first days in Dublin completely overwhelming me. The crowds on busy O’Connell street, the rough and shortened speech, the tiny detail of the roads switching sides, tired faces seemingly giving up on resurfacing from the financial downfall of that particular time. I struggled to find the will to step out the door. It felt very costly to do so, taking all the energy and strength I could find in my body.
I didn’t belong there, but I couldn’t go back either. That time I had a friend by my side who pointed out the beauty in the streets and encouraged me to take my time and avoid overwhelming places. We roamed the city together, becoming observers of Irish life, getting lost in the timeless poetry of Ulysses. We wandered over hills overlooking the ocean, read in cafés, admired Irish paintings and laughed our heads off at a local theatre production. We checked out the bars in town and had many a meaningless conversation on the “meaning of life” on the bridges crossing the quick currents of the river Liffey. We chatted with locals and fell in love with their accent and the stories they’d tell and jumped into the ice cold sea in the spur of a moment.
About a week after the initial anxiety of arriving in Dublin, I loved these streets. Honestly, we had such a good time. What I would have missed if I had given into the thoughts that told me I couldn’t handle Dublin.
Since that first moment of leaving the nest, I have travelled to many places around the globe. And I wish I could tell you that I left my anxiety at home. But after that first trip to Ireland, there was the time I arrived in Norway and isolated myself in my room for several days, overwhelmed by the language barrier, or in California where I stormed out of a coffee shop leaving my perplexed friend behind and cried through an hour-long shower session to calm down.
Even when I travelled my home nation of Germany, I found myself hyperventilating as I was driving towards a mountain range that threatened to fall on me. I had to take refuge in a church, praying I would find the strength to step back out on the cobbled streets of Düsseldorf.
When I came to New Zealand, I tried hard to throw myself into the thick of it right away and wouldn’t divert from my pre-made plans, which resulted in getting soaked in torrential rain on a hike to a viewpoint that showed me nothing but a thick wall of clouds over the city.
It hits me every time I step on new ground. I get afraid of the unknown and ask myself, “Why the heck I am here?” I struggle to leave the house. And since I often don’t have a friend with me anymore, I have learnt that I need a certain level of understanding of the place to arrive. I still blame myself for struggling though.
This time in Tokyo, I’m having none of it. Maybe I can’t handle the entirety of the blank calendar staring at me and demanding answers right now, but I don’t have to. All I can ever deal with is the task at hand. I calm my breathing. I take time to pray. I pack my stuff to leave the room. I remind myself of all the opportunities out there: an entire culture waiting to be discovered, people to be met and places to be known. Even if it might take me a while to see it, here is good.
Cover by Tiplada Mekvisan