Wow. That was some five months of craziness! If you have been wondering where the "Transformations with Jayne Podcast" has gotten to, I'm back to tell you all about it.
If you prefer, you can watch on Youtube or keep reading below!
Back in March 2020, Covid 19 was about to be announced as a pandemic by the WHO. We were in Sweden as expats for my husband's company so this means that we really are here on their dime and can be called back whenever they want us and there's not a lot we can do about it. Suddenly we were told that families would need to return to Japan for the time being. For us, this was a kind of nightmare come true. If anything, we would be worse off in Japan - not my native country. Obviously the company wanted to protect its workers and have their families supposedly out of harms way, but for our family with me as an English speaker, being in Sweden made more sense to us. Being together made the most sense. If there is one lesson I have learnt during this pandemic that I cannot stress enough is not to get separated from your family. This is especially so if you are not all citizens of the same country. If you can at all, stick together.
We did protest being sent back to Japan. We felt it was completely unnecessary for our family and we were very well prepared to whether whatever was coming with potential lockdowns. We could work from home, my children could study from home if necessary. We had food supplies and medicines which I had been quietly accumulating since January when I noticed what was happening in places like Italy that were not at all far away from us here in Sweden. We had plenty of the most hard to get item - toilet paper. But it was deemed "safer" for us to leave all of this and to board two flights and fly 12 hours to Japan. The mind boggles at this, even now. Flight cancellations were happening all the time so even just getting a flight that would get us back to Japan was a struggle as there are no direct flights to Japan from Sweden and the border to Denmark was now closed. We were able to fly to Helsinki and then to Tokyo. One of the most spacious and pleasant flights I've had in absolutely ages, if you didn't think too much about why we were suddenly going to Japan - which we had just let four months earlier to start our new life in Sweden.
As we packed up our suitcases, we wondered exactly how long we'd be away for and whether we'd be back before summer. Having lived through the Fukushima Nuclear Meltdown in 2011, I decided to pack as if I was never going to return. This helped us immensely as we had to leave our home in Fukushima and this time too in Sweden. We packed those important documents as well as things we'd need to start life in Japan again. We packed things we didn't use daily but that we may need if it turned into months or years. And it did turn into months.
On arriving in Japan, I held my breath until we had safely cleared customs and the health check. Serendipity if you want to call it that, meant that we had managed to catch one of the last flights out and arrive in Japan before compulsory testing on all arrivals started and the border was closed to all but Japanese citizens. As a "permanent resident" of Japan, my entry was thankfully smooth, but a few weeks later this was no longer the case. You can find a lot of stories about families who are separated, I count friends among them and at the time of writing this, foreign residents are essentially trapped in as one article I read put it, a reverse Hotel California: You can leave any time you like but you can't come back. Queue guitar solo.
We hired a rental car to get us to our quarantine location for two weeks. and what would become our home for as long as we were stuck in Japan. A most unfortunate place to have to live, but since we were in Japan at the expense of the company, they didn't mind putting us up in their ancient staff quarters also known as the "shataku". In its hay day, it must have been a nice and affordable place for young couples and families to live. The apartment was less than 50 square meters and would be our home for the foreseeable future. It hadn't been renovated since it was built, no insulation and original bathtub complete with terrifying rust along the bottom edge.
Had I not had a similar experience of living in almost identical accommodation on arriving in Japan as an English teacher in 2002, I would have had a melt down. I also thank the many trips to my Japanese in-law's house which is of a similar age and style. However the overwhelming reaction from friends on Facebook was that it was a pretty much a dump and how on earth were we going to survive living there!
Before we got to this point I have to say I gave up fighting it. It being, having what happens to us taken out of our hands by Covid, my husband's employers and all the other things that affect your life, flight cancellations and what not. Never before has the phrase What will be, will be", been so useful to me. Arriving at our accommodation was a shock and cause of much hilarity and I also managed to let that go - not perfectly but most of the time. If I changed my perspective and stopped focusing on what we'd "lost", and moved my attention to what we had I was ok: We had somewhere to live together as a family. We could still keep ourselves safe as much as possible from Covid as now we were in a city with almost zero cases and a very very careful community of people all reverently washing hands, using hand sanitisers and masks. In actuality, our apartment had everything we needed except wifi...first world problems.
I knew this change of perspective would save me and my family and we'd come out the other side far less traumatised and in a better mental state than if I held on to the indignation. Sometimes it really is quite delicious to hold on to it though, isn't it. Indignation at being denied living in our spacious and extremely convenient apartment, my children's hard won place at their very much loved international school was revoked. My new friends and lifestyle were now half a world away and my online business was holding on by one scraggy finger nail. We had no car of our own and were reliant on one car that was shared with other repatriated families to get everywhere, since we now in a rural area with no trains and buses. I had plenty to be pissed off about! And I was. Some days I was so very frustrated and angry.
A lot of the mental struggle around this came down to was uncertainty and lack of control. Even though I "know" that control is an illusion, I wanted it! I wanted that feeling of seeming to be in control and certainly did not enjoy this new reality that was in such a stark contrast to how we'd just been living days earlier. It was also in very start contrast to the standard of living we'd been accustom to in Japan before we left. Our own house had someone else living in it. We could hardly kick them out. Our car was at the other end of Japan waiting for us to visit the grandparents - something we had to refrain from.
Arriving back into Japan was also a shock in other ways. It felt like we'd somehow failed at life in Sweden and like a silly Japanese game show, the "batsu gemu" or punishment was to be sent back to Japan - not modern Japan but 1970s Japan instead of living our comfortable expat life that we had JUST started to get the hang of and enjoy. This sounds ridiculous and privileged. And it is. In the thick of it all, doing my best to focus on what we did have was what got us and in particular me, through. I had a lot of comments from friends and acquaintances via social media in the vein of, "You are doing so well!" or "I couldn't do what your are doing". Well here is a couple of lessons that I had the privilege of relearning and strengthening my mental muscles on during the peak of the Covid crisis:
Control is an illusion
You can try to control things but that is a lot of wasted energy. Emotion and physical. Do what you can and go with the flow otherwise is always best. Because....
Everything is always working out for you
Even if right now is uncomfortable, downright painful and to be honest, poop, somehow it all works out and it always will. Eventually. Trust in that will get you there quicker that resisting it.
You don't need even half the crap you have
We had one suitcase each and we weren't sure how long we'd need to live with just those items. One versatile pair of shoes and appropriate clothing was mostly what we needed. A big thank you to all the friends who offered and sent us things to help us get through. Also a comfy place to rest and a place to wash your body and cook some food. Good to go.
None of this actually matters
If you have your family and your health, none of this matters. I know many many people have not been so lucky as to come through this pandemic with their family and health intact. We did and I'm ever so grateful for that.
So! On that bright note! The Transformations with Jayne Podcast will be coming to every two weeks from now on. You can listen on iTunes Podcasts here or here on Spotify or read here on the blog. In the future I'll be spending more time writing in addition to talking as that is something that is fun for me and so I will be making it more of a priority! If you think you'd be a good fit for the podcast, please get in touch with me, through this blog, or on instagram @transformationswithjayne I love to profile and talk to women like you, living your life your way, wherever you may be.