Moving to a new country can be the most exciting thing in the world. It is also so easy to get wrapped up in the novelty of it all and inadvertently allow yourself forget to check in with your mind every now and then. Only when it is too late, does your body take over and start notifying you that something just isn't quite right. There is no correct timeframe, structure or formula to the dreaded phenomenon that is CULTURE SHOCK, but it is a very real thing indeed. I consider myself a very independent person and have never experienced any form of homesickness, so before moving to Japan I ignorantly assumed that I would be fine. I would never be stuck by the inevitable culture shock I had heard so much about. Oh how wrong I was, because unbeknownst to me, it would present itself at the most random moment, and how it would hit hard. Twice. So I have compiled a list of what I consider to be my 10 Signs of Culture Shock. For much more details about culture shock and how I experienced the second wave, check out my new book BECAUSE JAPAN.
1. ERRACTIC BEHAVIOUR
Most of these early signs of culture shock only became apparent to me once I realised what the problem was. Friends has pointed out to me that I was acting differently and I put it down to everything except culture shock. You may also note that many of these symptoms are true to other mental health conditions so please be aware that this list enabled me to assess and realise what was going on in my own mind. The first thing to change was my behaviour, in particular the way in which I was acting to everyday activities and actions. One moment I would be on top of the world and the next I was confused or sad or angry. This went on for a few weeks and only got worse as each day passed.
2. ANGRY AT EVERYTHING
Colleagues, friends, work, train passengers and small children all started to make me angry for no apparent reason. I am usually an optimistic and friendly person, but gradually everything around me would enrage me before I had the chance to process what was going on. The only thing to calm me was listening to Ludovico Einaudi; the relaxing nature of his music put me in a trance-like state and allowed me to ignore everything else whizzing by me.
3. PANIC ATTACKS
Panic attacks were a new experience for me, and at first I had no idea what was going on. Time seemed to slow right now for me but everyone and everything around me would fly by at lightning speed. I had tunnel vision and my peripherals would become hazy and white. My heart felt like it would explode from my chest and I would sweat profusely. The first time this happened I was on a busy train platform and I thought I was going to die. The only thing I could do to calm down was to sit on the floor and rest up against a pole. Without realising it, somebody had purchased a bottle of water from a nearby vending machine and had placed it beside me on the floor. I wish I had noticed because I would have loved to have thanked them for their kindness and generosity.
4. UNEXPECTED SADNESS/DEPRESSION
As briefly stated before, these signs of culture shock are not unlike that of other mental health conditions, so at first I naturally assumed that I was going through a bout of depression. But this time it was different to what I had experienced before. The sadness came and went in waves, and at the most unexpected moments. It was coupled with a overwhelming sense of longing for something I didn't know I had lost.
I can usually run on very little sleep, so I found it very strange that all I wanted to do was sleep. All the time. I would pass out on the trains and wake up at the end of the line miles outside of Tokyo. I would even fall asleep on my arm whilst standing and holding onto the rails. For those that know me, they will know that I have always struggled to fall asleep on a daily basis and need total darkness and silence to do so, so the fact that I was nodding off all over the city was a tad concerning on my part.
As stated previously, I have never experiences the notion of homesickness before. I would stay away for weekends with the school as a child and never want to return home, I have travelled for months by myself and never felt the need to see my friends and family (not in the mean sense; I am comfortable communicating via video calls etc). So when I started to miss my friends and family out of the blue, and decided that all I needed in life was some British candy and childhood favourite snacks, I knew something was wrong.
7. DISTANCING YOURSELF
For two months during the time I was beginning to feel out of the norm, I completely distanced myself from everybody in my life. I would go to work in the morning, keep to myself all day, come home and go to bed. I would ignore all messages and calls from friends and family back home and I would refuse to meet up with anyone after work or at the weekends. I lived in total isolation and that was the way I wanted it to be. That was however, until my friends decided to take action and step in.
With a cocktail of all of the above, it was only natural that I would feel a lot of confusion in my life. I couldn't understand why I was feeling the way I was and nothing made sense to me. The more I would over analyse things, the worse it became.
9. FEELING ON EDGE
Feeling on edge and confusion come hand-in-hand. I would feel paranoid all the time and could feel everyones eyes on me, even when nobody was looking directly at me. I would limit my use of public transport and began walking everywhere instead. I also started wearing my headphones everywhere I went to drown out the sounds of life around me.
10. CAN'T FOCUS
Unsurprisingly, I was unable to focus on anything. My students would often ask me if I was ok because I would lose concentration half way through a sentence or I would completely zone out for extended periods of time. In the staffroom, I limited all contact with other members of staff and I ate lunch alone and earlier than everybody else. Even when watching TV shows after work, I couldn't focus on the storyline and ended up watching the same episodes over and over again.
So there we have it, these were the 10 signs that helped me realise that I was experiencing culture shock.