Monday, May 23, 2011

On placebo

You know the feeling you get after having been aboard a boat for some time? When you get back on land, it feels like you're still rocking, back and forth, along with the waves. I had that exact feeling for two weeks after the Japan earthquakes on 11 March. Occasionally the earth really did move, of course, since we had heavy aftershocks several times a day, and aftershocks are still felt in the region. But about half the time I seemed to be the only one feeling the rocking, and when I still felt it when I got back to the seismically inactive Norway, it was apparent that these were my own, personal quakes. In short, my brain was playing tricks on me.

When I decided to return to Tokyo to finish my internship, one of the major worries were the aftershocks. Sure, a potential increase in radiation in the air, food or drinking water could be a threat, but for some reason that didn't bother me much. The effects are more long-term (depending on the level of radiation, of course), and radiation is a more subtle danger, which might both be reasons I'm not freaking out over it. In addition, it really does seem to have cooled down a bit in the Fukushima power plant - or at least the media has cooled down their coverage - both of which contributes to me being more calm.

The thought of aftershocks, however, was still terrifying to me, because I've felt real earthquakes now. Experienced what they can do. Many believe - and not in a "the rapture is upon us" kind of way, "many" in this case includes scientists in the field - Tokyo's big centennial quake is still to come, and with the increased seismic activity in the general area it doesn't seem unlikely this might happen now. Plus the fact that earthquakes make me physically ill. There is very little I hate as much as the seasickness the above mentioned rocking leads to.

So, then. Why would I want to go?

I decided - from safe, far-away Norway - that I wanted closure. That I enjoyed the job, the city, the people too much not to give it another chance. That I didn't want the earthquakes to win. That my fear of quakes after all could not be bigger than my fear of missing out of great experiences I'd treasure for the rest of my life.

My assessment was almost right. It did feel good to come back. I still love my job - perhaps even more now, since the quake ironically has created a whole lot of new, interesting perspectives in my work. I adored meeting all my friends here again, and I've also met a whole lot of new friends since I got back. And Tokyo has shown itself from its best side these past weeks. The weather is lovely; the city is its normal, crazy self; and everywhere I go, everything I do, really make me feel like I'm making memories for life.

But. Those quakes. We haven't had any major ones since I got back. I think I've felt five in two weeks, only one of which was strong enough to make me get out of bed, and one made me look around for my earthquake helmet. But in reality they have been minuscule compared to what I'm used to by now.

The worst part, though, aren't the real earthquakes. The placebo ones are. It's funny how I'm never in doubt when there is an actual quake, but whenever I have a placebo one, I'm all "was that a quake? Or was it me? Am I shaking? Or is it the ground?". As mentioned, they stopped after about a week or so in Norway. Two days before I left for Japan again, they were back. Thus there is absolutely no doubt that they are triggered by my own anxiety. It's a little scary, actually, that my mental state is capable of tricking me like that. I KNOW they are not real. But I'm still not sure (until there is a real one, that is). Placebo drugs have an effect because people believe they are real drugs. I tell myself over and over and over again that these aren't real quakes, but  the results of this case study are still messed up. I feel them all the same.

Japan has had several thousands of quakes since the 11th of March. I've had about twice that amount. Frankly I am fed up. Despite everything I love about being back, I am counting the days till I can get off this boat.


welcome to my world of poetry said...

I do admire your resolve to return to Japan but as you say you want closure and I suppose that is the only way. Good Luck.


Jules said...

Sounds like your mind has not forgotten the trauma and gently wants to remind you. It is good to seek that closure though. Have you tried one of those Dramine bracelets?
Jules @ Trying To Get Over The Rainbow

Cold As Heaven said...

Yes, I know that feeling, not from earth quakes but from boats. I've never been sea sick, but I've been very close to getting land sick, when getting back on land after 2 weeks at sea.

Cold As Heaven

Hart Johnson said...

Oh, Mari- I'm so sorry about these obnoxious placebo quakes. I wish I could give advice that would help. Have you considered Tai Chi? I learned at my conference that these activities that combine exercise and meditation are really good for PAIN stuff that is largely brain dependent... maybe it would help with anxiety that was taking a physical manifestation, too.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Proud of you for going back and facing your fear. You'll never wonder 'what if?'

Kelly said...

Placebo quakes... what a fascinating concept! I hope your brain/body comes to grips with this phenomenon soon.

Deb and Barbara said...

I can't even imagine. And of course it must be so weird! At least you know for sure what you want to do now...

Jan Morrison said...

Oh Mari, you are a brave one. I know that'll irritate you so I'll just say 'heck gal, you're one crazy cat!' I wouldn't like the world shifting beneath my feet but hey, the truth is that nothing is that steady anywhere at anytime. love ya to pieces.

Stacy Gail said...

You're so incredibly brave to WANT to go back in the first place!

Remember what I said on FB -- anytime you want to rant, have a breakdown, whatever, you've got lots of friends *waves energetically* who'll listen. Love you, Mari.

Marjorie said...


Powdered Toast Man said...

That post mentioned nothing of giraffes. I expect every post to have a giraffe in it.

What color is your earthquake helmet? My volcano helmet is tie-dyed.

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