Mental Health, Philosophy, Writing

Aokigahara and Intellectualization

I am like a sponge.

Not like a kid. Not for good things.

Not for valuable information or good vibes.

I can take in the emotions of everyone in a room. And this past week has been stressful. For everyone. It was election week, and the Tax Claim Bureau (me and my boss) share an office with the Director of Elections for our county.

Election week is always stressful, and it’s kind of fascinating to watch all the work that goes into something that, on the surface, should be so simple. On top of the regular stress of it all, it’s been mandated that all ballots must now be paper so that voters can see a record of who they’ve voted for and basically police the machines in an effort to cut down on any accusations of fraudulent voting equipment or procedures.

So for the past year the county has been selecting and rolling out new equipment to the public and to poll workers.

Of course, true to form, that’s never as simple as it should be either. Add to that the political drama that’s been a staple of the county for some time now and it made for a hectic, overwhelming week of elections.

I’ve also been dealing internally with a lot of family issues as the holidays come around and I find my world exceptionally smaller than it was last year. Against my will and with no good reason, which makes it all the harder. Dysfunction and ego at their best.

So I’ve sucked up every ounce of all of that for the past seven days and I find myself emotionally drained. I do my very best to put some walls up when I go out into the world, to shield myself from taking in too much of others’ shit to effectively deal with, or even identify what is, my own.

But that’s a lot of work to maintain and once there’s a crack in the armor it all comes rushing in in short form.

When this happens, and I find myself really oppressed by the world and the people around me – even the ones I love desperately – I find the best thing to do is to intellectualize the shit out of it. Just go right down the rabbit hole and study it. Because what makes it scary is when you’re not in control of it.

I’d recently seen a documentary in Aokigahara Forest in Japan and was curious about it. Of course it was sensationalized and given the hook of the forest being known for the suicides committed there by the hundreds every year. But I was curious about it in a bigger sense. I was curious what the world was saying about it.

That’s what really compels me anytime something gets my curiosity up. It’s understanding the zeitgeist of the thing. The way it is perceived in the world. At the heart of it I’m never really as interested in the thing as I am in our reactions to it. As a society.

I spent a lot of time Friday just looking at pictures of Aokigahara, reading anecdotal accounts of being there, and investigating the claims people make about it.

That the silence is deafening. There are two very polarized schools of thought as to why. There are those who say that the silence is a manifestation of the paranormal or the supernatural. And there are those who say that the volcanic rock, upon which the entire forest grows, is porous and full of tiny holes, which absorb the sound and create an eerie silence to most, who’ve never been in such an environment before.

There are the rumors that very little to no wildlife exists in the forest and then there are peer-reviewed accounts of a thriving flora and fauna array in Aokigahara. I tend to be in the science-minded camp, but then I tend to find the only spiritual experiences I ever have to occur as far away from other people and the human world as I can get. Everything that’s ever been a mystery to us is eventually given a scientific explanation that’s more rational in my mind than its dogmatic counterparts.

I find great beauty and great peace in nature, and I don’t really understand why we need to assign a character to explain the tenuous balance of it all. We’re floating on a goddamn rock in the middle of a vast universe whose atmosphere would kill us within seconds were we exposed to it. We can breathe and exist on this planet because of an intricate series of scientific events over which we ultimately have very little control at all.

Isn’t that enough?

Shouldn’t just our own complex existence on this Earth be enough?

It is for me.

Anyhow, these are all thoughts I had as I sat taking in every reference to Aokigahara I could get my hands on. And ya know what?

I woke up this morning feeling better. I also took advantage of the remaining dregs of self-pity in me and used them to convince myself that it was okay not to get all of the things done today. I gave myself permission to take it as easy as I could, and guess what? By the afternoon I’d gotten my entire bedroom spotless. Not because I felt like I had to. Because it made me happy to be doing it.

It’s so easy to get dragged into this emotional spiral when things are getting to us. I am really glad to have the ability to intellectualize it. I think it gets a bad reputation, too, as a coping mechanism. Maybe it’s not great for everyone, but I’m not everyone. I feel things more deeply than others. I see connections and meaning in things that a lot of people don’t see. And my therapist’s skin would probably crawl to hear me say it, but I don’t believe the answer for everyone is to feel all the things all of the time.

I think some of us – I know that I, for one – need a break from all the feelings. And I think getting smarter by studying a thing like Aokigahara is a much healthier way of coping than getting too emotional about it.

So. That’s the thing I came up with today.

Alright then. Good talk.

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