Sometimes, I wonder how researchers are supposed to protect themselves from what they see, hear and feel. I am now researching about something that is pretty human (how people reorganize their lives after a nuclear accident) and from time to time, I frankly cannot distance myself from what the interviewees tell me. Well, the only chance I have is that I am not good a crying in front of people.

The other day, I had an interview in Takasaki City, Gunma Prefecture. The woman I met told me “I am a bad mother, I can’t even take care of my own child”. The situation is as follows: her child has the Down syndrome and needs special care. But no daycare center (and now elementary school) near her new place is ready to accept her child. She therefore had to put her child in a specialized institution, which is far from her place. She can only see her child (a 7-year-old boy) once a month and feel terribly guilty about it. The word she used is a very harsh one: 母親失格. It basically means that she failed at being a mother.

As a researcher, what are you supposed to say? I couldn’t just sit there and let her blame herself for this, when she decided to leave everything behind her to protect her child from radioactivity. I told her she decided to come for her child’s sake and that was certainly a good decision, as a mother. I knew I wasn’t supposed to tell her this kind of things, but it was just too painful to hear her say that her child was suffering because of her.

It is very selfish, but I still don’t know how to distance myself from my interviewees. I hear their stories, I feel their pain and sadness and I just absorb it, like a sponge. I have been emotionally very unstable the past week because I accumulated so much pain, anger and frustration. I try to let it go by writing my blog and letters to friends, but I never feel better. When I phase out, I just think about what they told me. In one year and a half, the state will stop housing aids for so-called “self-evacuees”. What will our participants do? Will they have to go home? If they do, how are they going to cope with radioactivity? I already feel anxious, but there is no way the current government is going to move a finger, especially if people do not fight back. (Well, looking at how the government ignored people demonstrating against the reform of the constitution, fighting back might also be useless…)

If I am accepted in a PhD program, I’ll definitely have to work on my emotional issues. I cannot continue absorbing all of it if I want to be able to write a scientific paper. And if I want to stay mentally healthy. I can’t be teary for 4 years and explode every time someone says something random about Fukushima…



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