Learning to dive: one anxious girl’s outlook on anime

I’ve been learning lately. That I can’t go on like this, because it’s hurting me. That I’ve been lazy and selfish. That people can’t be expected to care, when I’ve been wallowing in my anxiety for over a decade. As hopeless as it’s made me feel, I’ve had to regress to move forward, find a place where I can let go of the years and relearn how to interact with the world. How to speak and not stare at my feet. How to care for others, because that’s what being an adult means.

That place, for me, has been anime; a medium that honours the high school years as the last chance saloon of purity, where a few bad habits are fine as long as you’re starting to be responsible. As soon as you leave, you’re plunged into the adult world of choices. To get a job, or delay the inevitable by going to college. To drop the lackadaisical attitude, or live as a recluse while everyone leaves you behind, without a lasting achievement to your name, without a dream or an equal to share it. That’s where I find myself now. And while I’ve had to be cruel to myself, this singular style of animation has been a kind mentor.

Floating together in Amanchu!

Over the summer, as much a child as I’ve ever been with no real commitments, I started watching Amanchu! – a show about one girl, Futaba, lost and alone in a new town and a new school, who meets the zany Pikari, self-confident and unshakeable. Pikari’s calling is scuba diving, and until now, Futaba hasn’t seen so much determination in anyone, even herself. She’s been too scared to do anything beyond shrug things off or leave things behind. Even when she’s felt angry or hurt, standing up for her own pride was a terrifying, impossible prospect. She’s fragile, lonely, hopeful and pathetic. She’s just like me.

It’s the easiest and most difficult thing to go back to that time, in my imagination or in my memory. Going to that place is acknowledging where I’ve been stuck all this time. Back by the school’s side door having my head beaten against the drainpipe, sitting in silence and letting everything happen. Letting it all slip past me even now, when I risk losing the one person I can share this despair with. It’s not even that I don’t want to try. I just can’t find the one thing inside me to change, because it isn’t one thing, it’s everything. There are no simple steps, it’s having it all or having nothing. Being everything to someone, or being nothing to everyone.

It’s not only anime itself I find solace in, but the words of its creators too. Hideaki Anno, the mind behind Neon Genesis Evangelion, suffers from depression and the same self-loathing that I have to push through just to get anything done some days. He poured his uncertainty, confusion and misery into a show that’s become a beacon of hope for fans the world over. He moulded all he dislikes about himself into another world, a ravaged Earth invaded by Angels and protected by young souls bound to giant semi-conscious robots, the only ones who can face the alien titans head-on.

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The angel Bardiel in Rebuild of Evangelion

Anno says the true meaning of Evangelion isn’t to be found in its story, but how the viewer interprets it. In this one franchise, there’s always a conversation taking place between Anno and someone in the world. Someone who sees his depression and anxieties given fictional form, accepts them, even comes to love them, and through that accepts both themselves and Anno as they are. I’ve been wondering how I can give myself the same therapy of making a villain of my anxiety, my own Angel, something solid that can be overcome. The truth is, I’m not creative enough to spill my soul into a fantasy world. At least, not yet. Maybe that will come with time.

For now, all I can do is absorb as much inspiration as I can. Find those lines that make me cry, without feeling shame in crying. The tears always flow free in anime, whether in joy or sadness. It bundles up a much bigger repression than my own – the conservative attitudes of Japanese society – and allows it to fall away in big, fat, public tears of whatever you may be feeling at the time.

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Tears like these

There’s another visual metaphor we’ve all seen in anime again and again. A disembodied drop of water, not necessarily a tear or rain, falling and creating a ripple in a still, endless lake. It’s a pause for thought, a moment of revelation, a swell of dread and a reset button, a universal stopping of time. It feels like purifying the moment and distilling it down to that one droplet, giving those troubled ripples a definite centre. These moments alone are calming, and when I imagine it repeating as I’ve seen in so many shows I love, I can capture solving one problem at a time, with all possibilities opened up to me.

When Futaba arrives at her new home, she meets a wise old woman who tells her that right there, in a little seaside town, an ocean of adventure is waiting for her. It’s as if she can sense Futaba’s uncertainty, in herself and beginning life on her own, and tells her something she needs to hear without being too gentle with the words. She embodies the teacher I see in anime, the one I miss from my childhood. Every dream I had back then is still out there to discover, but that ocean of adventure needs you to approach it, and then brave the water. I want to dive too, but I’m scared. The fear’s knotted up as a drop in the ocean; I have to submerge myself to get past it. I’ve managed to dip my feet in a few times. I’m getting used to the cold.


32 thoughts on “Learning to dive: one anxious girl’s outlook on anime

  1. What a touching post. This is a great example of finding the strength to go on with our lives from anime. Thank you for sharing such a wonderful post with us and submitting this to my blog carnival. I appreciate it. Be brave. Take care. Cheers!

  2. While I didn’t care for Amanchu! to much myself, I did realize that it would defenitly have an appeal for those with anxiety as it can serve as a source of comfort and encouragement. Nicely written.

  3. I’m so glad that you find comfort in watching stories of people with similar issues unfold on the screen; we find similarities in others that gives us the strength to keep pressing forward. Anime gives me tremendous inspiration and helps to overcome my problems like you but I know that it only points to someone even greater who understands every problem in human existence. That gives me complete peace and a lot of hope. At least that’s what I’ve learned from my years of living and dealing with depression and suffering.

  4. I definitely relate to this. I’ve been having a struggle with anxiety recently and I only developed it around this time last year. It’s really helpful for me to watch something that has characters and creators going through things so I know I’m not alone. This post described that beautifully.

    1. It’s good that you knew what it was from early on, not understanding is the worst thing. Yeah, it’s always helpful to be reminded of the many people who experience this themselves. You can’t always expect loved ones to be around for support, and characters are gloriously unaware of how often you lean on them, haha! Thank you 😊

      1. Yes, and as being a person who bottles things up, it’s not so easy to tell other people about what I’m dealing with. When I’m upset, stressed, or anxious, I tend to watch anime to relieve myself of what I’m dealing with. It gets my mind off of things and it makes me think, “Hey, if they can do something even more scary than what I’m dealing with, then I should have no problem.” and that helps a lot. It’s incredible what fictional people can do for tough situations. 🙂

        1. It is tough, you feel like you’re just burdening others with your own problems, when everyone’s got their own stuff to deal with. Yeah, exactly, it makes it easier to imagine what a character would do if they were in your situation. I have quotes I actually repeat in my head that I use to motivate myself too. Sounds a little silly but it works 😆

  5. Wow this was a powerful personal post to read and was nice to read. Being open like you were is not easy and was so interesting to read of how you relate to the animes you mentioned. Amanchu is a dear favourite of mine and related to Futuba a lot from back in my early teen days. I hope your doing okay as you got very deep in your post and hope has released some of what your feeling. Its what I love about blogging venting your frustration again I feel inspired to write something personal of my own, your amazing el 👍🏼👍🏼👍🏼

    1. I will always love Amanchu for inspiring me to write this. Every episode of the anime said something that made me cry because I could relate to Futaba’s situation on a deeply sad, but also hopeful level. To think it was something I just watched on a whim at first, to see if it was any good. I can’t bear to think about not having watched it now. I had to dig up some awful feelings and memories in writing this, but I feel much better for sharing it all, and from now on I think I’ll find the whole thing much easier to talk and write about.

      If you write your own story, do let me know. It makes me so happy that I’ve inspired you. Thank you so much, gah, the compliments, I’m not used to getting so many! Keep them coming though, haha, the lovely things everyone’s been saying makes me feel thankful for everything that’s happened, even all the bad.

      1. Awww El hope you don’t mind me calling you that, just from reading this comment can tell you would have to dug in places you wouldn’t wanted to revisit. It’s brave. Oh amanchu is bloody amazing in it’s serene setting to relax it’s viewers and I still have not finished it yet, been watching it at my own pace at the moment haha.
        I will let you know when i write my own story my dear 🙂 bask in all the compliments LIGHT !!!

        1. I don’t mind at all 😊 El’s a new one for me, I’ve always been either Beth, Lizzie or Liz. I like El, makes me feel like I’m a master detective investigating some killer notebook or something 😜 Thank you, it’s honestly about time I got up off my ass and moved on with the whole thing. I wonder if that town in Amanchu is based on any real place, I’d like to see that view of the sea for myself.

          I’ll look forward to reading your piece, it’ll be my first time reading something I’ve inspired with my own writing! * flails* I plan to, heehee 😎

  6. Wow, this a post that definitely has left me a little bit speechless. What an incredibly personal story. I just want to compliment you on being so brave as too share this. I am currently watching Neon Genesis Evengalion, and am highly enjoying it. As I live in Holland I have missed out on quite a few Animeseries, and now thanks to releases on dvd and sites like Crunchyroll, I can catch up on a lot of things. I am loving the series a lot so far. All I can say is: good luck with everything, and thank you for sharing this post.

    1. Aww, no, thank you! I’m getting a little overwhelmed by all the kind messages everyone’s giving to me. It was easy to share with you all, because I trust this little community we’ve been lucky enough to build within this blog. But the writing was tough, so I can’t put into words how glad I am that you and the others have responded this way. It makes everything worth it.

  7. I can’t say that I have a good understanding of what is going on, but from your explanation of how Futaba’s experiences resonate with you it seems clear that you have some issues with anxiety. That, and you’re going through something difficult right now. I won’t clutter up your post with a bunch of heavy sentiment or impossible to follow advice. Anxiety is a terrible thing to deal with, for the person suffering and everyone around them as well. There are no easy answers, and as you said, there is no one thing that will make it seem better.

    Perhaps the best I can do here is guide you toward something that Evangelion taught me many years ago. Episode 26 imparts the lesson that Anno himself must have learned somewhere in his troubled life: Everything is a matter of perspective. Are you a person with anxiety? Are you lazy and selfish? Are you someone who has been able to endure the hardships of your youth and do something positive with your life? Me and others who follow you here see one facet of you: the you that writes on an anime blog. We see an intelligent, insightful person who can write in both an informative and moving way. Is this part of the you that you see as you? We are nothing more and nothing less than the collection of perspectives that we use to define ourselves. This means that existence is not fixed, and you can, at any time, be something other than what you are. It’s all a matter of perspective.

    1. Nyaww you’re making me blush. The things you said about me and my work on this blog are so much what I want to be that it’s probably more of a relief than you know for me to read your words. But that’s a good lesson, it’s all about perspective. I can be what I want to be, and yet it’s still kind of a shock that I’m actually managing it. It’s been the product of years of struggle, and now I feel like things are finally falling into place. All it needed was the effort on my part, where I was just floating along before.

  8. Great post. Anxiety and depression are very real and there are very few people who can relate to the feeling if they haven’t gone through it. It requires an incredible level of empathy. Yet, I’m not sure if anyone can get used to the cold. In absence of a better word (not that it doesn’t exist – My vocabulary just sucks) I describe myself as an introverted extrovert. I have tried many times to explain to people that I keep myself to myself and I LOOK like an extrovert but I AM NOT. I, like you, have found solace in anime. And books and videogames and light novels.

    Great post. Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

    1. That’s very true, it’s a rough experience for everyone involved. And it’s also true that something like this is never going to go away, I know it will always be there. But learning to manage my fears has meant taking the tiniest steps into doing what I’m afraid of, and this piece is part of that too. In part I was afraid of getting to the heart of what my anxiety is, and this certainly took me there.

      We all have aspects of ourselves that we hide, and I know it must be so hard trying to get people to understand how you really feel. We all put up those protective barriers around other people. Anime, books, video games, they all somehow make it easier to let them down, at least in yourself. At times, that’s the hardest thing to come to terms with.

      Thank you, it means a lot that you appreciate it.

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