FEATURE: How Watching Anime Became a Way to Explore My Mental Health
They say if you love what you do it never feels like work. I say, whoever said that is neurotypical. Or, at least, not my particular flavor of neurodivergent.
I was one of those quiet kids who dreamed of being abducted by a beast so I too could have access to the world’s most gorgeous library or maybe just roll around on a bookcase ladder. I made quick progress from reading books like The Boxcar Children and Nancy Drew Mysteries to Stephen King and Edgar Allan Poe. I grew up and started making a living off writing and stopped reading books as much. I moved up to editing and read even less.
When you’re staring at words all day the last thing you (well, at least, I) want to do is stare at more words when you’re off the clock. It’s easy for me to get burnt out, especially with the nature and long hours of my freelance work. The last time I got really engrossed in a reading binge I went through four books in less than a week, staying awake until 3 AM because “it’s only one more chapter.”
That was six years ago. I’ve been writing for nine. All this is to say: I miss anime.
I love anime. I am genuinely so excited when my favorite series come out with new episodes or movies. But I don’t always watch them. Sometimes I will put on an episode or two and become giddy with how good they are, but then I’ll get too zoned in on my work and forget to play any more episodes that day, never returning to that particular series. Or maybe I’ll add that title to my queue, pause on it for a bit, then end up pressing play on some comfort show I’ve seen a thousand times. Eventually, I’ll end up watching the new show two months after everyone else and wonder why I waited so long.
Don’t even get me started on manga, that glorious combination of anime and words that should be perfect for someone in my field, but is the exact wrong combination for my brain chemistry. I want to read it in my spare time but I don’t.
Maybe it’s my ADHD that makes me lose all motivation to turn on anime when I’ve punched out for the night. Or maybe that’s the CPTSD. Someone else with these diagnoses might be compulsive about their watching habits. Same illness, different fonts. At least I know my child and I will hyper-fixate on ZOMBIE LAND SAGA together when that comes back around. Is it the songs? The deep traumas each of the idols has survived and overcome? Is it Kotaro? Yes. It’s cathartic and familiar and fun and sad and it just works on all of my emotional levels.
Mental health has become a huge focus in society over the past decade with varying degrees of success. It’s sort of a toss-up whether speaking on it will result in support and solidarity with those who can relate or with criticism and hostility. I have a sneaking suspicion it’s the lack of proper education and diagnosis that makes this so difficult. We have more language to speak about what we are dealing with but not enough words to grasp the nuances between each individual. We now have enough knowledge on mental health to know when we may need help, but not enough resources or money to access that care.
Maybe that’s why so many of us, myself included, turn to fandoms and art as a way to cope. Whether it’s because we relate to the stories and latch on to them or because a rewatch is a reliable part of our lives. That’s also why it’s so important to accept those who connect with these mediums in whatever ways they are drawn to. There is no one way to be a fan, whether that’s keeping up with all the recent news, shows, and merch, or wrapping yourself in a cozy comfort series and staying there.
On World Mental Health Day many will turn to anime as a way to relate to characters going through similar struggles. They will show their loved ones certain episodes and say, “This is what I was talking about.” They’ll watch something like ZOMBIE LAND SAGA for the millionth time and laugh at the same bits they laughed at the last time they watched it. There will be otakus and weebs who love anime with their entire heart but spend time rewatching the same three series. Or maybe they haven’t watched any anime in years. They’re still valid, and they’re still here, and I’m sure, like me, they miss anime, too.
Carolyn is the EN Features Editor who tweets about horror movies and sometimes runs in horror-related competitions.