The Weight of Family (feat. Senjougahara)

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I still haven’t shared much from my time in Korea–for reasons–and unfortunately, the poignancy of the trip has faded quite a bit since then. But there may be another way to share its individual stories, and this may just be a better method in that it gives me the opportunity to really flesh out the themes. And of course, I’ll be going back to the basics: using anime to help me talk about things that are otherwise difficult.

So I just got off the phone with my aunt in Korea, and what I didn’t know was that it was also Thanksgiving there–thematically equivalent to our Thanksgiving. And in that short, 12 minute phone call (Kakao Talk), I reconnected to the experience of ‘family’ that I had felt in Korea.

What I learned only after my trip–from listening to my friends–was that this experience of losing ones family is quite common for immigrant families. And I mean families aren’t just your mom, dad, and your siblings living in a house. It’s your grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins and all of their children spread across the country. And I have like 30 cousins. Apparently.

In Bakemonogatari, we learn about Senjougahara’s past when she chose to cut off her ties with her mom, which is how she–literally, in the anime–lost her weight. Now, I’ve seen this arc a couple of times, mainly while trying to get people into Bakemonogatari, but it never hit me as hard as it did when I watched it after my trip to Korea.

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You see, I had lost all my ties with my family back home. I mean, my situation wasn’t as intentional, but rather as a direct result of moving far away. But there definitely were some heavy stuff in there as well. Like the fact that I didn’t always get along with my family. Or that identifying as Korean became difficult and embarrassing to do as I grew up on Vancouver Island. There’s brokenness for sure. And for the past 5 years since I’ve moved out, I’ve completely lost knowledge of the bond known as family. I mean the way I saw everyone, they were either my friend or they weren’t. Even at church, forming a family centred around Jesus–as special and amazing it is–was simply the idea of companionship and sharing life together. And not to undervalue the church but to reveal my capacity to understand the depth of relationships.

When I met some of my relatives back in Korea, I could physically feel the weight of our bond. It was actually too much, because it was deeper than anything I had known. It was heavy and I knew I wouldn’t be able to understand it yet. And by no means I’m saying it was bad, but to think that I had lived most of my life without this? It was really sad but at the same time, I’ve never actually missed my family because… how could I miss something that I don’t know about? I was overcome by this new feeling familiarity, unity, bond, and support.

And that’s when the weight of my family came back to me–good and the bad. And tonight, I felt it again. It’s not fluffy (fuwa fuwa) or pleasant like that, but it’s certainly something I will treasure. And for sure, it’ll be a long journey and a healing process that will undoubtedly be painful, but like Senjougahara, I’ll desire it.

Happy Thanksgiving.

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A certain state of anxiety

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I want to describe a type of anxiety that I feel sometimes. Not to mention that emotional experiences and feelings are in many ways complicated and subjective, and even more so in the ways that one might try to describe them in words. And not to mention that things like anxiety are often co-morbid (psychology term that means more than one ‘disorder’ occurring at a time) with other ‘things’, thus trying to isolate anxiety by itself being somewhat of an impossible or futile thing. But–it helps that I was in that state an hour ago, and so I feel motivation and have the desire to write about it:

I’ve heard of the idea that there is no fault in the act of people who try to gain happiness. Or, for an even stronger argument, in the act of people who try to gain happiness in order to get away from anxiety–to feel ‘okay’. I can’t remember where I encountered it… maybe it was from Tumblr a long time ago.

Anyways, what is anxiety? Well, once again, not to mention–but in the process having mentioned it anyways, ironically–all the disclaimers I said in the beginning, anxiety is a state of being. And in that state, feelings can range from feeling slightly off or feeling a little discomfort, to feeling like something is severely wrong in which case the attention to the feeling takes precedence over all other functions of life. I mean, it’s only natural that, for example, if you see a fire, you would–or at least you probably should–try to get out of there immediately.

What happened about an hour ago was that I was at the very start (low end) of that spectrum. And really, nothing happened that would trigger it–at least, nothing that I could figure out–but I just happened to be feeling it. And I guess the next iteration of anxiety is the ability to notice and observe this feeling inside of me.

I’ll start by admitting that I’m a bit anxious right now. I mean, I’m inside a state of anxiety, which means that my thought process and my view of the world might be different than how they are normally. It’s kind of a good thing for the purpose of this post, because otherwise, I may not want to (or could) write about it in the same way that I am able to write it now. And I’m writing it simply because I want to, which is something of a fleeting golden opportunity. Lastly, I’m inclined to make the observation that this compulsive desire to write is an indication that I felt something poignant enough.

Going back to the topic at hand, I need to mention that I have found certain parts of anxiety to be kind of enjoyable. And this might be a bit difficult to explain, but it’s the idea that things around me don’t seem quite as real, or that things seem more interesting or fantastical than usual. In this state, I have a strong longing for intimacy. I can feel my own vulnerability. And I feel… suggestible. (I might add to the list, hot and feverish, but then it’s usually because I actually have a fever. These feelings are in the same direction, just much further along.)

I mean the anxiety itself feels horrible and uncomfortable, but on the flip side is the same degree for desire itself. And this pattern of anxiety made escaping into fantasy somehow more real and important. It made me search and long for things with an unprecedented passion. Perhaps it was in part desperation, but I thought it was passionate nonetheless. Its vulnerability was interesting, as it was kind of awesome in its sheer powerfulness. It was like falling in love.

So whenever I would feel dysphoria, vulnerable, anxious, lonely, or whatever it could be called, I would do whatever I could to feel better. Now the problem arises in the difficulty of assessing the validity of my circumstances accurately. What I mean is that I’m probably biased in thinking that I had no choice but to do the things to make myself feel better–that the anxieties really were a big problem and that it was only natural for me to seek shelter from it over all other things.

And… to a large extent. they were. But of course, that wasn’t the problem. The problem was that anxiety meant I didn’t have to do my homework. That I didn’t have to go to my classes. I could just make an excuse. In fact, anxiety meant that I could neglect any of my responsibilities when I felt anxious. And soon, the lines between ‘I can’t’ and ‘I don’t want to’ started to blur. And consequently, anxiety, with its friend stress, only came back stronger and scarier after days of procrastination.

While I was anxious, there are things that I’ve done that I could only have done because I was anxious, like how someone has less inhibition when they’re drunk. I guess to a certain extent, I enjoyed doing whatever I wanted to do. But still, I really was petrified sometimes. Anxiety was debilitating. Anxiety was scary. And in those moments, I just wanted to feel okay, because feeling anxious felt like I was like dying or something. Parts of it (or even all of it) might just have been in my head, but I didn’t know what else to do. It was a habit, a pattern, a cycle.

But in that state, I sought after comfort. And I don’t mean living comfortably but to have someone care for me and comfort me. I desired coziness and warmth. I wanted to be taken care of, I wanted to be wanted, and I wanted to find love.

But many of those times, it brought me to the end of my rope. Again and again. It was quite dysfunctional and distressing. It became related to my selfishness, anger, bitterness, loneliness, and substance use (I’m counting coffee and alcohol as substances). It all became too complicated. Maybe I was just confused. Or maybe depressed. Or maybe… But then again, aren’t these indication enough that something was wrong with me?

I’d say so. But almost stubbornly, I kept searching for answers. And I guess after 5 years, I came to a decision to love Jesus.

I won’t go into the details about that in this post (as I kind of already did here). But in the process of going through it all, it made me look at emotional states like sadness, pleasure, anxiety, joy, hope, and love completely differently. I kind of came out on the other end as this… not normal person. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t want me in any other way. The fact that God loves me, and I mean really me, with all of this? And then literally living through His healing, adventures, teachings, and world? Now that’s fantasy. I don’t know a whole lot yet but it’s been amazing, and Jesus has definitely been more than enough for me.

There used to be a great deal of shame and confusion about myself. I mean, to be fair, the stuff I wrote on this post isn’t the most casual topic. But I see that I’m just human after all. Plus, most of the times, I can confidently say that I live without the awareness of these human conditions. It’s like I’ve forgotten all about it already–except when I get a little taste of it like today and get the opportunity to remember. Although, it seems like every time I feel like I’m ‘all good’, I quickly learn that I can so easily fall back into my old habits.

You know what’s a bit awkward? I wrote most of this stuff on the bus ride home, because pondering about things on a moving vehicle is kind of picturesque as well as it being actually effective (same with shower thoughts). But then I came home and listened to Kare Kano’s OP because it popped into my head like my brain was trying to tell me that it was relevant. But then the song, with its own emotional context and my own history with it, kind of re-contextualized the state of anxiety that I’ve tried to think about. Ugh.

But it helped that I wrote all the main ideas down already, and I was surprised by how quickly I was able to reconnect, in order to be able to authentically and properly channel the anxiety to write this post (LOL). I also think that Anno (who directed Kare Kano) has without a doubt went through a very similar depression as me. And of course, his works (like Nadia and Eva) communicate the human conditions and depression more poignantly. But one day, I would like to create art that touches the heart of others who are also deeply, passionately, desperately, and helplessly searching for love. (I mean, from what I know now, it’ll be more of sharing the love of Jesus rather than trying to invent my own. Although, maybe my ideal art is just creating things inspired by His love.)

One last thing I want to try and clarify is what this particular ‘anxiety’ is. I mean maybe it’s more of a loneliness and longing. This part is more for me as I have no idea how to explain it (has this post become a journal?) but I may be able to reference The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya in some way. And point out the similarities and differences between this and the ‘moonlight’ state I described in here (2nd paragraph). I’m not too sure yet but they seem quite similar.

PS

I want to mention this because I noticed that a friend of mine today was stressed(?) when I casually talked about things (I can’t remember what it was though) like I usually do. So I want to clarify a few things. When I talk about things, it means that I have found peace with it (hence being able to talk about it at all), so there is no need to feel concerned for me. On the other hand, because this is just how I process things, I have to admit that I don’t always consider other people becoming burdened by my words. So there’s that. Although… I guess it’s different than in person than in a blog. I still think it was interesting to mention. So I guess I won’t edit this out. I told her that I want there to be zero difference between how I talk and how I write my blog. I guess, for better or for worse, this is how I want to write/blog now. Maybe there are better formats (i.e. video) for something like this, but I guess I’ll probably change it up again before I know it. Plus it’s not like I post enough to have been consistent with any style yet.

PSS

This post is kind of a mess. It took me… what, like 5 hours to write it. So my state of being from the start to my state now is completely different. And it’s now 4am, so there has been a noticeable dip in quality and organization of my writing. And for some reason, I’ve been doing these meta ‘behind the scenes’ commentary in most of my writing. I don’t know. I suddenly understand why Digibro makes vlogs sound the way they do when he hasn’t slept, is drunk, and is rambling about things at like 5am in the morning. I’ll just leave it, and one day I’ll look back on this post and either cringe, think that it’s cute, or I don’t know, maybe I’ll see it as a necessary process of erasing the lines among blogging, journaling, and how I talk. A good indication is that I don’t feel anxious about publishing any of this. It is what it is, I know I am me, I know He loves me, and I’ve changed through His love… LOL this is too cheesy.

Growing through blogging: communication structure and formats

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You know, I like thinking about things, and there are many things that I want to explore and learn more about. In my life, anime has been a great facilitator for this–in the themes and emotions they are able to convey–and in conjunction with lived experiences, this makes for great blogging material/inspiration.

I like how Digibro always seems to spontaneously create new video series. In particular, I like the idea of his “decompression chamber” series, in which he just talks about things to relax his mind.

I can relate to this because while writing my own blogs, through living life (as we all do), things constantly come up that I’ll feel is significant enough to share–right in the middle of working on a project. It’s not convenient, but that’s life. So… which one takes precedent?

This got me thinking more about the formats of my blog posts. Blogs are really cool because it allows content creators to create contents as well as share what the creation process looks like in their life. For this reason, people who follow bloggers are interested in both the bloggers’ works as well as the bloggers themselves.

So a good blog format is important as it would allow me to balance the two types of contents. Of course, there are so many ways to share what’s going on in my life, but I feel that something needs to be flexible and/or vague enough to cover this exact kind of thought rambles. And of course, being who I am, I kind of want everything to be a little project, especially when I see their potential to be reoccurring (and it has been).

So what exactly is this kind of post? I personally look at it as a meta blogging post. But the thing is, even if other people don’t have a separate and intentional post category for this, everyone does it. It’s universal and necessary. So my advice for new writers is to just keep writing, because developing a style comes from the process of trying to develop a style, trying out the style, and then making adjustments from how it all feels. And that all depends on your life season you’re going through. It’s a living process. But it’s all necessary, even the shy disclaimer that says ‘hey this is my first time writing…’ on the first post. These are like little platforms that we build, and I kind of want to try embracing it.

When it comes to writing styles/voices, I really like how TWWK from BTT writes. I mean for one thing, his experience with writing shows, but I also just really like his structure where he seems to effortlessly share from his own life, use anime scenes as examples, but always brings it back to God. It sounds simple enough and logically obvious to format it that way, but I can’t seem to do it nearly as well. I also find TWWK to be relateable and humble.

I recently started following Neighborhoodotaku from Otaku Collision. He values honesty and vulnerability, and this is reflected in his writing. This makes for some blunt, powerful, and effective communication. Again, I want to do be able to do this too, as I can clearly see the value of blogging like this, but it’s a really vulnerable process.

I also want to mention JekoJeko from UEM!. His writings are… basically analytical essays on anime. I’ll name drop the fact that he is a Harvard student, and wow, does he brings out some really thoughtful and well researched content. He clearly reads a lot, which is something I need to work on, in order to be guided in thinking about complex topics.

Finally, the lady from The Six-Foot Bonsai. She is quite fierce in her voice and gives a much needed criticism against Japanese culture. She’s lived there for a number of years and brings a valuable perspective to the community. Seeing the negative implications of a culture I love so much isn’t always fun, but it ultimately does more good than harm to learn about these things.

I love reading and learning from these writers because they do a great job being thoughtful and interesting all the while just sharing their life. And all of this is kind of new for me. I was a fairly ignorant and lazy person who loved to chase feelings for most of my life, and blogging has been helping me to be more intentional and directional with my thoughts and passions.

Blogging has also helped me practice formulating and articulating my thoughts, I feel that I can use this skill anywhere else, with many other topics and themes. I want to learn more about the world, learn more about God, have more to say about politics, human rights, racism, feminism, religions, and so on. And aniblogging itself is great too. As E-Kon says here:

“I started to read anime blogs because some shows left me with these weird feelings that I couldn’t quite put into words. And these reviewers helped me re-contexualize what I was feeling. When you’re a young, lonely nerd, coming off this Eva binge with a strange sense of emptiness, reading a review can help you understand why this show made you feel this way, and what that says about you as a person. It’s extremely valuable, really. This is ultimately the first step to becoming a more contemplative fan.”

The feeling of being helped to re-contexualize things is so valuable. So I’ll keep trying and writing; all of this is a learning experience, and a necessary step to getting better. Blogging is a powerful medium, for both the creator and the consumer. I absolutely love blogs like Humans of New York and Nas Daily where they shine love on the world. And they do an incredible job sharing stories.

In life, people go through different seasons at different times, and for different lengths. I don’t always remember this, but I would like to, if possible, help us grow, build, and communicate.

 

 

Me At 22, Part 3: School, Death, and Hope

At the beginning of May, I received a piece of news that would essentially change my life. It called for a time of reflection, and thus came my initial motivation for writing my Me At 22 series. Well, I’ve been in this head space for well over a month, and although I consider the time I spent writing very important, I am eager to move onto the next chapter of my life. I have accepted my situation, and as proof, I can casually say “I didn’t do too well in school this year so I have to take a year off” in my everyday conversations. So how did this happen, how am I dealing with it, and what am I going to do next? I have a few more stories for you.

A few weeks after my 22nd birthday (aka Facebook hype vs irl), I started summer school for an organic chemistry course (CHEM 233). The stakes were high because it was my 3rd time taking the course, which required special permission, and failing it would mean that I would have to switch out of my Behavioral Neurosceince major.

By no means was I proud to be at this point. But let’s just say that I became intimately familiar with the cycle of anxiety where I would procrastinate to feel better, only to accumulate more work, which obviously exacerbated my anxiety further. The problem was that, even though I was aware of this phenomenon (I mean I studied psychology after all), I couldn’t escape it when I was under stress. It was crippling. It always came down to whether I wanted to feel like I wanted to die or watch some YouTube videos.

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What I was only recently able to identify was that I had a bit of hikikomori thing going on (it’s like a culturally specific pattern of depression/anxiety that I resonate fully with). I was literally too anxious to go outside, and sometimes that was even going outside of my room. And I could name the various abnormal psychology things* I’ve experienced myself under social isolation, but the point is, university was really difficult under these conditions.

What made it possibly worse than having a full blown meltdown was that I was able to get by. I have thought of getting help, and it probably would have been good earlier on, but the combination of pride, shame, and just not knowing or understanding what was going on made me continue living like that. And with every new term, I would strengthen my resolve to do better, and also increased the sense of pressure and failure in a domino effect. Skipping became a really bad habit too.

Funny thing was, I was still mostly passing. And over the years, the fluctuation in the cycle of getting better and getting worse became less dramatic. The struggle was still very real, and as time went on it sometimes felt heavier in feeling like it was never going to end, but I really did get better with processing, adapting, and understanding these challenges, especially from taking psychology courses. University still seemed doable when I changed my goal to just pass my courses. So I was actually surprised when I failed chemistry for a second time and got roughly the same grade.

Going in for the third time was a bit of a wake up call. I planned out strategies for success. I quit smoking weed (along with other reasons). When I studied, I actually thought the material was interesting (crazy what happens when your professor is passionate). When I wrote my exam, I barely left any questions unanswered. I felt good about it. Plus over the years, I’ve seen some real miracles regarding my grades, and I know that if God wills it, I can pass. But I didn’t pass…

When I saw my grades though, I was strangely at peace. And this was so different from me in the past sinking into despair with depression and anxiety triggered all over again. ‘God has a plan for me’, I thought, and I remembered that would trust in Him. I’ll be okay… right?

And sure enough, despite some anxiety over the circumstance, the situation resolved fairly quickly within that week, as I switched over to the Cognitive Systems major. I was actually happy because I’ve always wanted to do a computer science component, and this was my chance. For the rest of the summer, I worked on eating well, exercising, and working on my mental well being

When my 5th year of university started, I was surprised to find myself with more commitments than I’ve ever had in my life. All the time I used to spend being anxious and not going to my classes were now filled with work, RWB, Young Life, and DJing/producing. Oh and anime. So much anime. This was doable because I was taking 3 courses a term. What made it extra stressful though, was that, because of my academic history, one more failed class meant that I would be put on academic probation, as well as no longer be eligible to receive student loans. This was a make it or break it situation, and I didn’t have any snooze button hits left.

So even though things went pretty well that term, in terms of not really getting depressed (maybe like half a day max at a time), not really falling behind, and actually enjoying my classes, it was understandably an incredibly stressful situation; something that the past me would have broken down under the load of. What kept me going was anime, and the new found sense of leadership through Young Life.

I really enjoyed that term, as it was a time of healing and thriving. But something that happens while healing though, is the re-surfacing of all the hurt and problems that are yet to be reconciled. It’s a tender experience. And something that really bothered me in particular was my relationship with my dad, in that he doesn’t really know me, because we’re not in such a relationship where we can talk. My initial resolve after graduating high school was to never see him again, as I couldn’t process or forgive him for the things that he has done.

About 2 years prior to that winter, I had this vision while I was high. Perhaps it was the weed, but I saw this happy idea of our family getting along. It didn’t really make sense, but I liked it, and so I prayed for it–I wondered if it could really happen.

But in reality, I didn’t want to talk to my dad. I didn’t think he deserved it. And plus, I was honestly scared of how he might react. The last time I went home for Christmas, we argued to the point where my dad told me not to come back. That got resolved somehow but there was no shortage of emotional pain when it came to family.

Still, I wanted to love my dad. I desired to have a good relationship with him. I wanted our family to get along. And who was going to bridge that connection if not me? I felt Holy Spirit prompting me.

Two things happened to me that term that lead me to make a decision: the real possibility of me going on academic probation (even if not now, then maybe later), and my friend’s dad passing away.

You know… people die. And honestly, I had forgotten about that. It’s not something that you want to always be conscious of, but it happens all around us. It’s just life. And how do you process death? And what can you do for your friend who is mourning?

In the end, I decided to tell my dad my situation because I decided that I loved him more than I feared him; my failed courses and my drug use. What I wasn’t expecting though was his rather casual acceptance. Like it was anticlimactic. But it was good. We both seemed to have grown a lot since our family first moved to Canada.

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First slide: So, are you going to go home?

So it turns out I passed winter season. Phew. And 4 months later, I failed the spring season. The day I got my grades, I went over to Mike’s place seeking counsel. I was so confused. I didn’t know what the appropriate emotion to feel was. Complete despair or complete calmness because God loves me? Neither seemed appropriate.

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:6-7

I kept on thinking of this verse. And a bunch of other ones. One about God having a plan for me, one about Him being good, and one about waiting upon Him…

And I know it doesn’t make logical sense, but these weren’t just words. They actually had power because I’ve seen their truth. And so… I was… okay? I was feeling anxious about telling this news to my parents but other than that, I was kind of excited.

Excited is not the right word, but in that moment, I was able to see the reality of my situation. I was actually so blessed. How lucky am I to be able to go to school? How blessed am I to have parents to worry about? Mike then grounded me in the fact that the gospel is still true, and I’m still healthy. And really, that’s a great place to start.

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Another thing that really helped me in this situation, as well as my situation last summer with my chemistry course, was that I was involved with Young Life. I see it as life giving work. It’s literally storing treasurers in heaven. It’s influencing someone’s eternity, and it’s something that I know is absolutely worth pouring all of myself in. Knowing that I still have opportunity to do work like this, I was okay. It’s like if I could do one thing in life, it was work like this, and wow, I’m already doing it.

God transformed my faith through Young Life because it wasn’t just words. I was living it, seeing actual kids’ lives change, and seeing myself change through the process as well. It pulls me out of my comfort zone all the time, and I used to hate it, but now I realize that it’s the only way to grow not just in my faith but as a person.

Young Life has helped me to trust people again, especially other Christians. It showed me how to be intentional with sharing life with other people. It also helped me to go outside more, to be more active and try things like camps and retreats. And in doing so, it gave me the necessary break–although I really didn’t like it at first–to be able to look at anime more objectively. It taught me about community, and what it can look like when done well.

Perhaps the greatest miracle I saw was seeing myself change, and seeing God work through me in ways I never thought was possible. And the one thing that kept coming back in times of apathy, depression, and anhedonia, was that sharing joy is the most enjoyable and joyful thing in the world. For me anyways.

During my 5 years of university, I can confidently say that I’ve been through a strange collection of experiences, ranging from bitterness, depression, drugs, loneliness, confusion, paranoia, and the list goes on. So many mistakes and weaknesses, but I can also say that God has been so good to me.

My faith, which comes from God Himself, is such a weird phenomenon. Like I’m not forcing myself to believe, and although it hasn’t always been this way, it now comes so naturally. It’s my world view. And this, is the greatest blessing I’ve received. To know that I’m loved, even when I’m so depressed. Like I can’t get super depressed anymore because I know that loneliness is a lie. (this is going to come to bite me later as I dip lower in my mood, but even then, it’s not the same despair that I once used to experience)

I’m no longer the same person, and this is key. I died with Christ, and He gave me a new life. My past is behind me, and I know I’m forgiven. I know I am loved, I know have value–even more so than I can imagine–and that my identity is in Him. That’s just who I am. I was made aware of the truth, and somehow, here I am, running with it.

So going into this next season, what will happen to me? I have absolutely no idea. But I’m genuinely excited to see what God will do next. I’m so excited to see how God will use me, with all of my mistakes and weaknesses. Is God really good? What will happen if I actually live in that reality?

Even if I work at McDonald’s for the rest of my life, that’s… honestly–and tragically–better than most of the world. Even if I die, I’ve lived a blessed life. How many people die without knowing that they’re truly loved for who they are? How many people live with “wealth” but are unhappy? How many people are searching for answers without finding them?

Thank you, Dad.

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* not limited to body dysmorphia, boderline personality disorder, gender dysphoria, schizophrenia, and anhedonia, all of which are not clinically diagnosed per se but could still have been clinically significant at one point 😉

PS

Failing the course was my mistake, and I’m admitting this. Like, it’s technically possible to pass, and I didn’t. And so, going forward, I have to learn from this mistake.

PSS

What’s interesting is that my ‘profound’ experiences are really a common thing. And that isn’t to diminish its personal significance–and honestly, no one could–but the reason why any Christian loves Jesus comes from their ever growing personal relationship with God. And anyone can have this. I’ve yet to understand Christianity fully but it’s really just showing how to have a relationship with God. But much of Christian culture, especially in the west, has been much of a Western thing, so I’m excited to see Christians watch anime, love Muslims, love LGBTQ, practice meditation, listen to hp hop, and all the other things while having a relationship with God.

Tsundere irl: anger, bitterness, and trust issues

I’m going to divert from my Me At 22 series to go through what happened to me last week because it captures who I am now, who I was before, and what I still need to work on incredibly well. It reveals a very ugly part of me, but I realized that this is an opportunity to admit and accept fault, which will help me grow (I hope). Moreover, I’ve been dissatisfied with my explanation of my affinity to anime and tsundere characters in my previous post, and this post will be an excellent extension to that.

So last week, I got into an argument with a friend. It was honestly so s…silly, but afterwards, I found myself feeling angry to the extent I haven’t felt angry in years.

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You know, I was initially planning to cite quotes from our conversation to show how miscommunication can happen. I was going to expertly navigate through what was said and provide commentary on what the emotions and intentions behind their phrasing was. But I couldn’t.

Going back to look at what I had said, I was reliving the frustrations over and over again, and I was quickly overwhelmed by it. And it was really difficult, even though it wasn’t my intention, to not draw sympathy towards myself over my friend. So instead, I’ll first admit that I got angry from our misunderstandings, and provide the context:

I’ve been sharing my most recent post with my friends and family (which btw, has been incredible–thank you). I shared it again when my friend asked what I had been doing lately, and I explained to him that the post was about my struggle with communicating my cultural identity. In response, my friend began to tell me about his own thoughts and experiences regarding cultural identity.

After listening to him for a bit, I decided that I didn’t like what he was saying because I felt that he didn’t really understand–or was acknowledging–the ‘pain’ behind my cultural alienation. So I told him. Or I tried, and my friend tried to assure me that he understood, and so I tried explaining how that’s not what I meant…

What transpired was a series of misunderstandings and increased emotional involvement. Ideas were repeated, earlier parts of our conversation were referenced, and the conversation eventually ended when our patience ran out. I was so upset at the end, and I could barely hold it together.

Throughout the conversation, my friend didn’t to understand me, which aggravated my frustrations in trying to explain it to him. All he did in response was justifying himself and not actually acknowledging my cultural alienation. That is, this is all from my perspective.

I should really say that he didn’t seem to understand me. The nature of miscommunication is that, I don’t actually know. And in either case, what sucks is that, stripping down all the semantics and words, my friend was just trying to help me. I tried hard to be aware of this fact throughout our conversation (and I learned to do this from many experiences with arguing in the past), but it proved to be too difficult when my insecurities were involved.

Yes, I realized mid-conversation that I was still insecure about my anime fandom (because of my relationship with Chris), but I was still insistent on my friend acknowledging that he came off in a way that seemed standoffish or indifferent. I even admitted that I was being emotional, and tried explaining why I was hurt. But here’s probably the perfect example of our communication failure:

Me: Like you don’t say calm down to someone who’s upset. That’s pretty obvious right?Him: I never told you to calm down.

Like this, I kept on getting more and more frustrated in my efforts:

But I eventually started to see my friend’s perspective as well. How he was only trying to encourage me not to feel alienated by letting me know that I’m not alone in this, and how I’m being unfair because all my friend did was respond to the topic I myself brought up. It made sense. I even realized then that some of the things I said in trying to explain my perspective must have come off as invalidating his cultural identity problems.

Instead of my anger dissipating at this understanding, I became even more frustrated. I couldn’t believe how difficult it was to communicate my feelings, and even more so to get a satisfying response. Regardless of his perspective, why was it so hard for my friend to acknowledge that how he is coming across was hurting me?

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And when he did say sorry, it was too late. By that time, I was too hurt by the fact that it exhausted me and required me to be vulnerable to explain myself to him. I mean why do I have to be the one to look at both sides when I’m the one who’s hurt?

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The thing is, at the same time, I knew how selfish and immature my emotional state was. So I was frustrated and embarrassed by the fact I genuinely felt upset over all of this. Next came all the other confusion, regret, and shame.

‘Why was I so keen on communicating to my friend that I didn’t like the way he responded to me? What gives me the right to criticize how he talks? Isn’t my perspective just self-victimizing? Am I not being self-righteous in trying to get him to admit a certain fault? This whole thing is stupid. What was the point of all that? What’s wrong with me?’

What tipped me over the edge was when I instinctively tried to reach out to a friend to talk about it. But it was Chris, and in that moment, thinking of his unavailability towards the topic, I felt backed up against a wall. My chest started to hurt. I felt like crying. I felt anger and bitterness come up. The following is just what I wrote my in journal at the time. It’s sort of a reiteration of what I said but more in a more pure and emotional form:

I feel so alienated. It’s partly my fault but could you guys just try to be a little more understanding? It’s so hard and no one seems to get it. I think I hate people if this is what’s to be expected. How should I face this? Being extremely sad or extremely angry? You just don’t get it.

I’m so angry, and I’m also angry at myself. I feel like no one understands except me. I feel lonely but angry. It makes me want to distance myself from people. Because I don’t want to see another reaction like that again. I tried so hard. Maybe I’m scared. But I’m mostly angry. Angry that they don’t get it. Angry that they get to live their happy lives without feeling like this.

I’m frustrated in thinking of putting in the effort to communicate myself. From what I’ve seen, it’s impossible. I feel so drained. I don’t want to reach out. That person who’s my friend is never good at supporting me. And I don’t want to explain this because I’ll look pathetic, selfish, and pitiful. I don’t want help, because you won’t understand. I don’t trust you. What do you know about my pain that’s so alienating?

I’m angry because I feel like I have no choice. Who will listen? No forget that, who will listen and be able to understand? This is bitterness. Holding it in is like poison. But I can’t forgive those who hurt me. It’s this process of sinking deeper and deeper into a world of hatred. I feel justified in feeling the way I do, even though it’s frustrating. I don’t want to face anyone. I just want to disappear. So much shame. This is obviously like, not a good state of mind. But what do I do?

So… that’s kind of dramatic, but also being honest. As I’ve mentioned before, I like tsundere characters because I feel like they represent me. People generally dislike them and feel that their emotional behavior is annoying and stuff, but… I’m just like that, especially when I’m like this. I don’t try to be but I’m still like that.

There’s a scene from NHK where the main character tries to kill himself, and other people telling him not to do it only motivates him further. When I saw this scene, I empathized with him. This is what happens when alienation drives anger, bitterness, and isolation. It’s quite a poisonous mind state, and most people don’t know how to approach it. But seeing that scene made me feel like someone else really gets me.

Here are some other anime instances that resonates with my emotions:

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First slide: “The vice captain…”
In all seriousness, I do think that this personality trait can trigger, perpetuate, or aggravate mental illness symptoms.

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First slide: “I must…”
This is when anger turns into into envy and hatred.

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First slide: “I can’t…”
This is typical tsundere regret and introspection.

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Self explanatory.

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Sort of NSFW. First slide: “If you’ve…”
This depicts the doubt of others not understanding our pain.

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First slide is: “Often I…”
This depicts putting distance to avoid problems.

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This depicts wanting to be left alone to avoid problems.

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This depicts not wanting to be alone, despite pushing people away.

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First slide: “I’m starting to…”
This describes self-victimizing characteristics.

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Self explanatory.

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This depicts feeling bad after being emotional.

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This depicts some classic self loathing.

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Self explanatory.

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First slide: “is that…”
This reveals the nature of “self-created” problems.

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First slide: “I don’t know…”
This depicts the fact that depression can make you feel like you shouldn’t feel happy.

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First slide: “I know I…”
This describing victimizing, blaming, and how it hurts others around you.

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First slide: “It was so bright…”
This describes self loathing, the severity of which happens with prolonged bitterness.

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First slide: “No way.”
This depicts inconveniencing friends, but in a good way.

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First slide: “At the time…”
This depicts why someone might isolate themselves.

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This depicts being scared of getting hurt again.

 

So the argument I mentioned happened last Saturday afternoon. As the day came to a close, I realized that I had church the next morning, which was an uncomfortable realization. What should I do? I was still angry, and I had fully transitioned into self loathing and hating people. And I thought I would stay in this state indefinitely. How could I go to church like this? Plus I’d see Chris. Do I put up a facade? But that’s so uncomfortable…

So what I did was, because I was told to, I gave it up to God. It didn’t make any sense and I didn’t want to, but I just did it. And I also went to church the next morning, with the spirit of duty over my feelings.

Our pastor David opened up with Romans 7:15

I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.

That’s a tongue twister but I was like, yeah I get that. I won’t summarize the sermon but it reminded me that the horrible state I was in was not me, and that God’s grace was even bigger. David went on to describe something that would become incredibly useful in explaining my anime fandom:

So many things in my life are special but I never understood why. Christmas is an example. It’s my favourite time of year, but it wasn’t until I was in my 40’s before I realized that the warm, comforting feelings that surround me at Christmas go all the way back to my early childhood when my whole family was together. It was a safe time filled with joy and anticipation and safety and belonging–even though all the other days reminded me of war surrounding us in Vietnam, and loneliness, and shame. Christmas was my childhood’s safe place. As an adult I was able to connect the dots and realize why it is doubly significant for me today. It was one of the first places God showed me that I was genuinely special.

We had communion that Sunday. David prompted us that communion is about declaring Jesus’ death over our lives, proclaiming His authority over any difficult aspects of our life. I knew what I had to do, and I knew how to say it. I went over to Chris and asked him to pray for me.

I told him that I hadn’t forgiven him in my heart for his attitude towards me watching anime. I told him that anime was my safe place, and somewhere I could remember that I am loved. Chris told me that he didn’t understand before and that he was sorry. And I believed him. Chris prayed the words, “thank you for Simon’s strength because it’s something that only he can do.”.

And that was it. That did it. I no longer felt angry, and I felt so glad that I came to church. Chris summed it up beautifully afterwards, saying that, in the end, anime and hip hop are just mediums in which people can connect with each other, and God can use both.

Throughout this emotional experience, I learned, once again, that it’s fear that separates us from love.

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PS

Since then, I’ve been thinking a lot about the concept of space that reminds people that they’re truly loved. Looking at mindfulness, attention, meditation, being absorbed, not worrying about being and just being, etc…

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Fun fact.  from BTT has an awesome post called The Christian Tsundere that also quotes Romans 5:17. It’s a really good read.

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Great advice from reddit: listen to understand rather than listen to respond.

PSSSS

Excerpt from Joy Everyday: May 20 – “Jesus Calling”, by Sarah Young

When your sins weigh heavily upon you, come to Me. Confess your wrongdoing, which I know all about before you say a word. Stay in the Light of My Presence, receiving forgiveness, cleansing, and healing. Remember that I have clothed you in My righteousness, so nothing can separate you from Me. Whenever you stumble or fall, I am there to help you up.

Man’s tendency is to hide from his sin, seeking refuge in the darkness. There he indulges in self-pity, denial, self-righteousness, blaming, and hatred. But I am the Light of the world, and My illumination decimates the darkness. Come close to Me and let My Light envelop you, driving out darkness and permeating you with Peace.

Me At 22, Part 2: Anime and Mental Illness

Okay, let’s talk about this thing that was one of the biggest aspects of my life at 22. Let’s talk about how a president of a hip hop club went from DJing trap music to watching this:

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from K-On, which is my favourite anime

Coming into terms with, embracing, and exploring the anime world has been an incredible journey in these past few months. Having watched a lot of anime since last September, I’ve even heard complaints like, “all you talk about is anime” from my friend Chris. What may not be as obvious is that I’ve come a long way from watching anime for the sake of nostalgia to being able to consider it as an integral element of my life. This blog itself is a testament to that passion, and given this, I think I owe it to my friends to explain the whole phenomenon.

To be honest, it’s difficult to convey my fondness for anime because its personal significance is… well, very personal. I grew up watching anime so there’s that familiarity and nostalgia factor, and as I’ve said before, watching anime allows me to affectionately revisit the cultural attitudes and feelings of my upbringing. So yeah, some of it is definitely cultural, but saying this doesn’t really help anyone understand the extent of the emotional significance I have with anime.

When I actually meet people who watch anime, chances are, they’ll only be familiar with 少年 [shounen] anime, which is the genre of anime with action and adventure that predominantly features male protagonists. And you probably know them: Naruto, One Piece, Attack on Titans, One-Punch Man, and so on. This is the most popular genre of anime, and it’s probably the most similar to Western television shows. As for me though, I mostly watch 日常 [nichijou] anime (aka slice of life), which is where shows like K-On fall under the category of. It’s not for everyone, unfortunately, as Chris echos the general criticism that there’s no conflict and that it’s boring.

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I’m not even going to argue with this because honestly, much of K-On is watching cute girls drink tea, eat cake, and just goof around in general (it’s part of the sub-genre known as ‘cute girls doing cute things’). But on the other hand, people enjoy watching slice of life anime for its pleasant, comfortable, and heartwarming viewing experiences. I think it’s comparable to quietly enjoying a cup of tea for 20 minutes. But really, the strength of this genre comes from its characters, and in the case of K-On, its emotional climax at the end rivals just about any other story I’ve encountered.

Having said that, what initially drew me to K-On was its cute aesthetics, because I like cute things. And this was sort of a significant acknowledgement; being in contrast to the traditional ideas of masculinity, cute shows like K-On have allowed me to be able to embrace those aspects of myself that I wasn’t always the most comfortable embracing: being cheerful, cute, and silly. I mean it helps that I work and volunteer with children, and these attributes go together very well. Something I noticed is that a lot of adults, especially those who work with children, enjoy Disney films, and I think some of the appeal is the same.

Yet another reason why I liked K-On so much is because it’s about 5 girls in a music club. There were surprisingly a lot of parallels between running their club and running my hip hop club. And being a ‘musician’, I have to say that anime music and 声優 [seiyuu] (voice acting) work in general is super interesting. The style of music that make it to the charts in Japan compared to here are unimaginably different. Moreover, coming out of the lifestyle of drugs, and at the same time seeing the truth behind what is portrayed as a good lifestyle in hip hop, I just felt really sick of the derivative 808 trap sound. So me listening to anime music is partly the result of that.

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ganbatte = ~do your best

When I wake up feeling tired to go to work, in addition to drinking my matcha kale thing, I listen to one of these anime songs. And like, I can’t help but laugh while I’m biking to work because the whole thing is ridiculous–the songs themselves and the fact that I’m listening to it. The soundscape is just so different compared to my surroundings and context (a university campus) that it never fails to make me feel weird. But while strange and hilarious, the same high energy and cheerful attitudes of trying your best has helped me grow away from my habitually depressed mind.

Honestly, this 元気 [genki] (~healthy) spirit and the 頑張って [ganbatte] attitude in anime has been such a great reminder and positive influence in my daily life. In many ways, these aspects of anime–at least the ones that I choose to surround myself around–complements my Christian beliefs of joy, peace, love, and hope incredibly well. In fact, being a Christian might be a big reason why I love anime; all the positive ideals in anime like courage, hope, and justice might have seemed childish, but as a Christian, they’re not just optimistic, I believe them to be the truth in Jesus.

On the flip side, not all anime are nice and cheerful. In fact, most anime (even the slice of life ones) so often and so casually present the hardships of life. And this juxtaposition of cute characters being ‘real’ is… probably unique to anime. Take a look at the following screenshots/animemes from various anime:

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How do I say this… seeing these struggles and thoughts–whether the characters overcome them or not–have been immensely cathartic. Just in seeing their portrayal, I could feel that my afflictions are able to be understood by someone (at least by the author). It is because of this that anime has been so instrumental in helping me navigate through my journey with depression and anxiety.

Although this is probably true for any art in general–and also maybe obvious–you have to understand that many things in anime, or the way that anime communicates these things, are completely unique to anime. I couldn’t explicitly identify what these ‘things’ are, but I want acknowledge that anime has amazed me in their depth and intimacy of the emotions and thoughts that are explored, and thereby has given me a lot of opportunity to process many of my repressed or forgotten issues (many of which stem from my childhood, as they usually do).

Among my experiences through anime, one of the most significant journeys I went through is processing cultural alienation. Thinking back, my childhood feels like a different world. Even without romanticizing the childhood era, 90s Korea was certainly and literally a different world compare to my life now. And since this has shaped my identity, in everything from my personality to perspective, I’ve struggled with the idea that other people will never be able experience or understand what I’ve felt to the same extent. I’ve cherished these inexplicably deep and profound childhood memories, especially in connection to anime, but with it also came loneliness.

What has helped a lot was finding the anime community. Take the most popular anime movie of all time, Spirited Away, for example. What’s incredible to me is that the experiencing of its emotional profundity of childlike wonder is… more or less universal. Even if it’s not exactly the same as how I experienced it, I can now believe and trust that everyone gets it. This highlights one of my most cherished aspects of anime, and even with drugs, my favourite aspect of its influences was that it somehow connected me back to my childhood. It wasn’t inventing anything new, it was in reclaiming these lost or forgotten connections that made the whole experience so profound.

There is a distinction between childish and childlike. Childlike is the uninhibited boldness, creativity, playfulness, love, and trust. It’s a state of being that makes sense to be alive and proud. I had a dream the other day that made me remember this feeling, and it caught me completely off guard. It is at times like these that I realize that we often forget really important things, even profound things. But looking around now, everything I do including work, volunteering, art, and church is connected to realigning myself with who I am, who I was, and what I was made for.

My favourite type of characters in anime is popularly known as a ツンデレ [tsundere], which is basically the characteristics of someone who has trust issues. This character archetype is overused and misused in the industry, but when represented correctly, is an incredibly human character. These characters are often sarcastic, defensive, anxious, and frustrated by their own behaviors. I myself resonate with tsundere characters, often acting out of my brokenness to other people, and it’s such a beautiful process to see characters or people overcome their trust issues.

This year was great in that I almost never watched anime by myself, but with my roommate Edward. Sharing the experience of watching anime with Edward allowed me to build trust and the feeling of being connected. And honestly, half the fun was in making fun of what we watched. But what anime was also able to do was facilitating discussions about life’s various philosophies, ideals, pain, suffering, joy, and etc. In my experience, anime covers more ‘life’ than any other genre, especially the formative adolescent years. With this once again tying back to my upbringing, as well as being able to feel like Edward and I are on the same page through watching anime together, this was a very welcomed healing experience.

As my identity became increasingly defined by my anime fandom, my interest towards other things, including hip hop, naturally receded. I would opt to watch anime at home with Edward instead of going to a hip hop show with Chris. I wanted to watch K-On with Chris instead of The Get Down, which is what we used to watch just a summer ago. Given that hip hop is what brought us together first place, we kind of started to spend less time together.

I mean it’s unfortunate because embracing anime for all that it means to me has been a paramount process. And of course, I understand that not everyone is going to enjoy anime, but it sucks that I can’t share what I love with my close friend. What hurts though is the sort of condescending and weirded out attitude towards anime Chris has been showing. Even though it’s understandable, this kind of attitude is exactly what makes me feel alienated and ashamed of my identity.

So, we talked. But at the time, I definitely wasn’t able to do a very good job expanding on anime’s significance, so I’m hoping that this post will help. We shared some good perspectives though. Chris’ main criticism was that my anime consumption was excessive. And I mean, he wasn’t totally wrong. There definitely have been times when anime was a means of escape, and from his perspective, I certainly had been only talking about anime. Where I disagreed was him saying that watching an hour of anime everyday is excessive. Really, it should be no different from watching an hour of Netflix everyday, which is pretty common, or from engaging in your hobby for an hour of your day.

Bottom line though, Chris’ advice was this: it’s not about the art but how it helps us connect with people. He explained that the reason why he is the part of the garden club isn’t so much so because he loves gardening, but because it creates community and connections. It still sucks that he finds K-On repulsively boring, and that he thinks my hobby is weird, but I’ll have to accept it. And although the conversation was frustrating to have, I see arguments and conflicts as a necessary thing in order for people to grow together.

Two days after this conversation, however, God gave me some comic relief. After church that Sunday, I met two students from Japan, and I instantly connected with them. I looked at Chris and couldn’t stop laughing. As soon as I saw Sotaro, I was like, this was meant to be. I talked to him about Madoka, which he has seen, and drew the connection to Jesus. I was like bam, anime isn’t so useless. Anyways, since then, I’ve been spending a lot of time with Sotaro, watching anime, exchanging languages, music, cultural, and so on.

This bring us to the last story, regarding NHK. I had been meaning to watch NHK for a while, understanding its significance from such comments in GendoMike’s post. I mean just look at this amazing moment in history; back when Digibro still commented on other blogs, and before TWWK had watched NHK:

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The week that I watched NHK (two weeks before the aforementioned discussion with Chris) was brutal. As enjoyable NHK was, it was also very raw and deeply sad. As it dealt with what it’s like to live in isolation, with paranoia, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts, I realized then that what I had gone through in my first year of university was hikikomori. And sure, I knew that I was depressed and stuff, but this was me to a T–it didn’t just hit close to home, it hit home directly.

The night I finished it, I was overcome with the familiar feelings of sadness, helpless, and wanting to escape. I didn’t even feel like watching K-On to cheer up, I just felt numb. Just… what was I supposed to do when NHK had revealed my own brokenness and insecurities that I had not thought about for a long time? I even felt frustrated in knowing that drinking nor smoking nor masturbating would really help me. So like… after wrestling with my thoughts and praying about it, I eventually fell asleep.

Even during the next morning at work, I couldn’t shake the heaviness off. I was plagued by the weight of this despair ridden feeling that I used to live with. When I was eventually able to make sense of my sadness, I realized that what I really wanted was to be able to console Misaki. So after work, I came home and told Chris (who was there) about my conflicting realization.

I was sad because I loved Misaki. She was a sweet, lovable, cute, and sad girl who I wish I could hug and tell her that everything was going to be okay. That there is in fact a God out there who loves her and that I would love to do with her. But I felt conflicted in wondering if it was unhealthy to feel this strongly about a character. Because really, people like her exist, as did I, and if anything, I should be concerned about them not this fictional character…

Chris, as usual, thought all of this was a bit weird, and didn’t really say anything in response. So I prayed. I wanted God to give me an answer. Is anime bad for me? How should I process these feelings? Just what should I do? I wanted to retreat to my bed and have a feels trip, but I had to get going to a long meeting.

As you may or may not know, I work with children on the autism spectrum, and that day was our monthly team meeting. As the child would be turning an adult soon, we were having a big discussion regarding his future. These aren’t always the most cheerful conversations because things can seem bleak in assessing and affirming the child’s limitations.

But what came out of the meeting was truly a Disney moment. In considering what really mattered in life, it was that “all we need is a few good friends”. In such circumstances and context, we all felt the validity and reality of that statement. There are a lot to consider and stress over in life, but really, life is satisfying with good relationships. It was like magical and encouraging, and it helped me to snap out of my depressed state of mind.

By the time I got home, it was already getting dark. I was starting to fall back into despair mode when I got a phone call. To be honest, I didn’t really want to talk to anyone then, but I picked it up. One of the first things my friend disclosed was, “I don’t like being alive very much”. In that instant, I was ready. I wasn’t prepared per say, but I was on his frequency. I felt strongly about this, and I could tell him, with genuine conviction and understanding, to live. I felt so heartbroken for him. But in that, and in realizing my heart to pour love into Misaki, I was able to let him know that he is loved.

It took me a while till after the phone call to realize what had happened. I got my answer, and shockingly so quickly. I kind of couldn’t wait to rub this in Chris’ face. And so, this day communicated to me that God can use me, and God can use anime. A week later, I watched Madoka with Edward on Good Friday.

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PS
This was obviously a celebration of anime. There are, undeniably, a lot of questionable aspects in anime, which is why I’ve been so intentional in researching the medium and the surrounding culture.

PPS

This post took me such a long time to write and I was wrestling with it for 2 whole weeks. In the end, I realized that 1) don’t try to be perfect but just enjoy the process and 2) not everyone will resonate with my emotional experiences, but still, sharing them might show someone that they’re not alone.