Summer of 2006 nine year-old me realized something wasn’t right with me. I had had a lot of bad experiences over the previous year, and I was noticing pretty big changes in me: I was growing timid, fearful and anxious, lost my drive, and, frankly, began longing to end my life on a regular basis. I told my mum I wanted help, and by the end of the year I had my diagnosis to the illness that has defined my life: Clinical Depression.
In my memory, there is a pretty clean break between the me before I picked up these traits, a smart, confident kid with actual social skills, and the person I’ve been ever since. I don’t really identify as the same person; I feel like I’m renting his body in his absence, and everything I achieve with the help of knowledge he gained before I replaced him, be they good grades from his studies (kid me wanted to learn anything he could, which has been rather helpful for me), or a certain level of passive charm or charisma that gets people to like me despite my lacking social skills, feels woefully unearned to me. After all, none of it is on my own merit. Needless to say, developing a sense of self worth has been difficult.
Honestly, a lot of these issues still plague me. But almost ten years later, Spring of 2015, I found the most important stepping stone on my path to recovery: A little show called The Tatami Galaxy. Most of the people reading this have probably already seen Tatami, but in short (Spoiler warning), it shows the various possible lives of one unhappy and extremely self-conscious college student, in which he has various misadventures which inevitably lead him further and further away from his ideal life. After nine episodes of this, he gets fed up, and his next life embodies that: he shuts himself off completely, barely leaves his dorm room, doesn’t make any friends, nothing… until he finds he truly no longer can go outside, as his room has turned into his entire world, a microuniverse of 4.5 tatami rooms (hence the name). As he explores the various iterations of his room, he finds traces of his other lives, and he comes to realize that the busy, colourful lives the other versions of him lead are all their own kind of beautiful, just not the beautiful they were looking for. It’s up to him to break through and enjoy his life. Which he does. It’s spectacular. Watch Tatami Galaxy.
That realization changed me fundamentally. It was a lesson I desperately needed to learn, and I came out of the theatre as a different person. I managed to shed one of the shells keeping me locked down; no longer was I just the substitute for a better person, I could take some steps to living a real life, I just had to accept that this was my life. It sounds cheesy and silly, but for the first time since I broke as a kid, I felt hope. The changes it made to my life were huge. I wasn’t even suicidal anymore! That’s my origin story, for all of you who’ve never heard it before! It was also around that time that I first started thinking about gender and stuff, but that’s a story for another time.
Now all that relentless positivity probably doesn’t quite sound like the girl you all know. The last year has been bad for me and bad for my sanity, starting with the feeling of powerlessness regarding all the awful politics happening across the world, but especially threatening my friends in the US, and a ton of mental pressure from an unhealthy relationship I wrote about earlier, at times getting me /this/ close to suicide again. Bad stuff. As has become a (worrying) habit since Tatami saved me, I looked to anime to find a new light in me, and eventually I found one, in a place I really wasn’t expecting to find it, and in a way I really wasn’t expecting to find it.
Evangelion is a series that has established itself as a classic for quite some time now, and there probably aren’t many angles left for me to explore. That said, I want to talk about Instrumentality. In Instrumentality, every human turns to nothing; they give up their individual realities for the promise of eternal bliss in a comfortable void. The parallels to the allure of suicide are rather blatant. It’s the ultimate escape from the fears and hardships and stress of our lives. But as the college student who shut out the world also found, retreating from life is only fun when there’s an alternative, when there’s a life to return to. Ultimately, Shinji rejects Instrumentality and chooses life. I don’t think my words will have the same impact, so I’ll let him speak for himself:
Shinji rejects Instrumentality. The student leaves his room. I want to overcome myself and live my life, and I hope you will too.