I’m not pulling any punches here, high school was awful. I had just transitioned from being a baby sister and in a mainly male household into a practically only child living with my mother and her husband.
I was still dealing with PTSD of events in middle school which lead me to suicidal thoughts, however, my mother couldn’t afford proper counseling at the time. Even if she had the means to get me psychological help, I was too prideful and stubborn to be able to accept it. During my past encounters with councilors through childhood, I’ve painted the whole idea of pouring out your soul to someone who’s only paid to listen, pat your shoulder, and say “there, there” as a negative substitute for friends, especially since I’ve been raised through passive teachings of “if you have to pay someone to listen to you and care, you’re a horrible person and you’re a general sad sight”. No, my family never directly said that, but it’s been put in my head through childhood, media, and other encounters.
Needless to say, in high school, I had no fall-back. No one knew me, no one cared about me except the teachers who, again, are paid to care. However, the first day of high school is a day I’ll never really forget.
I caught sight of one of my three friends from middle school, who I hadn’t seen in over a year at the time (one of my other friends from middle school went to a different high school, so I never saw her again, and my third friend wasn’t even allowed to see me due to his mother viewing me as a devil incarnate before he finally stopped caring what she thought by the time we made it to junior prom). To protect her identity, I’ll call the friend I met up with Ray. When I saw Ray in our choir class, I saw her in a crowd of friends from the middle school she had to transfer to for 8th grade. She flagged me down and put me in the middle of all her friends, telling me all their names. That’s where I met my other best friend, and to protect her identity, let’s call her Annie. Annie and I took some time to warm up to one another, but we were practically inseparable by the end of the first grading period of the school year (which was about 6 weeks). Ray, Annie and I are still best friends to this day.
This far into the school year, I was still tormented by PTSD, panic attacks, and nightmares. However, at school, Ray and Annie introduced me to Hetalia, telling me about it and showing me drawings and pictures. At first, it sounded pretty stupid to me and was nothing but gibberish, so instead, we talked about Avatar: the Last Airbender, the anime inspired Nicktoons series.
Slowly, it became insufficient. I was still getting suicidal thoughts often, so my alternate persona, Erica, gained form. I used Erica as a way to gain a thicker skin, keep from crying during panic attacks, and have the means to continue fighting to live on, just to make it to the dinner table.
As the year continued on, Annie finally got me to cave and see a clip of Hetalia, the clip where Italy hits puberty. It was so funny and lighthearted, I dove right in. I was in a state of mind desperate for a light-hearted comedy, bright colors, and pleasant atmosphere. The best part for me was the fact that, not only did Hetalia make World History class practically a stand-up comedy show, but its lack of coherent plot left no room for negativity, tragedy, or anything that could possibly give me a relapse.
While I continued to get panic attacks, they were less common as my newly found group of friends lost interest in the real world altogether and we completely emersed ourselves into anime in general. We even went so far as to create our first ocs, doing so for literally every show we find any interest in, and calling one another by our ocs names. For example, I make references to Annie that her father is really and truly Claude, telling her to “tell her daddy to stop climbing my walls” whenever I spot a spider in my house. To the rest of the world, we look and sound crazy, when in reality, we’re just detached from reality. After Annie got me to fall head over heals over Hetalia, another one of my friends, let’s call him Peter, worked with Annie to dare me to try other shows, such as (but not limited to) My Little Pony, Ouran High School Host Club, Fruits Basket, Kamisama Kiss, Princess Jellyfish, the list just goes on.
Even though not every show they’ve shown me or talked me into seeing stuck with me, I still enjoy the majority of the shows they recommended. Even though the first anime that opened my eyes to the fact that anime can be heavy, tragic, and very dark was Black Butler, the two anime that sent me into a sobbing mess were Blue Exorcist and Fruits Basket (however, Fruits Basket only really hit too close to home for me in episode 15 and the last two episodes).
All I really remember is that one day, not long after my 17th birthday, I decided to watch Blue Exorcist. At that point, I was pretty confident that I was cured of my family problems, PTSD, and insecurities, so much so that I started calling my mother’s husband my dad, and have been ever since our first Christmas after the transition 3 years prior. However, after watching the first and second episodes of Blue Exorcist, something just triggered in my mind on a very personal level. I still cry when watching those two episodes to this day.
If you’ve seen Blue Exorcist, then you could probably put two-and-two together, however, if you haven’t, then let me explain really quick. Through the first episode, Rin is feeling worthless because he can’t seem to do anything without destroying everything in his path. At the end of the first episode, Rin is told by his adopted father that his birth father is Satan. The entire second episode is spent with the adopted father just trying to get Rin back home in one piece while Rin demands answers, only getting angrier when he doesn’t get any. Finally, Rin explodes and tells his adopted father that he doesn’t want to see him acting like a father again, which breaks the father’s heart, allowing him to be possessed by Satan and die a really painful death. After seeing that the first time, I had to literally step away from my computer for the rest of the day and cry; I even sent my dad a text message, reminding him that he is my father and I love him.
As a whole, if I hadn’t branched out and made connections with my friends and anime, I might be in a much darker place now, or might not be here at all. All of the anime and tv shows saved me, being used as tools by my friends to assist in, not only short-term escape but also long-term healing. Even the shows that triggered me and made me break down, they made me break down because I saw similarities between myself and a character featured. For example, with the Blue Exorcist example I just gave, Rin’s explosion reminded me of a time when I was a child and I told my mother’s husband, who I now call my dad, that he wasn’t my dad. I don’t remember the context, but I remember telling him that and the broken look in his face. I saw my dad’s face from that day on Rin’s father’s face when I watched Blue Exorcist.
Seeing similarities between myself and these fictional, illustrated characters gave me a sense of security in thinking that I’m not alone. I was able to watch how the character deals with the same problem as me, or how they fix their problems and I’d try and translate the method to real-life and implement it into my own life. Granted, it didn’t always work for me, but I still had the feeling that I had my own little support group that consisted of similar problems as myself. Just the thought that those problems were common enough to be put as a central conflict in a show and that the same problem was able to be widely understood by a massive audience and fan base was enough proof for me that I wasn’t alone.
So, are you like me and either are or have been, tormented with suicidal thoughts? If you have been, then what saved you? What made you put down that gun? If you’re still having suicidal thoughts, then what have you tried doing to free yourself? It could be a case of not giving it honest chances, or it could be that’s not what will be your saving grace. If you told me back in middle school that anime would save my life, I’d call you crazy, and as crazy as it sounds, it really can work. I promise it’s not too late for anyone until the trigger is pulled.