Tomoko Kuroki and social anxiety disorder.

Cringe-worthy, insulting, controversial, hilarious, dumb…we all have a lot of things to say about Watamote. But I can understand all of them because all of them just seemed to happen in the show.

We all winced when her luck ran out (which it did…a lot), with ants crawling up her legs, being neglected by an old friend, finding a PT job she hoped for turning out to be in a factory and not a maid cafe. We all felt insulted at how she was willing to insult and scream at everyone she could see, because they were not what she thought they were going to be like in her ideal school life. And the show (and the manga) became extremely controversial on how it dealt with Social Anxiety Disorder and portrayed it as a negative and something we should poke fun at. When watching it, I laughed, but felt rotten at the same time.

See, Tomoko’s story is something that stung me a lot. Having graduated from middle school, she sees high school as the high school she reads about and watches; the girls who make friends with their entire class on day one, running to school with toast in mouth, the populars who fight amiably over who they want to confess to, etc. The perfect two-dimensional high-school life. And when she realises that to get means you have to give, she wraps herself up in a ball of loathing. She hates herself because she did not immediately become the person she was hoping to be after leaving middle-school, and she hates those around her because in her eyes they are above her. They are seen as more important to humanity than her. The way she looks at everyday life, the world has rejected her. The world does not want her. Her very existence is nothing but a smear on the planet. Her brother sees disgust and her mother just wishes she could be like her golden boy, who is everything Tomoko isn’t.

Despite its controversial view on Social Anxiety Disorder, Watamote is rather unique in its approach. As the MC, Tomoko is the sole focus, and everything else is put on the back seat…school, her family, the environment around her, everything. We see the two-dimensional world with her, and we can see how isolated she really is. The simplest of things like ordering at a fast-food restaurant, or asking if she can help with the school festival, are incredibly difficult tasks for her, and while on the surface we don’t necessarily see it as hard, deep down we can see how hard it could be for one person who is, in all essence, both afraid and angry at the rest of the world. These tasks are things a lot of us can take for granted, and so we pause for thought when we see Tomoko struggle.

It’s rather common for those who have Social Anxiety Disorder to hide in a cocoon, because that cocoon is better than everything else. No-one and nothing can hurt you in that bubble. I can speak about this candidly having been diagnosed with it myself at high-school age. It’s a debilitating condition and yet it is so incredibly misunderstood, misinterpreted and dismissed too.

  • “What am I supposed to do with this girl who feels her own room is better than everything else?”
  • “Why is my daughter like this? Why can’t she simply get out and make some friends at school?”
  • “She’s stupid at acting this way. She should just act like the rest of us.”

As I am no professional, I should say my word is not gospel. But regardless of whether you found Watamote hilarious to watch or not, Tomoko’s problems are easy to see. Her troubles with believing that the world is against her; something like this could easily be labelled as teenage angst, but the thing with Social Anxiety Disorder is that it goes further than adolescence and hormones. While said adolescence and hormones are things that can dissipate in adulthood, Social Anxiety Disorder takes much more time to recover as it can go so deep within your psyche. The actions and choices you make with the rest of the world (whether they be positive or negative ones) can stay inside your head for many years to come, and it takes longer for you to forgive and forget. Because of this, Tomoko is unable to look positively for the future. She may ultimately see high school as the worst years of her life, and it’ll be those years she may well live to regret for the rest of her life.

I was diagnosed at an awkward age, plus my long-term medical condition made things even worse for me. It was only when I left high school when I felt comfortable in making a fresh start. Possibly when Tomoko graduates, she will have the opportunity to learn from any mistakes she made and begin anew.

The show itself was something that could not go long-running, like the manga does…hence the ending (which I didn’t like). We weren’t really expecting a happy ending, or a bad one either, so what kind did we get? Nothing, really. Was Tomoko ‘cured’? We will never know…at least if you only watch the show (the manga delves much deeper).

If you or anyone you know is suffering from similar feelings and thoughts, don’t be afraid to contact a medical professional or call a helpline. Contact friends and family; you’ll be surprised at how much they want to help you at any time you feel the way you do. And remember you are not alone.

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