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I’m Still Mighty—Depression, Anxiety, and All} ?>
I feel like I’m composed of two parts: the actual me and the depressed or anxious me. Actual Me is diligent, light-hearted, and brave, but Depressed Me procrastinates, is fearful and sad, wanting to hide at home forever. When I watched My Hero Academia and saw All Might struggle between his two personas as a career superhero and an ailing man, I finally found a character who I can relate to in regards to mental illness.
All Might is a powerful superhero and the symbol of peace for the super-powered futuristic earth in My Hero Academia. He is heavily muscled, always smiling, and brings hope to everyone. But behind the scenes, he suffers daily with an old battle wound that causes his lungs to hemorrhage whenever he strains himself. Often he’ll be in the middle of talking about his strong desire to help others and push forward despite his challenges, and then blood spurts out of his mouth as he reverts to his weaker, human form as Toshinori Yagi.
I relate to these sudden attacks in a metaphorical way. I’ll be in the midst of saving up for a trip, or boosting my novel’s word count, or being more active in the pro-life community, or any other plans, then next thing I know I have a “blood-spurt.” These episodes are bouts of anxiety that keep me up at night for hours or depression that drags me down into a slothful, weepy stupor.
All Might can only keep up his muscled form for so long. One day, on his commute to teach the students at UA High School, he decides to help others on the way. Though I admire his self-sacrifice because he uses up his superhero time for the day, it seems like he only does this to feel like “he’s still got it”—to keep up appearances with the public because it’s what they expect of him; he could have left these tasks to the plethora of career superheroes on duty. Because he expended all his energy on his way to school, he couldn’t teach his class, something he’d promised others he’d do.
All Might-style burnout is real for those of us who struggle with mental illnesses. If I overwork myself, anxiety attacks and depressive bouts or “down times” become more likely. Whether it’s writing, picking up more hours at work, or cleaning the house, I often want to push myself to get tasks done. But if I push too far, much like All Might, I’m often in a bad state for days and can’t get anything done, including promised commitments.
All Might fears people ever seeing him in his weaker form. He doesn’t want people to know that underneath the Symbol of Peace, the man who can beat a villain in one punch is severely ill. For many years, I was so afraid that if people knew I dealt with depression and anxiety, they would treat me differently and think less of me. I want people to see me in my powerful form, not my weak one.
However, despite All Might’s efforts, when he battles the enormously powerful supervillain All For One, his weak form is revealed to the world. Toshinori is so afraid that the world will lose faith in their favourite hero, but to his surprise, the people of the world don’t reject him, but still cheer him on. I’ve unwillingly revealed my depression or anxiety to others. I’ve been forced to admit it or people have put two and two together. I don’t like people seeing me weak, but like Toshinori, I’ve been met with understanding and love. Most people still see me as me.
I know this isn’t the case for everyone and mental health issues may be met with confusion, avoidance, or even hostility. There are people I know who I’m very hesitant about sharing this part of me with, because I know they might respond in unhelpful ways. But I have also experienced comradery and encouragement from people who want to understand, and I don’t want to miss out on that by closing myself off to everyone. Midorya, Aizawa, and and Nezu, characters who know about All Might’s weakness, accept Toshinori for all he is; people like that exist in real life, even if they are challenging to find.
Toshinori comes to learn that he is All Might and All Might is him. They’re not two people, but the same person, someone who has struggles just like anyone else. I’ve come to accept that my mental illness is my thorn in my side, but it’s still a part of me and that in my weak form or my strong form, I’m still me and I’m still mighty.