Welcome to the N.H.K. and Self-Worth

Is there a correlation between veganism and depression? Here are some reasons why a vegan might become depressed:

– Nutritional deficiency. A lot of people do not do the proper research end up as junk food vegans, given the relative difficulty of finding healthy, tasty and affordable food if you don’t cook. Furthermore, the health problems associated with a poorly planned vegan diet (deficiency in B12, iron, vitamin D or too few calories) tend to manifest much sooner than health problems associated with an omnivorous diet.

– Inconvenience. Going vegan is like playing life on hard mode, at least in the early stages. You no longer have access to half the products on the supermarket shelves. Planning outings with friends and family becomes that much more difficult, and it’s easy to feel like you’re a burden to the people around you. The good news is that this is only a problem in the short run. Once you get used to a vegan lifestyle, it won’t get in your way at all.

– Misanthropy. Humans are animals too, but nothing could be further from the truth than saying that vegans are all super optimistic and kind and oozing of love. If you think that there is something horribly wrong with this world, so much that you simply cannot ignore it, chances are that it’s going to make you shocked and angry and somewhat bitter. Anger can bring about change, but only if you know exactly what you’re doing. Otherwise, I recommend that you try to put those feelings away in the meantime; it’ll be much better for your mental health.

However, there are also reasons why a person who has a low sense of self-worth might find veganism attractive. Perhaps you crave change in your character. Perhaps you see veganism as an attempt to take charge of your life. Perhaps you are looking for a sense of purpose, a sense of belonging or a sense of identity. Perhaps you simply want to make a difference to the lives of others, because it’s a sure-fire proof that you matter.

If anyone asks you why you went vegan, you’d probably tell them that you did it for the ethics. Wait, that’s kind of misleading. Weren’t you totally doing it for yourself? Doesn’t that make you a hypocrite?

This is where the similarities to Misaki Nakahara begin. Although she starts off as quite the femme fatale, and we can’t help but be wary of her, her motivations (in the anime, at least) are actually fairly simple. Misaki has very low self-esteem, and believes that she can only ever bring misery to the people around her. So, in order to convince herself that her life is worth living, she wants to make a difference by helping someone. And in order to ensure that she is guaranteed to bring about a positive change, she only wants to help someone who is even more of a ‘failure of a human being’ than her – someone whose life she couldn’t possibly worsen. Enter Satou.

Yeah, it sounds crude, but Misaki means well. Only in theory though. Unfortunately, her desire to do good is quickly conflated with her insecurity and her needs. At first, she is reasonably confident that Satou will fall in love with her in his gratitude, and thus allows herself to develop feelings for him. But then Hitomi comes along, a love interest who throws a wrench in Misaki’s careful plans. Suddenly, she fears that Satou will discard her as soon as he gets better, and because she does not trust him, it consumes her. Misaki now faces a conflict of interest. She could continue to try to cure Satou of his hikikomori ways. Or she could break him, thereby ensuring that he would never be able to function without her.

In the end, Misaki pursues a mix of both. Although she passes Satou out of her recovery program, she tries to force a second contract on him, and becomes a lot more aggressive in putting him down when he does not respond favourably. This backfires in the worst possible way. Although Satou does develop feelings for Misaki, he is frustrated by how she will not allow him to love her, and turns away. It is not until he has the freedom to act on his own free will that he turns back.

Okay, so Misaki IS pretty much the ultimate weeaboo fantasy girl.

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Guardian angel or damsel in distress? Why not both?

But I am willing to forgive that, because her characterisation is of thematic significance, and she is still one hell of a person. It is amazing how she is able to channel her desolation into a desire to do good. While this is not without its own complications, it does make a difference. It makes a world of a difference to Satou.

A low sense of self-worth goes both ways. It could inspire you, even if the road is long and hard. Or, you could become the most selfish person ever in an attempt to convince yourself that you matter. You could become completely blind to the needs of others, because you’re afraid that if you start thinking about them, you stop being able to think about yourself. In comparison, Misaki does indeed look like an angel.

This is what Welcome to the N.H.K. tries to drive home. Even if you’re down in the dumps, it doesn’t stop you from doing good. It only takes a change in perspective for Satou to realise that there are people who are worse off than him, people who could do with even his help. This anime is basically saying, ‘Hey, I completely understand where you’re coming from. I know how difficult it is for you. But let’s look at the bigger picture. You are still a very fortunate person.’

This post complements Neon Genesis Evangelion and Altruism in Self-Interest well, because it shows the other side of the picture. Yes, very few actions are completely altruistic. Yes, self-interest will inevitably corrupt your good intentions. However, it is a mistake to think that your actions don’t count for anything simply because of that.

Besides, people who suffer from depression tend to fear change. It doesn’t make sense that they would prefer to continue to be miserable, but sense doesn’t apply to something that is fundamentally irrational. If you’re willing to embrace change, chances are that you are already well on your way to recovery.

Doing good could be the best decision you ever made.

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