Hi everyone – it’s time for my monthly OWLS post! For September, our theme was self-care, and I immediately thought of Nagata Kabi’s manga My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness. This compelling biographical manga tells the real-life story of Nagata, a Japanese women who dealt with depression, anxiety, and mental illness for years before accepting her not only her sexuality but her true self.
This manga is very raw and brutal. It’s relatable, a little heartbreaking, and uplifting all at the same time. And it shows the importance of taking care of yourself, even when it seems futile. In this post, I am going to describe Nagata’s journey with self care, explain some of my own personal thoughts on the subject (I struggle with anxiety and panic attacks), and also give some self-care tips.
But before you dive into this blog post, don’t forget to check out other posts in this month’s blog tour. The previous post before mine was [OWLS September Blog Tour] Autism, Self Care and Other Issues by Nerd Rambles.
The Beginning of Her Fall
When she was young, Nagata led a normal and happy high school – she was surrounded by friends and felt like she belonged. But that all changed once she went to college. Although she doesn’t go into too much detail, Nagata says she dropped out after six months. She became depressed because her life was very different than it had been in high school, and she had “lost the things that given [her] shape.”
After she left college, she took up a part-time job at a convenience store, and although the everyone was nice to her (at first), she didn’t feel accepted. This is when Nagata starts to struggle with self-care – in fact, she almost completely disregards her own health.
Since she felt unloved, she didn’t love herself. She developed an eating disorder and became very underweight. At the time, she felt that she didn’t deserve to eat or enjoy anything. As this went on, her health deteriorated so much that she would easily get cut or burnt, but she was “happy to be falling apart.” In her own distorted way, she felt that if she was sickly, it would lower people’s expectations for her – and then they would be more likely to accept her (she realizes much later on that this is NOT true).
And with all of her anxiety and depression, she begins to cut herself. She found that a physical representation of her pain was easier to understand than the pain she was feeling inside. But cutting is NEVER the answer. At some point, Nagata’s eating disorder did a 360 and she began to binge eat, mostly likely because her body was tired of being starved. Her eating disorder became so bad that she would eat anything she could get her hands on, including uncooked ramen. But she would still eat it – to the point where her mouth would bleed.
Eventually, Nagata gets fired from the convenience store because she was always late, regularly left early, and presumably was not a very reliable employee.
Before I move on, I just want to say that Nagata was definitely suffering from some kind of mental illness, although it is very revealed what type. Based on my own experience, I personally think she may have Generalized Anxiety Disorder, along with some other things coupled in, like the eating disorders.
But even with these conditions, that level of self destruction is not okay for ANYONE. You should never disregard your health like that. If you ever experience similar symptoms, please seek professional help. And again, cutting NEVER is the answer. You deserve better.
Slowly Getting Better
After she was fired, Nagata falls into a depression. She takes time off from working and stays at her parent’s house. Here is where we get to see the root of her problems. Although she is clearly suffering, Nagata’s parents didn’t understand or didn’t want to acknowledge that their own daughter was sick. In general, Japanese society does not really believe in or accept mental illness, so this isn’t too surprising. In fact, it’s normal for doctors to tell people to take time off of work, but they never actually address the problem itself, and the person’s mental health condition may go untreated.
*But again, you should seek professional help if you need it. You should never be ashamed of getting help because of others’ opinions – in the end, you would only be hurting yourself.
Anyway, Nagata just stays in bed all day, hating herself and not really understanding why she feels the way she does. After some time (a couple months?), she gets frustrated because she feels like she’s not accomplishing anything. Finally, she decides to “claw her way out of bed.” She works very hard to get her eating disorder under control, find a new job at a bakery, and live a semi-normal life. But it isn’t enough for her parents. To them, she isn’t successful unless she has a full-time salaried job. This really upsets Nagata because her parents’ approval is everything to her.
This really hit home for me. People who don’t struggle with mental illness do not understand how hard it is to get yourself together after you have gone through a bad period of depression or anxiety. Just being able to do something like a normal human being again is a huge accomplishment – and yet some people will downplay it as if it’s not a big deal. If this has happened to you, don’t get discouraged. You should celebrate every little victory.
The thing about Nagata’s parents is also very relatable. Although my parents are very accepting of me as a person (including my sexuality), I still struggle with this every day. I am always thinking, “What if my mom gets mad?” or “What will my parents think if I do this?” It’s very anxiety-producing – after two years, my mom still doesn’t know about my tattoo because I know she’ll disapprove (she has a particular hatred for them).
But Nagata slowly begins to realize always worrying about what her parents think will prevent her from becoming an adult. She figures this out when she goes to a job interview – she left the bakery after two years. All of the interviewers could tell that she wasn’t very interested in the job. But when they asked about her hobbies, they could tell how much she loved manga. One interviewer in particular told her to try manga as a career and wished her luck. His words “reached deep into her heart.” I don’t think anyone acknowledged her love of manga before, so she was overcome with emotion and couldn’t stop crying.
From here, she took the man’s advice and really began pursuing manga. And not much longer later, she made her debut. She was very happy, but after a while, she burnt out and was having more mental health problems. However, unlike in the past, Nagata went to the doctor to get help. She was slowly learning how to take care of herself! The doctor prescribed her something and she begins to feel better. In the manga, she never says what kind of doctor or medication, but I am guessing it was some kind of anxiety medication, especially since she starts researching mental illness afterward.
While reading a psychology book, Nagata begins to make connections about her own mental health. She realized that she had a complex about her mother; she clung to her mother and was so obsessed with her that she wanted to do sexual things to her. She actually mentions that she discusses her mother complex this with her therapist. Nagata never directly states when she started seeing a therapist, but I am guessing it was the doctor from before? Either way, she began seeing a therapist, which is another step toward self-care.
In discovering her feelings about her mother, Nagata also begins to realize her sexual orientation. She is attracted to women and seems to be non-binary – although I am not sure if that concept is well-known in Japan. On top of this, she also begins to realize that she doesn’t love herself and that she can’t be truly happy unless she started to. For all that time, she sought approval and love from others, but it wasn’t enough. In order to really take care of herself, she needed to actually care about herself – and that is the first step toward self-care. Not just for Nagata, but for everyone.
As she realized all of this about herself, she also noticed that she was subconsciously blocking her sexual desires. She wanted her parents to still see her as a little girl, so they could love and cuddle her. But in doing so, she was preventing herself from moving forward and becoming an adult.
To end this section, I want to stress the importance of educating yourself. Nagata would not have realized all of this if she hadn’t begun doing research on mental health. No matter what you are going through, you should seek help, whether it’s from books or from the advice of family and friends. The more you know about your situation, the more prepared you will be to address it. And in doing so, you will give yourself better self care.
After all these revelations, Nagata looks up a lesbian escort agency out of curiosity and frustration. She finds out there is one nearby and becomes very excited. Although she doesn’t book an appointment right away, Nagata felt like the world had become a bigger place. She could finally, in her mind, become an adult and experience adult things. But I think it’s a little more than that. Not being able to accept or express your own orientation is suffocating. It’s probably part of why she suffered for so long unknowingly.
Nagata eventually made an appointment for a future date and decided that she needed to clean up. She begins to have better hygiene and changes her clothes daily unlike before. She realizes that having basic hygiene takes effort, but she was actually investing that effort into herself – and was therefore showing herself love. She also noticed that in loving herself, those around her were happier and nicer to her; before she was burdening them.
Finally, the day of the appointment came. I am not going to go into detail about their sexual exchange, but as you can imagine, Nagata was fraught with anxiety the whole time. And although it may not have gone well physically, the experience did help Nagata. She felt like an adult and began to do more research on sex and the human body (see, research is important!). Interestingly, she says that she was never properly taught information about sex in school, which is one of the many downfalls of the Japanese education system.
And the escort helped Nagata with something else. She wanted to share her escort experience with everyone and therefore published a short manga about it on pixiv. And it exploded. It got tons of views and shares… And with all of its attention, manga publishers started to seek her out for the first time. Nagata got more work as well as experience interacting with others.
The Sweet Nectar of Happiness
Nagata was incredibly happy with the success of her manga. She felt that she was finally drinking a sweet nectar that gave people fulfillment. She states that, “A reason to live, the power to live, a place to belong in this world… I think the essence of sweet nectar varies from person to person. ” This is so true. So, so true. I was miserable when I was trapped at a terrible job I hated and felt like I wasn’t working toward my goals or dreams. But now, even though my life isn’t perfect, I feel much happier that I am doing something I am supposed to do – writing! This goes for everyone as well. Doing something you love as a career or hobby and not caring about what other people think is a form of self care and self love. Don’t force yourself to do something you don’t want to do because other people tell you so. Unless they tell you to take care of yourself – then you should listen.
Elaborating on this, Nagata states that:
“‘Being lazy’ and ‘being unable to try’ might look the same, but they’re not… I think starving for a sweet nectar you can’t drink– being unable to try– is because you can’t love yourself. The things I had once thought were hopeless were actually things I had to do. Maybe the times when I couldn’t move were the times I needed to take better care of myself?”
This is extremely important- probably the most important part of the whole manga and this post. Self care and self hatred are an endless cycle. When you don’t love yourself, you become depressed and don’t want to do anything. But when you don’t move forward, you won’t accomplish anything, making it even harder to love yourself. That’s why it’s essential that you take care of yourself, so the cycle doesn’t continue. Not only that, but your physical health affects your mental health – if you don’t take care of yourself physically, the depression or anxiety may never get better.
With the success of her manga, Nagata was able to finally take care of herself and moved out of her parents’ house, away from their influence.
Nagata’s journey toward self-care was a long one – literally 10 years. If she wasn’t so concerned about her parents’ opinion and if Japanese society had informed her more about mental health, she may have been able to come out of her self destructive period sooner. However, although she suffered greatly, it wasn’t all for nothing. Her manga has resonated with people literally all over the world. Without realizing it, she did something very brave. As stated, mental illness isn’t really acknowledged in Japan, and homosexuality isn’t really acknowledged either. She pulled a double whammy and talked about both in her manga, helping spread the word and validate these concepts for others in Japan.
No matter who are you; no matter your orientation or preferred types of manga; no matter whether you are normal cognitively or neurodivergent, you should GO READ THIS MANGA. It’s truly amazing and groundbreaking. And she deserves all the support she can get.
I hope you enjoyed this post, and I hope you will check out My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness. But most importantly, I hope you will use all of my self care tips and take care of yourself. And don’t forget to check out more posts from OWLS!