Tanaka-kun should get his thyroid checked

2018 was not a particularly productive year for me. I didn’t write any new books and I barely kept up my blogs. Instead, I watched a lot of anime and took a nap nearly every day.

At first, I thought maybe my endless fatigue was a symptom of depression, or complacency, or another problem that lay squarely inside my head. But as I kept losing weight and my hair started falling out, I realized I needed to get help. From June until December, I saw four different doctors. I received a few different diagnoses—some of which were way scarier than others.

Thanks to support from my family and friends, I kept trying until I found a doctor who was able to diagnose me while taking all of my symptoms into account, not just one or two. In the end, I was diagnosed with a thyroid disorder called Hashimoto’s Disease. I like to joke that of course I got sick with a disease first discovered in Japan, but as a woman in my 30s with a family history of the illness, I fit the profile. In hindsight, I’m surprised the diagnosis didn’t come sooner.

December was incredible. Hashimoto’s means that your thyroid isn’t producing the hormones your body needs to function, so after my diagnosis I began taking synthetic hormones. Right away I noticed a change. I replaced my daily nap with a daily run, something I used to love to do before walking got me winded. As I began to regain my energy, I realized just how deeply the constant sleepiness had started to feel like a part of my personality, like a part of who I was.

In Tanaka-kun is Always Listless, Tanaka-kun is defined by his fatigue. It is more a prominent point of his personality than any interest or hobby. All of the people in Tanaka’s life must work around his inseparable fatigue if they want to be close to him. What’s incredible about the story is that even though Tanaka’s personality can be inconvenient, nobody tries to change him. Instead, his best friend Ohta literally carries him where he needs to go! If you’re born that tired, I guess it’s normal. Meanwhile, my own listlessness, which came on suddenly, was an enormous problem in my life and something I devoted my remaining energy toward trying to fix.

Ohta never tries to change Tanaka, even when his listlessness is inconvenient.

Of course, Tanaka-kun isn’t a medical mystery drama. It’s a very sweet low-key anime with jaw-dropping backdrops far nicer than it deserves (thanks to its setting of Hiroshima Motomachi Senior High School, an architectural marvel). It also sounds great. I could never skip the intro or ending song, which were both light and slow but just rhythmic enough to be addictive. Tanaka’s fatigue had parallels to my own, but escaping into his world was much more fun.

Then in January, my exhaustion came back. Watching Tanaka’s daily life wasn’t so fun anymore. The fog of sleepiness had just started to lift and it was doubly frustrating to lose my energy. I’d just started to get excited about the things I was going to accomplish in 2019, and all of a sudden my life was once again about how much work I could get completed between naps.

I was disappointed until I figured out what the problem was: I was pregnant.

The thing about thyroid disorders is they mess with your fertility. I had just about given up on starting a family of my own. But after I started taking the medicine, that problem vanished, apparently within weeks. And because we have a specific societal image of what it means to be pregnant (morning sickness, which I haven’t experienced and which is rarer than the movies would have you think), I didn’t realize that for me, the main symptom I’d have would be run-of-the-mill sleepiness. Apparently, creating a tiny human body can take a toll on you.

Pregnancy turned out to be a lot easier to diagnose than Hashimoto’s, and I have mostly gotten this second round of fatigue under control. (At least until my daughter arrives—I have a feeling that she’s going to be an excellent source of sleepiness for years to come!) But it’s made me a little frustrated with Tanaka. I am more than my tiredness, and there turned out to be a diagnosable cause for it—twice. But Tanaka doesn’t look for treatment. It’s treated as his personality quirk. Maybe he just has anemia or something! Along with Aoyama in Clean Freak! Aoyama Kun, I’d like to see him get some medical attention for a symptom that makes for an entertaining show but is probably making his life more difficult than it needs to be.

Tanaka may be inextricable from his symptoms, but he is still capable of change. At pivotal moments he realizes how difficult his listlessness is on Ohta and vows to walk himself to class (after all, it’s the least he can do.) It’s at these times I have the most sympathy for Tanaka. I know how hard it can be to do basic tasks when your body is screaming to lie down.

In times of good health, I thought of myself as little more than an ambulatory brain, but my physical condition has a huge effect on my behavior. I realize this is something only an able-bodied person would just be figuring out now, but better late than never! I am more than my symptoms, but it doesn’t always feel that way. On days when even medicine doesn’t help, I might as well take a cue from Tanaka and just go with the flow.