By Khadjiah Johnson
If there’s anything I learned from the Phantom Thieves of PERSONA5 the Animation, it’s that we all process our trauma differently.
We’re all different, and come from a variety of backgrounds. Our worst days are dependent on a collection of experiences, which means the way we process it all varies from person to person.
Futaba Sakura proves that despite our different ways of coping, we’re still connected.
One year, I went through a terrible bout with depression. I drastically lost weight, pulled away emotionally and found myself suffering from anxiety, afraid to go outside. I often canceled plans and removed myself from people. It was difficult to balance my grief with being sociable.
But just like Futaba, there came a time when I had to face what was keeping me from moving forward, and learn how to seek out help.
We first meet Futaba as Alibaba, a genius hacker who seeks help from the Phantom Thieves in turn for solving their feud with Medjed. Through them, she saw a path to escaping her turmoil.
And though she wasn’t aware of their methods at first, she offered them trust. And honestly? Sometimes asking for help is the hardest part of the process.
Anxiety can reveal the worst hidden voices in our subconscious. Futaba was thrown into a frenzy after her mother was killed. Government officials gaslit her, and she was forced to live with the consequences of their actions.
Anyone navigating Futaba’s story would come to understand why she’d retreat to her room. She was betrayed by people she thought would protect her. And I reflect on her situation when thinking on my own habits any time my anxiety flares up.
And so, I see my anxiety as a collector. It sucks in the most inconvenient scenarios and projects them across my brain. Sometimes that’s impossible thoughts, and other times it’s realistic invasive thoughts. It made me feel stuck.
But whenever I thought I wanted to ask for help, I ended up stifled and feeling hopeless. From calling friends to just typing out simple sentences, it felt like I was holding a small stuffed animal—with the weight of an anchor.
Futaba quite literally had to fight against the voices in her head to remember the truth. That resonated with me. After all, anxiety is the nightmare expert. It has many different faces and I had to learn what those were to fight against them. While the Phantom Thieves were in Futaba’s palace, they heard those discouraging whispers that she fought with every day.
And even when she seeks help, her body keeps stirring up for an internal war. Whether its boulders flying down a ramp or mummies trying to protect a tomb, her palace is the perfect example of what it feels like to deal with anxiety and agoraphobia.
It’s not as simple as getting up and stepping outside.
Growing to heal
Futaba’s safe haven was hacking and research. When you pair that with the curiosity she has in finding out what happened to her mother, it gives her an extra push.
Her new friends were a great example of what healthy friendships look like. Each of them spends time with her, but is careful not to overwhelm her. They played a part in her emotional preparation, not just for readjustment, but for an important mission that would take an emotional toll on her. Futaba’s healing was never linear.
At times, she would test her bravery and jump head first into things like going into Akihabara alone, then end up panicking in the middle of the store. By the end of the series, we see her fighting a cognitive lord created by the will of the people. Anxiety and greatness do not have to be mutually exclusive. You can have these problems and be capable of achieving anything.
It’s important to note that for a lot of people, this problem doesn’t just disappear. When I started to heal, I knew that it wouldn’t happen overnight. It begins with introducing habits that reel you back into normalcy, or something positive that grants you comfort. But at the same time, it’s about finding the balance where you don’t push yourself too hard.
My process started small, like going outside or going to the supermarket. I loved cooking, but I couldn’t find the energy to do it. I started to emotionally prepare myself. It began with looking through recipe books to be inspired, looking at cooking shows that would get me excited about my own hobbies, or doing research on food cultures.
Finding safe havens are important because it helps make the transition easier and gives you a platform to lean on. Futaba was my favorite Phantom Thief because I got to see a character that related to me so well.
In order to address problems like anxiety, we have to also address what “normal” truly is, compared to what our own baseline is. The definition is broad depending on how you were raised and what experiences you were exposed to.
And though your brain might feel like a deeply coded palace or puzzle that’s difficult to decipher, you can learn, just like Futaba, things that make it a bit easier to manage.