Japanese actor, wife share secrets on coping with depression

JAPAN - In 1991, Nagare Hagiwara, 59, landed a leading role in a musical drama. It should have been a shining moment, but instead the project resulted in symptoms of mental illness.

Moments before the musical's premiere, Hagiwara ran a fever and became unable to speak properly. His mind was racing as he worried whether he would be able to sing, and then the curtain rose.

"I'm an actor. I visualize myself singing the same way that I speak my lines [in a drama or film]," Hagiwara said to himself. He decided to fully put his mind to the task to eliminate his fears.

He concentrated so hard on his musical that Mayumi, 60, who was watching, became worried. "He seemed awfully intense. I thought he might be having a nervous breakdown," she recalled.

As he returned to his normal self, the audience responded with a giant burst of applause. The musical was a huge success.

After the show ended, Hagiwara started to feel burned out.

While watching TV at home, he heard the announcer's words echoing in his mind. When he thought he was dressing himself quickly, it took about one hour in reality. While filming a TV drama, he could not speak a line he thought he had memorized. As a result, he ruined a sequence 50 times.

"Something is wrong," he thought.

A doctor diagnosed him with dysthymic disorder and bipolar disorder.

When Hagiwara was in a state of depression, he could not get out of bed, eat or sleep. He frequently entertained suicidal thoughts. But when he was in high spirits, he spent 10 million yen on shopping sprees in only a month.

"It wasn't until I myself became depressed that I realised for the first time how my wife had been suffering," he said. "I thought I'd understood her suffering, but also suspected she was somewhat idling away.

"In the end, I came to truly understand her pain [through suffering similar symptoms myself]."

Commitment is key

Commitment is key

Hagiwara and his wife are still coping with symptoms of depression, and their life has ups and downs.

"We're not in a 'let's fight this together' mode, but rather 'whatever happens, happens,'" Hagiwara said. "We stay together when we want to. If we want to be apart for a bit, we do that."

According to Hagiwara, the key is to maintain appropriate distance from each other to live comfortably and naturally.

Their two cats, a male named Tabo and a female named Chacha, help make the couple's life more comfortable. "Tabo is always clinging to Mayumi-san," Hagiwara said. "Chacha really likes me and sticks by me."

They have had cats at home since Mayumi began suffering from depression.

Their first cat, Kotetsu, eased the childless couple's strained relationship and brought them closer, as children often do for their parents.

"His presence warmed up our home, which often felt dark and cold in those days. I'm very grateful to him," Hagiwara said.

Now, both Hagiwara and his wife have separate interests they can focus on. His wife studies Chinese history and learns foreign languages in her free time, while Hagiwara is pursuing a fulfilling acting career.

"When I'm in a role as an actor, I can forget other things," Hagiwara said. "Having this is key to coping with a disease."

He plans to continue acting while taking care of his mind and body. "This year, I want to perform on stage as much as possible," Hagiwara said.