Stories 2019-2020

Masashi Fujisawa longed to stand out. But anxiety forced him to withdraw.

The passengers in the Tokyo metro sit lost in thought. There’s no reason they should notice Masashi, but that could change at any moment. The mere thought gives the slender 21-year-old student the urge to crouch beneath his seat, hands over his head for protection. His heart is racing faster and faster; surely it will burst. Masashi tries to keep still. His face glistens with sweat. If he dies now, everyone’s eyes will be on him.

Today, Masashi is 35. When he recounts his life, it seems like a low-voltage buzz of dread has been with him ever since he was a child. Back then, it was the fear that his father would raise his voice in anger, that strong boys would wrestle him to the ground, that the teacher would rap his knuckles against Masashi’s head.

It was impossible to defend himself against so many humiliations. He withdrew so far into himself that though he yearned to come out of hiding, he often found he couldn’t. That day in the metro wasn’t the first time his body had, suddenly and inexplicably, gone haywire. “My life was firmly on track. But I had been experiencing tremors and sweats more and more, though they weren’t as frightening as that day in the metro. And at night, my body would freeze up – I could see, I could think, but I couldn’t move at all.”

A short time later, he received an anxiety diagnosis. But that didn’t stop the anxiety from invading his life. Soon, Masashi didn’t dare to leave home – and reaching out to his friends was out of the question. “I couldn’t ask them for support. How could I confess my weakness? They all knew me as a success. Shame on me for being miserable!” It wasn’t only Masashi who was unable to express what was happening to him. As he remembers it, a profound silence descended on
his entire family.

Four years after the incident in the metro, the disease had taken full control. He quit his small jobs, lived at home and went on disability. Then one afternoon, he was sitting and surfing TV channels when he heard something that made him prick up his ears. An adolescent psychiatrist was talking. This psychiatrist specialized in social withdrawal. When Masashi recalls his immediate reaction to the specialist’s words, his voice rises: “I felt, that’s me! He’s describing me!”

The experience spurred Masashi to action, and soon after, he found himself – and his father – sitting in the consulting room of the very same psychiatrist. Some years after that first consultation, Masashi was ready to be eased into a workplace that accommodated vulnerable employees. Now, he can work full time, and he has just taken the last exams for his degree.

He’s even able to ride the metro again.


More about Masashi Fujisawa

Age 35



Lives with his parents and two siblings.


Relationship status




Employed full time in an organization that helps people living with physical and mental disabilities to find work.



Tokyo, Japan



General anxiety disorder (GAD). Masashi has not experienced heart palpitations or sweats in many years.



Masashi sees his psychiatrist once a month.

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