Learning With Depression (or any mental illness really)

Hi guys! So I finally got back into WaniKani after over a month of sustained vacation mode, and that in itself is a big step for me. I actually did pretty well jumping back into the reviews…I got over 50%, which is way more than I thought I would after such a long break, lol.

I’ve noticed that people on this site tend to be very open about struggling with mental illness, which I really appreciate. As someone with depression and anxiety, I’ve struggled for a long time to figure out how to study Japanese and stick with it outside of WaniKani. I usually start a new project and then give up, and it’s gotten to the point where whenever I think about taking a new approach, I think, “Why bother? I’m just going to quit anyway.”

So I was wondering…for those of you who struggle with depression, anxiety, or any other mental illness that makes learning and self-study difficult (which, let’s face it, is most of them), what have been some of your most successful coping mechanisms for overcoming mental illness barriers specifically in your pursuit of learning Japanese?

Thanks for your input! I really appreciate the help. :blush: :heart:


My process is to start new projects and then give up.
: D

Real talk, when I started studying Japanese a millennium ago, I told myself “this is the one thing you’re actually going to do, the one thing you won’t quit,” because that was my low opinion of myself at the time. Spoiler alert: I did quit. But I’m… back?

Anyway I can only relate to a certain extent. I’m one of the people lucky enough to be on meds that work pretty well. But, I do still have pretty bad executive dysfunction.

So, back to what I said at the top.

I really do just start things and abandon them, and if that’s your pattern, you could try to be like me and embrace that.

So, I buy a book. I read 1/3 of it. Suddenly I don’t want to read it anymore. I start watching anime. I watch like crazy. I have three series I’m watching at once. Suddenly I don’t want to watch anime anymore. I leave all three unfinished, and start watching Let’s Plays. Don’t want to. Let’s watch N1 Nihongo no Mori playlists. Can’t be bothered anymore. Play a Japanese video game. 3/4th through, not feeling it anymore. Oh look, a new book…

I think this is a perfectly fine way to learn.

The main thing is that you have to not beat yourself up about it. Your main instinct, especially as someone with depression, is to tell yourself you’re not allowed to go watch a show until you finish that book. This is poison. If you commit to that, you’ll just end up not doing anything. And that’s how you actually do quit learning Japanese altogether.

So yeah. Let’s do what we’re good at and just keep quitting everything!


Never be hard on yourself, do not worry or grow desperate if you think you don’t understand something… you will eventually get it… do not just study grammar only with books. Most of the advanced grammar points I’ve learned from buying manga(bookwalker), watching anime/drama/youtube with subtitles and texting with japanese over hellotalk really good app, or also try speaking with japanese on skype! Remember this japanese proverb: 七転び八起きーFall seven times stand eight. Good luck man you can certainly do it!
Also I recommend setting your laptop and everything in japanese…
P.S. I also quitted and came back to it always… Just think you have an old marriage with japanese… hahah…


I can completely relate to that feeling.

I haven’t quite figured out how to get over that feeling in other parts of my life, but concerning Wanikani, I made it a habit to do most of my reviews directly after I wake up, when it is still easier to control my thoughts into positive directions. I started this habit by just telling myself that I’d be satisfied if I did 50 reviews a day. Doing more is just a bonus and something I can then be proud of.

Whenever there’s a day when I don’t feel like doing that or when I feel like I’m just wasting time learning Japanese when I could be doing something more “valuable” - whatever that means - I tell myself that I’m going to be more disappointed in myself if I don’t do at least 50 reviews.
Or if all else fails I often open a text document and write out my thought process, first just putting every negative thought down and then afterwards trying to remind myself to take things slow and not rush or whatever else helps me regain at least some motivation.

Well, I have no idea if this is a good approach, but it’s what’s kept me from beating myself down too much and breaking my study chain over the last two months.

I also keep tab of daily achievements in a notebook, like this:

Photo of Notebook


Well I don’t have mental illness beside being addicted to cheese, chocolate, wine and anything fat but I support you if you want to try wanikani 1 time more than you stop it whatever that number is.


This is exactly how I tackle this problem as well. It’s completely habitual for me to do lessons/reviews, and so I have certain numbers I want to see (0/0 is always nice), I try not to keep over X amount of apprentice items, etc.

I am personally motivated to reach these goals or else I will be disappointed in myself. I burnt out on wk years ago because I wasn’t keeping myself honest with the srs routine and so I would just get overwhelmed with 700 reviews everytime I would sign on.

Tbh, I get on here usually when my mind isn’t occupied to keep me from drifting into less productive and sometimes harmful thinking.


That sounds pretty much like my life, at least half of the time. I’m bipolar, so I struggle a lot with starting and then abandoning projects. What seems to work for me is to try and take a step back to sort out which projects are stuff that I’ll probably abandon halfway through from those that I may actually commit to and still be doing next year. Good luck! :slight_smile:


Hiya, someone with depression here.

What has helped me was to create a daily routine and stick with it no matter what (except when you’re really sick and can’t focus, then please do rest).

When I still did WK I would start studying at 12 P.M. every day. I set a timer for 25 minutes during which I did reviews, then lessons (10-12 a day), then Anki and maybe a grammar point from Genki if I felt like it. Most of the time I did 3x25 minutes (with 5 minute breaks inbetween), sometimes it was just 2x25 minutes. But to have that sort of routine every day helped me a lot, especially because I use a planner where I note down everything I did that day and when you’ve finished your tasks you can check them off and have that feel of accomplishment.

Sometimes I didn’t do lessons, sometimes I just cleared reviews and sometimes I had days where I didn’t feel like doing anything at all. That is absolutely okay, just make sure you do it the day after then.

I still struggle with motivation and getting started, but getting your mind set on a certain routine helped me a lot.

Sorry if this wasn’t particularly helpful.


I agree that the main point is to not beat yourself up about what you’re doing and not doing - or maybe rather, find your own pace and balance re: when to tell yourself to just go do those reviews/whatever and when to say “it’s fine, you don’t have to”. For me, it varies wildly which approach is helpful on any given day.

I also had to admit to myself that I had to limit the amount of different Japanese learning resources I use, just to not get overwhelmed. WK is the one constant, because it’s almost meditative to me at this point, but I did have to reset six levels at the beginning of summer after a few Bad Brain Months messed it up. It’s not a race. :slight_smile:

Also, I remind myself how cool it is that despite my brain being a burnt out mess, I’m managing to learn a language very far from my own. Languages are hard! Look at us, being able to read [checks notes] sixteen different words for “preparation” and eight for “circumstances”!


I struggle with depression, and I have a really hard time with starting and stopping projects and hobbies. Sometimes I just wake up and don’t feel like doing anything. I’ve tried to start learning Japanese three or four times over the past decade, and this is the first time it’s really “stuck.”

For me, I started out by countering the “Why bother” thoughts by telling myself over and over, “Three years from now is going to come no matter what. The only difference is if I don’t quit, I’ll be able to understand Japanese in three years.” I would say something to that effect over and over in my head, or even out loud some days, and just sort of forced myself to do lessons and reviews, even when I was absolutely dreading it and had absolutely zero motivation. After a few months of that, the habit of waking up and going to the PC and typing “wa” and hitting enter just became so ingrained that now it’s like brushing your teeth or whatever. I just do it completely automatically before I’m even fully awake.

I know this isn’t, like, some secret tip or strategy or anything. It’s kind of dumb, tbh. But it worked for whatever reason. The past few days I’ve been really feeling lethargic and depressed, and I’m hating my reviews. But I’m doing them, and for once, future me will be grateful.


I’ve had several long ‘vacations’ since starting WK, each because of anxiety; most recently I had 3 months off, and have been back for 5 weeks.

For me, the solution is twofold: one, making my study look like a self-care routine - I make myself a nice hot beverage before sitting down in the quiet study at a set time thrice daily for WK, and follow each session with other Japanese study; two, finding a manageable workload, not just in the short term, but over the coming months or years. That second one has been tricky, and I have been over-ambitious in the past doing what I want to be able to do, what I think I should be able to, what others are doing, etc, instead of what I, a person with anxiety, can actually do, leading to the aforementioned breaks.

And when you need a break, have lots of self-compassion and take that break without self-recriminations.


Routines. Routines. Routines.

Seriously. I cannot emphasize enough how much it helps to not have to make decisions. When you’re struggling with depression, every LITTLE TINY decision seems overwhelming. Should I make lunch now or after my reviews? That will lead to no lunch, and no reviews (if you’re me, at least).

I find weekends hard, because all of my WaniKani routines revolve around going to work, eating lunch, and coming home. Do you have any routines? I don’t think I could do WaniKani if I was unemployed. Just slot the lessons and reviews into whatever you’re currently anchored to in terms of daily routines.

Also, small goals.

I too, was convinced I’d never make lvl 60, and that I was doomed to quit and lose interest. So I said, “quitting is fine, but not before…”

When I started, it was “finish the free preview”. Then, “lvl 16” (I heard somewhere that most people quit before level 15, so I wanted to beat them.) Then “lvl 36” (because I read that at that point, you’ll know enough kanji to read almost anything non academic or literary, as long as your grammar is up to par). I’m almost there, and I haven’t set a new goal yet. Maybe lvl 36 will be the end. Haven’t figured it out yet.


I just got back into WK after a 5 year break. The reason I quit back then was that it was getting harder to combine with the major I did at the time. Studying for the major also became harder because I lost motivation and it took more and more energy just to keep up. My schedules became irregular and near the end of it, I just couldn’t do it anymore and fell into a long depression that lasted years. Got some help a few months back and its been ongoing process. Gained back control of some of my life by changing my behavior one step at a time. Focused on the things that mattered most, which was trying to create a daily routine for sleeping, eating, exercising and relaxing. After a few weeks I noticed I was feeling a lot better and gained energy to do things. So some months into the therapy, I decided to put this energy to good use and pick up this old hobby and get serious with it again.

I first started going through the basics again with hiragana and katakana, which was a lot easier than I originally thought. Had a routine for that, took about a week for both and started looking at kanji again the second week. In the period I was gone a lot of stuff got added, reviews obviously piled up and I also wanted to go back and relearn radicals that had new mnemonics. I could have reset my level to the start, but I had faith it would work out if I just made a small dent in my reviews every day. Started doing a few reviews per day and got 70% of them wrong in the beginning, but I told myself: I’m here to learn and I’m doing this on my own pace. If I get it right that’s great, if I get it wrong that’s perfectly alright I’ll get it right the next time. After a week or so WK reviews became a good daily habit. I cut down my reviews and now I’m cutting down on my lessons. When I’m done with that, I’ll add some grammar and make that a habit. You keep at it and a habit becomes a routine and a routine becomes second nature. I’m not sure if the depression comes back and how hard it will be like then, but going through these hoops makes me better prepared to deal with it. And I’ll do my best to make sure it doesn’t come to down to that. That’s really all I can do.

So my advice to you is to feel what you can manage and do just that. You do that on a regular basis and you’ll get the results. Maybe not immediately, but you’ll see progress over time. Like I’m still struggling whenever old levels come back or when new lessons don’t stick, however it gets easier after a few days. The important thing to remember is to do it on a pace you’re comfortable with. This also means taking the rest you and your brain need from time to time. Don’t go over your own limits if it’s just gonna have a negative effect on you. Treat yourself well. Look at the good things you do and don’t judge yourself too harshly everytime. And if it gets really bad, try to focus on getting yourself in a better position first and try again later when you think you can do it.

I wish you the best and good luck with your future endeavors.:green_heart:


I don’t really have a problem with doing WaniKani every day, but I have quit a few times, mostly because I didn’t need more kanji at the moment.

I also have the “Why am I still doing this?” question every now and then, mostly recently, because I’m starting to see more kanji that is not extremely necessary at this point of my learning, but I’m managing to continue doing it as a routine, and I’m lucky that (at least for now) I have the time for it.

Perfect is the enemy of good, as QuackingShoe put it in their post.

Also, for some reason, I have an issue doing everything but studying.


the notebook is a good idea! i might do something similar, thanks!

I completely agree. Your goal is to learn the language, not to finish any particular resource just because your former self said so!

I don’t have any particlar mental issues (that interfere with my studies :slight_smile: ) and I still do this all the time, just because I know I get a whole lot more done if I stick to what keeps me interested!


I’ll be honest with you, I’ve never replied to any posts on here but I will say that wanikani has been part of my daily routine. I experience depression and anxiety and bouts of alcoholism but at the end of the day I still do wanikani. I don’t know why I do them, but i still do. I place my reviews on “vacation” for bouts of depression/heavy drinking.


A big thing that helps me is to regularly look back at my progress and actively generate and enjoy a sense of achievement and fulfilment:

So I can say to myself: “Wow, even with depression, anxiety, the difficulties you face some days, you have learned [insert number] kanji in just under [amount of time]! Good job!!”

Sometimes the unhelpful self-critical thoughts creep in (“ohh, but if you had done THIS number of lessons you would know THIS MANY already”), but mostly I find that it motivates me and makes me happy about the fact that I am making progress, at my own pace, towards my goal of being great at Japanese.

I wish you allll the best with your Japanese journey (and your life journey, come to think of it!), and remember it is a journey you can do at whatever speed suits you :slight_smile:


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