- Mentions of suicide and suicide attempts
I enjoy hearing how people share what made them fall in love with the songs and stories BTS shares with the world. Yet, I am hesitant about sharing my own.
First, because it’s not a very happy story. I’m not sure if it’s even a hopeful one.
Second, because it took a lot of struggle and pain in my early years to get to where I am today. It’s hard sometimes to think back on it and remember that I lived through all of those things.
“You’ll find BTS, or BTS will find you, when you need them the most.”
I needed them in June 2015. Right at the beginning of a downward spiral that forced me to question everything about myself.
~Trigger Warnings: mentions of suicide and suicide attempts, depression, anxiety~
It was after a painful end of a special relationship where I saw the chance of forever. It was after successfully graduating college and landing my first job in my career. It was after overcoming my fears of driving and then moving into my first apartment. It should have been a time of happiness and the beginning of making my own path in the world.
Instead, I was faced with a mountain that would take years to struggle to overcome.
But my story still didn’t exactly start there.
I was already a fan of K-pop. I have been since 2006 when a new girl at school from South Korea gifted me a CD filled with music. It was a breath of fresh air and I cherished our middle school friendship dearly. I shared with my friends as well and found joy in the quirky new sound I had fallenin love with. It was like a new world opened up to me and I was happy to embrace it. Too bad I didn’t think to look up translations back then. But then again, I had to survive a move to another state, entering high school, and my parents’ divorce at that time, so I can understand how a 13-and-a-half-year-old might forget such a detail.
K-pop was mixed with the rest of the artists on my iPod rotation as I started and finished my high school and then college education. I continued to find fun and excitement in these songs, which I didn’t always find names or artists for (until much later in life).
But when life began spiraling out of control in 2015, not even my usual escape could motivate me. Depression and anxiety took a stronger hold on me than ever before as I began losing interest in things that were once staples to my life. Video games no longer sparked my sense of adventure and excitement, reading no longer made me curious, writing was nearly impossible, and music was slowly fading away.
I had my usual K-pop shuffle station on Pandora, still getting used to having my first pet (even if it was under a doctor’s orders), when I heard it. A song that was so different from what I was used to hearing. I felt a sense of comfort while listening to it. It was a brief moment where I allowed myself to cry and mourn the loss of a life that I tried so desperately to build, that was rapidly slipping through my fingers.
Then it completely fell apart as I hit rock bottom.
I consider June 2015 the time when I became an ARMY because I found comfort in the song that I later learned was called “I Need U” and deciphered the symbols that meant Bangtan Sonyeondan. I still didn’t have time to look up the translations to this song that suddenly found itself close to my heart. I had to find a new job and figure out how and where I was going to move to.
I largely stayed off social media at that time. I was embarrassed. I was scared. I didn’t know who I could trust or turn to. I simply didn’t know what to do. Friends didn’t quite know how to comfort me. Some didn’t even know what happened. I lost touch with many that I wanted to keep close.
I was determined to find a way to start over. I enrolled in a master’s program in New York City, was accepted, and left a minimum wage job to start classes by January 2016.
Despite this, I still had attempted suicide three times.
I couldn’t keep up with my interests at that time no matter how hard I tried. I was a shell of myself. My friends could see it. My family could see it even if I wasn’t particularly close to them. Simply surviving was my goal. I attempted and failed another relationship as the program went on. I couldn’t hang on to the positive words people would say to me. I didn’t even try to stay tuned in to news on social media as much as I used to. I all but abandoned Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram unless it was for school or work.
I stopped believing things would change. I stopped believing in myself.
I was trying to drive away the voice in my head saying that I had no place in my career, that I was a failure, an embarrassment, too much of a problem to take a chance on.
By December 2016 I was finally a graduate. I was happy to hold the degree I worked so hard for in my hands. But the anxiety attacks didn’t stop. Neither did the nightmares or worries about what I would do once I finished. I was happy but I couldn’t bring myself to feel any of it.
The pressure consumed me. I couldn’t truly enjoy the relief of completing a degree. I found myself spiraling, thinking about if it was worth all the struggle. Suicidal thoughts returned yet again. A short time after, I listened to a song. One that moved me to tears and helped give me the courage to take things one day at a time. To try and make it for one more moment. It showed me that it was possible to keep chasing dreams even after hitting your rock bottom. That hard work was never for nothing. Turns out I missed a mixtape while I was busy with graduate school.
“The Last” by Agust D.
I found a space to feel comforted. I actually looked up the translations that time and cried even more. Here was an artist who wasn’t superficially telling me to cheer up or other such things people say when they are trying to help but don’t know how. This was telling me that he knows what it’s like to be in this dark and scary place but that slowly, you can work through it and find others willing to stand by you as you heal. That he knows how painful it is and wants to help on the road to healing.
Bit by bit, I found I was able to reach out more. I started to go through the rest of the album. And the rest of his group’s discography that I had started to listen to a year before. I had a vague recollection of hearing some of the songs, but as things got harder in life, things got harder to remember (no one mentioned to me that depression can affect memory occasionally). It was a slow descent into a place that felt familiar.
The Love Yourself series couldn’t have started at a better time. Since this was exactly what I was wondering how to do. How could I shed years of self-doubt, low self-esteem, lack of confidence, and turn it into a better version of myself?
I went backward into BTS’s discography. This time, I looked up the translations for the song that started it all for me. I couldn’t stop the tears. Because even then, when all I had was a feeling, I came to find out this song was describing the situation I was in at that time in very close detail. As if putting to lyrics, melodies and song the struggle and suffering I was feeling in my heart when I couldn’t describe the words.
It’s not to say that things magically improved. I continue to improve and step back. I fell hard and got back up again. I slowly worked my way toward the person I wanted to be and still had setbacks. But now instead of hopelessness, there is a small seed of hope. There is comfort in the parts of my heart that I once considered lifeless. There is a determination and drive toward life instead of just a career. And just as I felt that I’ve lost myself, or missed the person I used to be, I find myself walking back to it; picking up the pieces I want to hold close and merging them with the pieces I created myself now.
BTS didn’t solve all of my life’s problems. But they helped guide me on the path I needed to take to heal myself. They didn’t talk down to me or patronize me or make me feel terrible for not being “successful” as well. Instead they walked right beside me, holding my hand, giving me a shoulder to cry on, a hug when things got a little too overwhelming, kind words when I was sad, and celebrated the moments when I felt alive. They helped me reassess what was truly important to me, however unconventional or untraditional it may be.
Each comeback tells me a different message and opens up a new side of myself to explore. I’m forever grateful to them for allowing me to meet such wonderful people from all over the world. I’m thankful that they inspire me to try new things, return to my old passions, and to find happiness with my life as it is until I find a new dream to strive for.
I’m especially thankful to my bias, Min Yoongi, because without his songs, his words, his experience and expression, I’m not sure if I would be able to tell this story today. He encourages me to give myself a chance day by day. To figure out my true self and run towards it as hard as I can. And to at least try to let those people that wanted to stand by my side a chance to show they care. I’m forever grateful.
Even with the unexpected twists and turns I’m living through, I still reach out for their music to give me strength, courage, comfort, and often a reminder of why I’m still moving forward. That this season won’t last forever. That the light is darkest just before the dawn and that there are seven bright lights gently illuminating the way.
By the time this little snapshot into my life publishes, a birthday will have passed. I’ll be 28 years old (yes I share a birth year with our wonderful and talented Seokjinnie). Truthfully, I didn’t know I would get this far. This time, I’m not afraid of what the future brings. I’m not afraid to face the parts of myself that I wanted to hide away and forget about. I’m not afraid to hurt before I heal. I want to continue doing my best, little by little, with my friends, my found family, with ARMY and with BTS, the brightest stars in my universe.
So, maybe this might be a hopeful story to someone somewhere after all.
This lonely whale has found a big purple ocean to call its home.
Lavandier, A. (2020). The hurt before healing. The Rhizomatic Revolution Review , (1). https://ther3journal.com/.
Lavandier, Anna-Michelle. “The Hurt Before Healing.” The Rhizomatic Revolution Review , no.1, 2020. https://ther3journal.com/.
Hurt Before Healing by Anna-Michelle Lavandier is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
Illustration credit: Zuza Resides @ResidesIn