I wasn’t born into wealth —in fact, my family went bankrupt before I was conceived— but I led a sheltered life. My first exposure to tobacco smoke was from watching Catch Me If You Can. And the most amount of alcohol and caffeine I consumed in one sitting was from a ballotin of Goldkenn Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Whiskey Chocolate Truffles. So, when the news about Jung Ilhoon broke last December 21, my mind didn’t know what to think, and my heart didn’t know what to feel.
This is a story of a girl’s journey in learning about mental health, understanding addiction, and finding herself.
I’m the almost perfect daughter to a Chinese mother. I was scouted several times to be a child model, all of which but one my mother turned down. I was that straight-A student who skipped grades and kept on becoming a valedictorian. And I was financially independent from my parents in my early years of young adulthood. The F grades of my life are for my failing health.
I was rushed to the emergency room for the second time when I was seven and a half. My mother stayed with me for the whole one month I was in the isolation room, and it took me another three before my father moved my bed back to my room. I had my blood drawn each morning during my stay at the hospital, and they served plain and bland misua every single meal. I hardly remembered my first, while my third onward feels like fast-forwarded adaptations with hints of flavors.
I was later diagnosed with an incurable lifelong autoimmune disease.
I’ve been taking medicines for symptomatic treatment religiously: three times a day, seven days a week, varying days in a year between 365 and 366. The prescriptions and the dosages, however, change from time to time. And so do the side effects. The ones I just swallowed are associated with fatigue, muscle weakness, muscle aches and pain, depression, restlessness, insomnia, anxiety, impaired memory, among many other symptoms as possible side effects.
After I moved out of my parents’ house, my mother —now with some extra time on her hands— started reading complementary and alternative medicines (CAMs). On the other hand, that semester, I withdrew from school as I began to make a name in a startup incubator —and became busier than ever. I didn’t have the time nor the willingness to entertain my mother; having to visit the hospital once a month was already one too many.
In the heat of the argument, my mother cried that no parents should have to bury a child, let alone two. I replied —coldly— that she should be afraid of me not living instead of dying, that she couldn’t and shouldn’t hold the death of my stillborn twin brother against me. I’m a founder CEO, but my mother reduced my identity into nothing but compromised life expectancy. What I dreaded the most engulfed me that night: that no matter how hard I tried, I’d forever be a burden and never a blessing.
I was estranged from my mother and also grew apart from the rest of my family. The phone calls were shorter before they were missed. The messages were full of excuses before there were none. There was resentment, and then there was longing, but I didn’t know where to start nor how to begin.
My significant other was stationed five time zones away that year, so I solaced myself almost entirely in books and music. It was almost by sheer chance, however, that I encountered “Always” by Jung Ilhoon. I saw a man wearing what I bear, and I heard my words in his voice. I lost count of how many times I played the song on repeat, but it was more than enough for me to recite the lyrics without the music and intone the rhymes without the rhythms. Only, the song’s not a prayer, and my mother’s not God; none of what I whispered in the dark reached her.
On October 31, 2019, I shamelessly shared the link to the song over the muted family group chat. And my mother asked if she could come over the weekend. I found it hard to look her in the eyes, so we went for an aimless drive. I played the song and sang along, but I couldn’t hold my tears back the moment I spoke in her tongue: because translating the lines and pouring my heart were one and the same.
I told my mother how I hid behind the lame excuses of being busy because I had a hard time talking with her. I told her what remained in me was a sorry heart and that even when I hated everything, it was no one’s fault. I told her I was okay and I would be fine, and she could stop worrying. I thanked her for always being by my side, and I told her how I loved her.
Through the song that he wrote for his mother, Jung Ilhoon helped me convey what I previously couldn’t.
“Always” was the first K-pop song I listened to, but it wasn’t the last. Before long, I had 368 records by Jung Ilhoon and his bandmates on my playlist —124 of which credited him as the composer, lyricist, songwriter, arranger, producer; and 163 as the performer. Beyond the meaning a word can hold, I behold profound beauty in his lyrics.
By December 18, 2019, my once crowded mind had learned to find peace in writing because of him. Jung Ilhoon grew to be more than just someone who wore a bright red Too Young To Die hoodie; he became my muse.
That was why when the news broke, my thoughts were shattered and scattered as well. I ended the first twenty-four hours scarring my diary with one single mark: “?” —and all the questions in the world it represents.
I read countless articles because I did not want to judge Jung Ilhoon against nor did I want to justify what he did. But what I knew, I didn’t understand. And I knew not that I didn’t understand. Because I grew up surrounded by stigma, in a society that lends credence to myths and legends. At least until life slapped some sense into my face.
I’ve been suffering from insomnia for many months. I’m awakened most nights with my heart palpitating minutes after I fall asleep, and it takes me hours to find slumber after that. I’m worn out with fatigue, but I’m still the high performer that I am. I interact with dozens of people daily and more than plenty weekly, none of which but one notices my struggle.
During my regular monthly check-up in June, my significant other asked whether I should have the dosages readjusted —something he’d never done before. He hinted he was under the impression that I might be somewhat depressed. He mentioned that I hadn’t opened a new book in months, which he found alarming. He also touched on how if it weren’t for the routine blood tests, my world would only be the size of my apartment unit. My doctor then ordered the 25(OH)D test.
I didn’t lash out at my significant other for overstepping. Not because I had learned my lesson and was two years the wiser. Nor because I love him more than my mother. But because he assumed right: I was depressed —I tried not to, but I was, and still am.
Upon learning that my serum level was just north of 7 ng/mL, I was elated. For the first time in forever, I was hopeful: that shafts of sunlight could be my ray of sunshine; that 50,000 IU would weigh the emptiness to be lighter than heavy; that all I had was a medical condition. Only when my doctor asked me why I said nothing for way too long did I realize I endured for all the wrong reasons.
I didn’t want to admit I was depressed as much as I didn’t want to be depressed. I tried not to be depressed because I should’ve not been depressed. I behaved as if we had the power to control depression at will, that all I had to do was try again and try harder. I remember thinking: if I had to be sick, I would rather submit to physical disease than mental illness. Because I knew by heart that it’s not by choice for one to own a delicate body, but I couldn’t say the same for the mind.
I had always known the dictionary definitions of stress, anxiety, and depression; but I didn’t understand what mental illness is not. Not three months ago, I thought I didn’t have what it takes to stand tall against the wind of the summit. Now, I know I’m strong enough to keep climbing while carrying an invisible mountain. Mental illness is not any less or any more than physical disease. Both are medical conditions.
I took the long way to arrive here because I didn’t have the faintest idea that the compass that guided me all the twenty-plus years of my life was pointing in the wrong direction. And I wasn’t the only one who went the beaten path paved by generations before me and generations before them. I was in the majority. It burdens me to know I was far from being the last person with an understanding as ancient as history. And this time, too, I’m not alone.
In honor of Jung Ilhoon’s birthday, Jung Ilhoon Support collaborates with Seribu Tujuan in raising mental health awareness. We believe that being aware of one’s mental health is the first step in a journey to well-being. When one knows more about the signs, the symptoms, and the treatments for mental health conditions, they can look after themselves and those around them better. When many understand more, the stigma is broken down further, and those who need help not only know how and where to get one but can indeed get all the support they need.
Without defending the misuse of medical conditions as an excuse for justifying misdeed, I feel the need to spell out that some of us do have it harder than others. I’m writing today on behalf of Jung Ilhoon Support to let these people know that help is only one call away, that you’re not alone —and you don’t have to be.
And we hope Jung Ilhoon knows it too.
P.S.: For those wondering, Jung Ilhoon’s no longer my muse; he’s my comrade.
— H, a warrior
These are a few of many sentences expressed by fans to describe him, and H isn’t the only one with a story to share.
You may not hear his name as often as other K-pop idols from big companies, but he’s an equally talented and similarly hard-working person with a bright personality: someone who’s known to be cheerful and friendly. His name is Jung Ilhoon (정일훈).
He is a rapper, songwriter, record producer, radio DJ, and actor. Born in Seoul on October 4, 1994, Jung Ilhoon already has 125 rights under his name in his twenties. You may want to try to listen to “She’s Gone”, “Always”, “Spoiler”, “Fancy Shoes”, “Movie”, “The Feeling”, and “Friends” to taste his artistic touch.
This is a lyrics snippet of a song titled “Everything’s Good” by Jung Ilhoon. His words and his voice in the song are so raw you can only hear honesty. The song was written as if one was writing a diary entry; it contains records of how life is hard, but one has to keep living, and in the end, everything’s good.
Since late last year, “Everything’s Good” is no longer just a title of a song but also a hope, a prayer, a wish that we repeat daily; so that everything will be good. Soon. One day.
December 2020 is the starting point of our journey in waiting. We began the New Year from a dark place with outbursts of sadness and fear as our fireworks. As fans, we know how to differentiate right from wrong, but we’re determined to see from all angles, not just what’s apparent on the surface. Instead of judging him unilaterally, we try to perceive the underlying. Jung Ilhoon has to go through all the processes, and we choose to be with him every step of the way.
On our journey, we learned how to be aware of ourselves and the people around us; be someone mindful.
With this background, we: who still love Jung Ilhoon; who still want to show our love to Jung Ilhoon; who want to love Jung Ilhoon as deeply, as rawly, as often, yet more simply; got together. In February 2021, Jung Ilhoon Support was established with a mission to become a safe place for fans to show their love for Jung Ilhoon. We aim to manifest our support for Jung Ilhoon by doing good.
Inspired by what Jung Ilhoon once said, we believe that one of the things we can do when we are feeling down is to spread kindness to lift others. There is a saying that one rises by lifting others. And as we spread joy, smiles, and laughter, we lift our own spirits too. Also, wouldn’t kindness attract other kindnesses?
Since May 2021, Jung Ilhoon Support has been carrying out several donation drives successfully. Our intent is only one: to spread kindness and positivity the way Jung Ilhoon has been doing so far.
Our journey hasn’t always been easy. We started our earlier projects as underground movements. Yet, without fail, the amounts of donations collected exceeded the target that we set. Now, we have many fans who want to join us in doing good deeds. It turns out there are still many who love Jung Ilhoon.
There were also times when we were worried that our good intentions wouldn’t be received well by the organizations we wanted to collaborate with. We were glad to be proven wrong. Every single time, we met good people with good hearts who greeted and welcomed us kindly. We finally understand: kindness does attract other kindnesses.
In celebration of Jung Ilhoon’s 27th birthday (international age), fans of Jung Ilhoon manifest their good intentions, well wishes, and prayers for Jung Ilhoon by collaborating with Seribu Tujuan. As a part of Jung Ilhoon’s Birthday Donation Project, Jung Ilhoon Support donated IDR 10,041,994 —an amount that beautifully captures his birth date on October 04, 1994. Jung Ilhoon Support also held a Q&A session with a certified psychologist via Instagram Live on Mental Health Awareness Around Us.
Through this project —and all the previous ones before—, we witness Jung Ilhoon’s continuous influence positively impacting the lives of his fans. He inspires us to learn more about many things, one of which is mental health awareness. Mental health shouldn’t be treated as a taboo subject, forbidden to be talked about. These should be commended instead of condemned: to be aware of what is happening to and around us; to be able to speak about the unspeakable; to actively seek help in the face of a mental health crisis.
We, Jung Ilhoon Support, are very grateful to our donors for their generosity. To everyone who loves Jung Ilhoon and gives our projects a lot of support, “Thank you!” To Seribu Tujuan, who welcomed us warmly and answered our proposal with open arms, “Thank you!” We hope the donation we made on behalf of Jung Ilhoon will have a meaningful impact in raising mental health awareness in Indonesia and beyond.
And last but not least, to our Jung Ilhoon, “This year, the journey of your life is a little tougher, but we pray that you don’t lose hope. May God always shower you with His blessings. Thank you for being born.”
— Jung Ilhoon Support