Kulture Kolumn: Facing The Black Swan
How BTS helped me understand my depression
Over the past year I’ve been lost. I’ve questioned everything about where I am in life and why I’m doing what I’m doing. It’s terribly frightening to find that the very thing that has kept you grounded for so long is now simply gone.
2021 has been an incredibly difficult year. The pandemic has been the biggest source of my stress, of course (and I’m sure this is a relatable feeling), but there are a lot of other things that happened which broke me in several ways. I don’t want to digress so I won’t get into the details of it all here, but what I do want to talk about is the one experience that untethered me the most. There have been a lot of losses, disappointments and pain in my life which began to pile up, and for the longest time I felt like I was walking uphill with a massive rock on my shoulders. I relied on my work and my drive to keep going, convinced that time would heal everything. I was wrong.
Writing has always seen me through my biggest challenges in life and has cemented itself as a core part of my identity since I was 10 years old. Paired with music, it was my escape from pain, fear and doubt, helping me soar academically, professionally and creatively to build my dreams. I honed my craft and cultivated my talent into a career that I’m incredibly proud of—something I’ve wanted since I was a teenager. So when I felt my love for writing begin to flicker away, I was struck by a brand of fear that I had never quite experienced before.
There were more and more instances where I would stare at an empty Word document without typing anything in, instances where I would listen to an artist or find a piece of music but feel no motivation to write about them. The prospect of diving into a story no longer excited me; it seemed like a chore and this shocked me. Initially, I tried to power through, assuming it was a temporary lull. Maybe I was distracted, maybe I was just tired, maybe I just needed a change of scenery? Months flew by this way with no change or answers and as I lost more of myself and turned into someone I didn’t recognize, there was a revelation. On a Tuesday morning while lying in bed, unable to find the strength to get up, the truth hit me like a sledgehammer: I had lost my passion for writing. There was an emptiness in the space where my drive for writing used to reside, and the weight of it was suffocating. How do you continue when your livelihood and identity revolve around the thing you’ve lost?
It was at this point that I turned to BTS’ music for help. It’s what I’ve done since they saved me in 2015, and it’s what I’ll do if I’m broken again even 20 years from now. Their February 2020 LP Map of the Soul: 7 tackled several branches of the human condition, but it was the lead single “Black Swan” that reflected every single aspect of my problem. It’s my favorite track from the album, and while I knew what they were talking about when it first dropped, I hadn’t related to it this strongly before. “Black Swan” details the harrowing experience of losing your passion for the art you love or being unable to produce art. It is the outline of an artist’s first death—the death of the ability to perform and the crushing grief that comes with it.
Leader RM’s verse is what clued me into understanding a little more about what I was dealing with: “If this can no longer resonate/ No longer make my heart vibrate/ Then like this may be how I die my first death/ But what if that moment’s right now?” He is discussing the loss of excitement around the creation of new art, the loss of drive and motivation. It is a fear that lingers in all of our minds, but when it does happen, it is devastating and nothing can prepare us for it. A part of me did die this year but I didn’t realize it and therefore couldn’t process it. The chorus compares the feeling to drowning: “Ocean with all light silenced shut/ My wandering feet held in a rut/ Every noise and sound’s been cut.” It’s deafening, the silence from your own mind. I can’t describe it better than BTS did: “Struggle but it’s all ocean floor.” It’s quite literally a dark suffocation, attempting to swim to break the surface but you’re always just too far down in the depths.
Rapper j-hope’s description of the war with yourself is particularly powerful: “I keep losing focus/ No just let go of me/ Let my own feet carry me/ I’ll go in myself/ In the deepest depths, I saw myself.” At the core, I knew my mind was my own enemy and it’s a confusing and frustrating thing to face yourself, because it’s the most difficult brand of confrontation in life. You search for reasons and solutions, determined to fight your way out of it but it’s not as easy as that. There was a part of me that was angry at myself for becoming this broken, for losing a part of what makes me whole, but the other part attempted to reason that breaking is part of being human. I was at war with myself.
SUGA’s verse is where the solution begins. The fight to pull yourself out of the ocean and to the safety of the shore. “The waves go darkly by in a throe/ But I’ll never get dragged away again/ Inside I saw myself,” he raps. There’s a sense of determination here—to never be wrought with this grief again—and it is clear his victory over his own demons was hard-won.
I don’t think I’m quite at that stage yet. I’m still swimming in that dark, silent ocean but I’ve begun the fight to get to the surface. I sought help via therapists and advice from the people in my life, which made me realize I was stuck in the throes of depression and burnout; it had completely sneaked up on me. I had dropped so many of my goals and dreams in the process and that gave me the push to make some changes. I’ve been slowly scheduling more interviews, beginning new projects and I’m learning to pace myself. I’m taking the time to understand my mind’s needs before diving into work head-first and it’s helped center my thoughts and day-to-day life. Some things are exciting again, while other things aren’t, but I’m not angry at myself anymore.
There are a lot of people who have told me that work isn’t everything, or that sometimes you just have to ‘force yourself to fix it.’ I’ve been told to embrace that it’s a chore that I have to get done for the sake of my career, but the problem is exactly that; writing has never felt like a chore to me and I don’t want it to turn into one. Writing for me isn’t doing the dishes or sweeping the floor or shopping for groceries—it’s going on a Sunday drive, watching the rain from inside with a warm cup of tea or visiting a new country for the first time. There’s comfort, adventure and joy in the experience and no room for tedium—and I want that back. BTS vocalist Jimin explained that is the core of what inspired “Black Swan.” “I used to have fears that my pure intentions towards my work might deteriorate,” he shared. ”That I might look at what I do strictly as a ‘job’ when I become too exhausted from tight schedules and commitments.” His words are a balm to my pain; an assurance that I’m not alone in the way I’ve been feeling and that there will be better days ahead.
I guess I’m still trying to understand why this happened to me. I don’t have a lot of answers and figuring things out will take time and long-term therapy. But my biggest learning from this is there are no instant solutions, no overnight results or miracle breakthroughs. Waking up everyday without that fire in my soul is still difficult, it’s heartbreaking and painful, but I’m learning to manage. There are bursts of light here and there, moments where that old drive breaks through (my recent interviews with artists like Stray Kids and CL are examples, or perhaps even this piece is), but more often than not, it feels like I’m trying to light a match and while I can see it spark, the flame never ignites. I know that it will come back one day, but I don’t know how or when. At this point it’s just another journey that life has chosen for me, but while I’m in this dark ocean, I’m glad BTS is a guiding light.