The K-pop world was shook this week in the worst possible way, when popular boy group SHINee’s lead vocalist Kim Jonghyun killed himself via carbon monoxide poisoning.
The 27-year-old singer-songwriter had been depressed for ages and sought help repeatedly before eventually deciding to take his own life.
I wouldn’t consider myself a fan of the group in particular, but I do appreciate their contributions to K-pop and the entertainment industry. They were hilarious on Korea’s SNL, and their songs are super catchy. The boys always seem so humble and hardworking, and so friendly and kind to their fans. Their strong bond was also undeniable.
It’s heartbreaking to know that that someone who brought so much warmth and support to others had been in so much pain deep inside. Jonghyun had been an empathetic, deeply emotional soul who poured his heart out into his music. But in the end, the cry for help in his songs went unheard.
The worst thing is, this all could have been prevented. Depression can be cured, with patience, the right sort of counselling, proper medication and treatment, and lots of love and support.
Jonghyun was widely loved by friends, colleagues, and fans all over the world. He was loved by his mother, his sister, and his group-mates, who were like brothers to him. Everyone close to him was aware he was battling depression, but often we don’t realise just how bad it is. It’s not like a depressed person would go around telling everyone how miserable he is all the time, and especially not a celebrity who has to smile at cameras all the time.
As someone who has been through that downward spiral before, I know how dark it can be in the deepest recesses of our minds, how we can’t stop judging and berating ourselves, how absolutely tiring it is just to get through one more day, to put up a cheerful front in front of everyone but cry ourselves to sleep every night, how sometimes it seems easier to just sleep and shut out the world.
But Jonghyun couldn’t rest. He had group activities, solo activities, he had to travel, to perform, to train and practice, to keep producing music, and the pressure to remain at the top and meet everyone’s expectations must have been overwhelming.
If only he had held on for one more day. If only he knew just how many people loved him. If only he had found the right sort of help. If only someone was with him that day. If only the paramedics had arrived in time. If only he could have seen that pinprick of light at the end of the tunnel, he might realise that life could be beautiful even if it seemed bleak in that moment.
I know I did.
If he hadn’t gone through with the suicide mission, he might have woken up the next morning and received a phone call from a dear friend and eaten his favourite food and played his music. He might have realised that if he had killed himself the night before, he wouldn’t have gotten to enjoy all these little pleasures life could offer him.
If he had held on for one more day, he might not have made the decision to kill himself again. Sometimes, one day is all it takes to make a depressed person see the value of living again.
There are those who don’t understand a thing about depression who would say, “What’s he got to be depressed about? He’s rich and famous, with millions of adoring fans and a successful career.”
But with depression, it’s not about how much you have. It’s about how much you have to live for. And sometimes, in the moment when we get swept away by our emotions, we lose sight of that. 70 percent of those who commit suicide made the decision within the hour, which means the majority of suicides are committed in that moment when we are blinded by the fog of our toxic thoughts.
In the end, Jonghyun had given in to those thoughts. He thought himself lacking and worthless, when the world saw him talented and lovable.
(Also, to say that someone has “no right” feel sad is just about the most ignorant and cruel thing to say. Dismissing someone’s emotions based on what you perceive is the most effective way to make a depressed person feel even more trapped. Everyone is entitled to feel, to hurt, to fear and to cry. Everyone. Unless you live in everyone’s heads, you don’t get to judge who has the right to feel sad.)
I saw the pictures of the funeral procession, and the sight of Key breaking down in tears, Onew looking so broken as though he had lost his soul, Minho trying to comfort everyone when he was also grieving, Donghae’s longing stare even after the hearse had driven away, Taeyeon, Krystal, and Amber crying their eyes out, and Jonghyun’s mom and sister weak and pale and in abject pain made me cry harder than I expected to for someone I didn’t know personally.
These are the faces of the people left behind.
The only comfort they now have is that Jonghyun is no longer suffering from himself. And maybe the only thing left to do now is to heal. To bend to a new reality, and reshape their lives around his absence. To hold on for one more day.
If you’re in a dark place right now, know that this too shall pass. This moment that you are living in right now will only be as long as you allow it to be.
It is human to question your existence, to want to matter and to feel insignificant when you feel like you are not heard or appreciated. It is human to have questions that you don’t have the answers to, to fear that you don’t matter at all. But you are not alone in having to live out those questions — everyone battles the same kind of insecurity, neuroses, and fears. And with time you might arrive at the answers made just for you.
You will be sad and stressed and tired and completely sick of the world at times, but you will also experience joy and love and kindness. You will bear old scars and you will continue to suffer new ones. But you will also heal, and in doing so find your skin tougher, your sight clearer after crying.
You just need to hold on for one more day, to give life one more chance, and you might just be thankful that you did.