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My Secret Pen Pal Revealed

A journal with writing in it and a pencil lying in the fold is overlaid with a photo of Min Yoongi and the text My Secret pen pal, a confession, and a wish for you

When I write journal entries these days, I address them to Yoongi. He’s like a secret pen-pal, except these are letters that I’ll never mail, to a person I’ll never know.

There’s a good chance you’re asking who that is, so let me explain.

Min Yoongi [ 민윤기 ] is part of the rap line in the Korean band Bangtan Sonyeondan – 방탄 소년단 – otherwise known as BTS, where he goes by his stage name SUGA. He’s also a solo musician under the name Agust D. He recently released the last album in his trilogy using that name, a series of works that delve deep into his pain, fears, and inner workings in a way that is astonishingly vulnerable and soul-shaking.

I’m used to people tuning out or worse when I mention BTS, which is something that deserves its own essay, because I’ve seen too many folks dismiss them for superficial reasons that have nothing to do with their music. But if you’ve ever struggled at all with mental health, or fighting your way up from nothing, or battling yourself as you try to heal and understand who you are and can be, Yoongi has words for you. He’s got empathy and shared tales of pain and insight to spare. And hope, so much hope to share with us.

From SUGA's KKUL FM: a listener says "I gave up on my dream" and SUGA responds "I don't know what circumstances you were in, but I think you must have had tremendous courage. Giving something up decisively takes lots of courage. And, you worked hard. Fighting."
Quote from Yoongi: translated/shared thanks to DoolsetBangtan.

He wants you to dream, but he also tells you that it’s okay if you don’t have one. He advises that quitting decisively is also a form of courage. Those are messages that are rare to hear in this world where everything’s about measured and flaunted successes. He even honestly points out that for a long time he fell into that trap of being greedy for success, a shadow that almost swallowed him.

He understands that failing also teaches important lessons, and pain can lead to breakthroughs, if we dare to face it so that we can understand why we’re in pain. Again, it’s a message that doesn’t get said enough.

I started addressing my journal entries to Yoongi about a year ago. Things were going really poorly for me, health-wise, and I was deeply depressed and scared and felt very alone. Those feelings also dredged up a lot of past trauma, because even when you’re healed or as close as you can be healed from past events, they still live in your brain. [see Agust D’s Amygdala, which I mention below]

I don’t really have people I can tell all the details about the things I feel when it comes to my illness. I mean, I could tell some of the ones I’m close to, but I don’t want to. There’s a lot of reasons for that, but one of the big ones is that it changes how I feel when I talk to them. I’m not worried about the ones I trust most being disturbed or uncomfortable by what I tell them. I don’t think it would affect how they see me. But it would change the nature of how I see my relationship with them, and I would feel like yet another thing was the victim of my disease.

I know that isn’t based in anything solid or real. But that’s how I feel.

So I confess to someone who I don’t know except through his songs and media presence, in a journal I write on paper in my language, which even if he could see, he probably couldn’t read because his main language is Korean. And of course he has no idea who I am at all.

In those pages, I can tell this imaginary version of a musician who lives on the other side of the planet all my fears and pains and damage without judgment and with no fear of being ignored or misinterpreted. I don’t have to worry that he’s too busy or that I’m scaring him. If he could read it, he’d understand. That’s something I know in my heart.

Image taken from Agust D's Amygdala video, featuring a long haired Yoongi in tattered grey clothes, reaching out to another Yoongi sleeping fitfully on a black couch.
A still from the Amygdala video.

This week he released the MV for his new song Amygdala. [SERIOUS trigger warning for the video; if you want to hear the song and read the translated lyrics instead, go here. If you can handle the video it is a beautiful but heart-wrenching piece of art that visually explains his struggles. I also suggest looking up some of the analysis of the song to understand more of the story and symbolism.]
It is the most raw and vulnerable dive into the pains and trials that made him who he is now. I can admit that I bawled the first time I watched it, just like I did the first time I heard the song. Even before I got the English translation, I could feel the hurt, the anguish, the search for answers within himself in the music. It was painful to witness, but also a cathartic moment for me.

Like Yoongi, I’ve had a terribly hard life. I don’t say that lightly, or to gain sympathy from people. In fact, so many people that I know – and know well – don’t even have any idea about most of the things I’ve been through.

The clues for a lot of the challenges I’ve faced are in my writing although a few of the worst may never come forth for reasons that are less about me and more about protecting others who could get hurt.

One day. Perhaps.

But also like Yoongi, I write about those times and situations for two important reasons. One is to face them and work through how they affect me. The other? It’s to connect with others who have gone through similar things and hopefully give them something they need. Maybe it’s just being seen, or perhaps there’s advice or catharsis for them in my writing. It could be as simple as feeling less alone.

I’m willing to be vulnerable if it means that someone else can get help or solace from what I share. It’s one of the first things I liked about Yoongi, too. If talking about how we’ve suffered can help even one more person get through bad times, we will do it without hesitation. And we want others to feel safe to do the same.

Why am I telling you all of this? It’s a personal share, I know. I’ve told absolutely no-one until now that I, a 56-year-old English-speaking USian person who is known for being a fantasy author and a goth/industrial DJ, writes journal entries addressed to a 30-year-old K-pop idol, rapper, producer, musician who has no idea I am.

This is me being vulnerable, too. I’m giving you insight into one of my coping mechanisms.

I’m telling you because I want you to be able to talk about the things that haunt and hurt you. I want you to find it possible to be vulnerable and open, and to heal and grow. And I can say with all the confidence in the world, that even though I don’t actually know Min Yoongi, he want that for you, too.

Even if you have to start out by telling someone you don’t know through letters to them in your journal, I hope you find a way to let your pain out. When you face it and find your way to work through it, you leave so much more room for joy, for love, for hope.

I can’t tell you that everything will be better. But I can tell you that even if you don’t know me and I don’t know you, I’m out here cheering you on, hoping for you to heal and grow and thrive and dream.

And even though Yoongi may not be aware of either of us, I know he feels the same.

Note: This was difficult to write and share, but I did it anyway. Finding a title for it even more so, because everything felt trite after this deep confession. If it resonated with you, it was all worth it.

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