Ji Hyun Joo is a writer for HerDaily. She grew up in San Diego, California then moved to Korea at the age of 14 for high school. She made a return to the States to pursue her dream as a writer of some sort. Ji Hyun moved to New York in 2010 to attend New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts where she graduated with a BFA in Dramatic Writing.
Growing up, was the idea of taking care of yourself discussed a lot, or was it something you learned along the way?
It’s something I’ve thought about since I was younger. My mom’s perspective on life is that if you grow up faster you will be better. Maybe that’s an Asian mom thing, I don’t know. She let me be a kid, but at the same time she wanted to speed up the process. She might have been projecting because she experienced a lot when she was too young to experience them.
Like everyone, you grew up having to overcome difficult experiences and emotions. Did you ever wish you had more ways of coping with things or taking care of yourself?
I really struggled when I moved back from Korea [freshman year of college] because I was attuned with one way of thinking. During that time, I especially wished I had known ways to cope better. Towards the end of college, I got even more confused. I didn’t have a sense of self, which was so common for people our age. I internalized that and I started to self-analyze, and that had this negative effect on me. I thought I wasn’t who I was, for a while. I thought I was more timid than I actually am, and way less capable.
Yeah, the negative self-talk. I think that always happens in college. You’re constantly comparing yourself.
That too. And when you’re going to school in New York City where you don’t really have a campus, you go outside and you have the rest of the city to compare yourself to. It’s almost a matter of who hides it better. But after graduation, as you know, difficult times followed where I had this distorted view of myself. The biggest problem for me was anxiety, so I learned to cope with that through talking to friends or to a professional.
Some studies claim a high correlation between artistic individuals and things like mental illness or emotional dysfunction. Do you think that’s true?
[Pause] I think so.
That’s why I think conversations like this are important. We definitely express a lot of this on the page, but sometimes maybe it allows us to not have to think about ourselves.
I think that can definitely happen. When you’re writing about a bad experience, we create a different character and we’re spilling stuff into [that character]. In that regard, it’s easy to ignore yourself, which can complicate things. But it’s also helped me learn and realize, “Oh, that’s why I thought this at the time. Maybe this is how I should cope with things because it’s better than what I’m doing now.” So I feel it’s a learning process, but you have to find the line.
What are some things that have helped you improve your self-care?
Keeping busy. And I know it seems like I could be ignoring stuff by being constantly active, but socializing and being around people and goodness—as corny as that sounds—has been my number one thing. Once I started socializing more and realizing which people made me feel like I was heading in a positive direction, I felt myself sinking into myself more. I started seeing the real me, I think.
And you’re a health nut too.
I think working out regulates everything. I don’t know if I’m just working off all this extra energy I have, but it’s such a great thing. It’s an hour of your day and you’re doing it for yourself. Of course, I still get anxious sometimes, but it helps me control my mind. And it’s not even about control, but it’s a relief to know you have more say than you think you do. You have to be kind to yourself as you do it.
And little things too. When I get anxious and I’m not in a space to think, I always have a rubber band around my wrist, and I snap it. It “snaps” me back to focus.
I’ve read a lot of similar techniques. It’s getting your limbic system back on when you’re in a difficult moment so you can react to things as you normally would.
I also feel it’s easy to think it’s always somebody else that’s causing your problems. This was my case for a really long time. It’s easy to say this happened and now I feel like this. But you’re responsible for your own feelings. Thinking this way has helped me so much.
I used to go through days of being angry at someone in my head, until I realized that person had no idea what was even happening. It wasn’t affecting the other person at all. It was really only making me more upset.
You had actually said this to me!
It allows you to be more productive. I know you to be a very productive person, and you have a lot of energy.
Like a shepherd!
[Laughs] But I think you have more energy when you’re more even-keeled?
Yeah, because my mind is sort of this pit, and it can be this joyous pit where you’re drinking margaritas with muscled men, or it could be a pit of despair. I’ve experienced both. Right now I’m drinking at the beach.
[Laughs] When I practice some of what you’re talking about, I do find that I can get out of the pit of despair quicker. But how has all this affected your writing?
Oddly enough, it’s been as it has always been.
Some people are afraid doing this stuff will kill their artistic process.
I used to think that. In that regard, I’m still able to write the fucked up stuff. I’ve experienced it once before and I don’t have to continuously experience it to know what that feels like. And knowing there’s an end to it almost helps me, I think.
I’ve heard some people say that they can write a better ending if they’re not in it.
That too. If you’re constantly in that state of mind, how will you know what anything else feels like?
How has all of this affected your personal life?
When I got out of my long-term relationship, I was all kinds of confused. I had such little foundation on who I was that everything this person did dictated me. It wasn’t intentional, but it was wrong nonetheless. Everyone should be with someone that treats them well. Everybody deserves that. After I got out of that relationship and found a base for myself, I got more confident.
Yeah, you’re so confident now.
I feel like I know what to care about now. It’s a cliché, but if you try to be at your best, people sense that.
And also friendships too. Because friendships seem like they should last forever too, and you have to learn what relationships feel good and what is not serving you best.
[Laughs] Serving me best like the queen that I am!
[Laughs] Yes. But learning to say yes and no with people can be a really hard thing to do.
There’s this word my mom talks about all the time, it’s called jjeong. And it basically means sympathy love that you create because you’ve spent so much time with someone. I hate to be crass, but it’s like a sympathy fuck. When you’re with someone because of jjeong, because we’ve spent all this time together, we’ve done all this stuff together.
Out of habit.
Yes. You have to be careful with jjeong. You have to know who to give your jjeong.
Because we can’t always do everything all on our own. Having people there for you when you’re not at your best, when you’re going through something tough, having good people is extremely important.
I don’t think I really appreciated the good people in my life until recently. When you don’t feel great about yourself, everything is filtered through this feeling. But when I got out of that, it’s when I realized the people around me were the ones bringing me up. I learned to filter out the shits. How you see yourself influences how you see the people in your life. It’s also important to realize that your friends have lives of their own, and they have their own shit. It’s important to respect that.
What would you say to someone who is really struggling to find some positivity in their life?
I don’t know what someone else’s problem might be, but for me it’s been a distorted way of seeing myself. So acknowledge you have good qualities about you, even if it’s one thing.
Is practicing gratitude something you try to do?
It’s what I do now. Honestly, I was so far from that [before] I didn’t even know what gratitude felt like until recently. “Yes, I feel like shit right now and it’s very difficult get out of that, but look at the other end of it.” I’m worth so much more than my [negative] thoughts. Appreciate the little things and know that you’re not useless.
The world is better with you in it.
You must make at least one other person happy. If you’re not living for yourself, think about that. What is your dog going to be like when you’re so upset with yourself? My grandma once said to me, “Early on in your life, you deal with a lot of ugly things and people think you get numb to these experiences. But it’s because you’re learning to cope with it better and better, and by the time you leave the world, you’re the strongest you’ve ever been.” Why not be the strongest you’ve ever been when you leave the world, rather than the weakest you’ve ever been?
And everyone goes through heartbreaking experiences. We all have to help each other get out of it.
Everyone has something to offer. If everything you see is negative, then it’s wrong. There must be something good about you. People don’t give themselves enough credit.