June 25 2017

How My Mother’s Suicide Shattered Me

It’s a nice, warm Sunday here in California. Too hot, if you ask me. I was hanging out with my husband and my boys in my air conditioned house when I suddenly felt this “pang” to write something deeply personal. I told Sam (that’s my husband’s name), “I need to go to Starbucks and write.” Of course, my concerned husband asked me, “What do you want to share?” I told him that it was about my mother’s suicide, which happened exactly 20 years ago this year. (She was 47-year-old when she took her own life.) I’m probably going to cry as I type this, tears started to well up even as I told Sam the general outline of the story. But that’s ok. (I brought a whole box of tissue paper with me.)

So, I’ve made it to Starbucks, paid for my cold brew and am now ready to process the gamut of emotions that will follow.

Her name was Nanju but she would go by the “American” name Nancy. She was an RN (registered nurse) and often worked night shifts at the hospital. My grandmother, her mom, also lived with us and she sort of acted like my mother because my mom was too busy, always trying to put food on the table. We grew up in Wilmington, which as anyone will tell you, isn’t the safest neighborhood in America. We had metal bars on our windows and a long hallway made of metal that greeted guests before they even got to the door.

Growing up, my mom was volatile. I can’t remember hugging her and we never said, “I love you” to each other. Mostly she was all rage. “Why didn’t you do that better”, “Use your head!” These were just some of the phrases she would yell at us. Perhaps it’s because of the Korean culture that one doesn’t verbalize “I love you”, instead, you show it through action. Can’t you see that I love you through my hard work?

We were not close, I just sort of admired her from afar. She wrote poetry that got published in newspapers, she was head of the Korean nurses association, after the LA riots she helped Koreans get back on their feet. She even got an award from the President of Korea for her help in the Korean community.

In fifth grade, we moved to Oregon and started a new life. Our house was huge, we had a pool. I guess we were moving up? We only stayed there for a year and during that time, I got a real glimpse into who my mother was. One day, my mother just up and disappeared. The next time I saw her she was at a mental hospital, strapped in a suit. It was there that she was diagnosed bipolar. I couldn’t process it at the time. I was too young. Had she gone crazy? Who was this woman? I was scared of her.

Fast forward a few years. As the third child of four (I have two older sisters and one younger brother), I was told to just follow in the footsteps of Carol (my second sister). So I did. I went to UCLA with a major in Microbiology and Molecular Genetics. Was that my passion? Absolutely not. I had no idea what that even meant. I wasn’t brought up to speak my mind, I was directed to follow.

Carol and I would live together at UCLA and it was there that we formed a strong bond. My mom would call us, yelling at us to come home and we dutifully would, scared sh**less that she would beat us up. She had no problem whacking us with a fly swatter or a plastic hanger. The hits would burn and the bruises would slowly fade. The trauma? Well, that would stay with us forever.

It was spring break in my sophomore year at college when I decided to go home, back to Orange County, to see my grandmother, mother, father and brother. I’ll never forget that day. I knew my mom was deeply depressed, she had tried a few times to kill herself, one time by downing a whole bottle of vodka. I went to the gym to work out. When I returned I heard wailing. My grandmother was in the closet and she told me to call 911. I panicked. I couldn’t get into the closet, it was jammed, so I couldn’t see what was happening, or maybe I did go in but my head just won’t let me remember. All I know is that my mother had killed herself. Suicide. Death by hanging.

One of the worst parts of this experience was hearing my grandmother wail. She wouldn’t stop. She beat her chest till it went black and blue. We had to put her into a hospital to get her to calm down. Looking back, I realize that she had lost her last living child, her daughter, and that there would be no greater pain than that.

For the next ten years, I could not open up about my mom. Someone would bring her up and I would just bawl. Not a single tear, literally bawl. I would tell the person to stop, that it was just too much to bear.

Then, two things happened. I became a mother myself and I got diagnosed with bipolar. These events would change my view of my mother forever.

When you become a mom, you realize what unconditional love is. By this I mean, love with no strings attached. You care for your children because of the immense love you have for them. So, it dawned on me, if my mother loved us, as she biologically should, how could she just up and leave us? How could she leave her own mother as well as her four children? How could she be so selfish? Did she not realize that we all needed her? I got angry. I resented her. I especially resented her for leaving my grandmother behind. My grandmother no longer had a home, she would bounce from nursing home to nursing home for the last 10 years of her life.

I’ll wrap this up by sharing with you my first experience of mania. I started to feel as though the government was watching me, I started noticing signs all around me, my brain had literally been taken over. Reason flew out the window. Sam knew something was wrong but couldn’t pinpoint the problem. We decided to get away, so we packed our bags and went up to downtown LA. There’s a lot to this story but I’ll just tell you that it culminated in me wandering the streets of LA at 2am, then blindly crossing a busy street. God wouldn’t let me die, I told myself. He would watch over me. I had lost it. I could easily have caused a major car accident. Not only could I have been killed, I could have killed the people swerving around to miss me.

Sam didn’t know what to do with me. He called my sister and a good doctor friend and they all decided the best place for me to go would be to the UCLA psych ward. I have no memory of what happened during the next ten hours. All I remember is waking up at the pysch ward, alone, with a note next to my bed. Scribbled in my sisters’ and husband’s handwriting were words that shockingly said that they were sorry that they had me put me there, that there was no other choice. Next to the note was a big bag of quarters, my only way to talk to them would be by a pay phone at the end of a long hallway. I ended up staying there for six weeks, until they could figure out what combination of medications would work on me. I couldn’t leave the psych ward, I could only see visitors. Though traumatic, I learned an important lesson: that the brain was immensely powerful.

It’s now been three years. I try not to let being bipolar define me. It’s just a part of who I am. Tying this back to my mother, I now realize how depressed she was when she took her life. For those people who have never experienced depression or a mental illness, you may not be able to understand how you can’t just “snap” out of it. The bad thoughts overwhelm you. It’s nearly impossible to function in society. When I’m depressed, it feels like I’m in a deep hole I can’t climb out of. My life is great, why aren’t I happy?

I’ve learned to forgive my mom. It’s not like she was making a deliberate, calculated decision to commit suicide, she felt as though she had no other choice. I think she was so sad, she thought this was the only way out. Her suicide would bring the family closer, she had once told me. It was a completely irrational thought but she wasn’t of sane mind.

So, I have come to understand her. I wish she could have been around to see her grandchildren. It would have been nice to have her teach me how to do something as simple as change a diaper. I’ve been blessed with amazing in-laws, and though, they’ll never replace my own parents, I am supremely grateful for the grandmother/grandfather relationship they have with our children.

I opened up a lot today and it felt very cathartic. If there’s even one person who read this and now has a better understanding of a family member or friend who’s going through a mental illness, than this post was all worth it.

Note: Instead of donating a portion of all sales of Skylar Yoo to raising the awareness of mental illness, I want it to go towards funding the research of mental illness. There’s still so much we do not know about it. I hope we can all learn more.

June 23 2017

The “Secret” Magazine That I Really Love

Let it be known that I subscribe to A LOT of magazines. I remember my older sister, Grace, had a countless number of magazine subscriptions when she was a high schooler. Since we’re four years apart, that would mean I was 10 when I first got exposed to these “glossies.” I experienced the rise of grunge, hello Kate Moss, goodbye Cindy Crawford. One of my fondest memories would be running towards the mailbox to try and get my hands on one of her magazines before she could. I loved the feeling of holding a crisp version of Vogue, Elle, and Allure. Oh and those Fall tomes! The September issue would be the best – picture after picture of gorgeous models wearing outrageously expensive outfits. I wasn’t materialistic, it was about the art of the clothes, the fashion photography, and even, sometimes the articles.

Fast forward a few decades, (ok, three), and now I get these delivered to my door: Vogue, Elle, Allure (ah, still love these three), InStyle, Oprah, StyleWatch, Bazaar, W, Time, Bloomberg Business, Fortune, Forbes, Fast Company, Wired and Inc. It’s a weird mix between fashion and business. My recent purchase is also my favorite….get ready for it: Teen Vogue.

{Awkward Pause} “You know you’re like 40, right?! (That’s my head talking..or maybe you. Stay with me.)

Not sure if you’re aware of this but Teen Vogue has gotten really political and its articles are captivating.

Per The Atlantic:
“In May, 29-year-old Elaine Welteroth took over as editor from Amy Astley, who helped found the magazine in 2003. Welteroth, the digital editorial director Phillip Picardi, and the creative director Marie Suter have moved the magazine more aggressively into covering politics, feminism, identity, and activism. Together, the three have shepherded a range of timely, newsy stories, including an interview exploring what it’s like to be a Muslim woman facing a Trump presidency, a list of reasons why Mike Pence’s record on women’s rights and LGBTQ rights should trouble readers, and a video in which two Native American teenagers from the Standing Rock Sioux tribe discuss the Dakota Access Pipeline protests.”

It feels like Teen Vogue is on the pulse of what’s cool but not in a “trying-too-hard” kind of way. Outside of politics, it also shares some interesting articles like Solange’s letter to her teenage self. I was taken aback by her beauty, her boldness, and her creativity!

Read the whole thing here.

My favorite phrases:

“there will be fear. a lot of it. there will be triumph. a lot of it. there will be constellations you want to reach for but can’t put your finger on. you will trace them like the scars on your body you got from trouble and the times of your life. you will take the long way to get to these Orions. the long way will become a theme in your life, but a journey you learn to love.”

“because you have your mama’s blood, you are fiercely independent and outgoing. you’ve been starting petitions, building tree houses, and starting clubs since as long as you can remember. sometimes in the midst of juggling all this, you put a lot of pressure on yourself and often crash and burn. you shut down. you go into your room, lock the door, put on music, and you do not move for 8 hours straight. it will feel like the heaviest and bleakest darkness you can possibly feel, and when you ask everyone to leave you alone and let you be, what you really want to say is ‘i want you here’ and ‘i need help.’ sometimes it is ok to say just that. it won’t make you less strong or less powerful. no one you love will criticize you or blame you; in fact, they will lift you up.”

Now I want to cry.

Photo: Julia Noni for Bazaar

June 21 2017

Why I Failed as a Lifestyle Blogger

After I left the art blog My Modern Met, I had big plans for myself. I was going to be like my Internet idols Joy Cho of OhJoy!, Joanna Goddard of Cup of Joe, and Bri Emery of Design Love Fest. I would showcase to the world my beautiful and exciting life! Look at my colorful, well-put together outfit, listen to the latest podcast, be on the cusp of what’s cool. I have total respect for them, but lifestyle blogging just wasn’t for me.

Did I not remember that I’m a total introvert? That I have a hard time taking a selfie? That I treasure my privacy? How was I ever going to make it as a lifestyle blogger? Two years passed and I gained about 300 followers on Facebook. About 100 people come to my blog every day. Who are you, people? Why would you be spending time on my site when there are so many more interesting blogs out there? 300 fans on Facebook is not a bad number, mind you, figuring I hardly post there. I was too afraid of criticism, and since I didn’t get many likes on any of my posts, I figured people didn’t care anyway.

Then, I had this revelation. Though I still like my privacy, I could be bolder in my life. I could share with the world my failures, my vulnerabilities. A few days ago, when I told all of my 2,000+ Facebook friends that I was starting a new company I was scared s***less. Yet, I did it. Why? Because I think sometimes you have to put your life’s goals out there into the universe. Will some people laugh at me? Probably. Now I’m accountable for my actions. The business could implode and never launch but what’s so bad about that? A little lost money but lots of lessons learned.

What happened next? I chopped off my hair (it was long for over 20 years), dyed it pink and started wearing more fashionable and expressive clothes. I fell in love with fashion. It’s a beautiful form of art!

Now, I feel like I’m back in my element, emailing or talking to artists on the phone about their passion. These people just love their craft, they are completely engrossed in the world of hand lettering. And why wouldn’t they be? It’s fascinating what you can do now – taking a rough pencil sketch and “vectorizing it” to create a colorful, unique work of art.

“Lettering, in short, tells a story by using drawn letter shapes. These letterforms are not fonts that can be bought and simply used over and over again. Rather, they are custom-created for one particular piece and purpose. In this sense, they can be compared to illustration – an illustration consisting of letters.” (From the book, The Golden Secrets of Lettering by Martina Flor.

My UK agency and I are working on the target market right now. Who will wear these statement t-shirts? At first, I thought maybe the ban.do market. The really young millennials. Now, though, I feel as though it should be someone who’s fashionable but also mindful and authentic. There’s a story to be told there. Just wait and see….

June 20 2017

Skylar’s Yoo Cause: Raising Awareness of Mental Health

One of the motivating factors in wanting to start a new business is that I’ll be able to donate a percentage of all sales to a cause. I decided early on that Skylar Yoo’s cause would be about raising the awareness of mental health. I myself am bipolar and my mother, who is now deceased, was too. She committed suicide when I was just 20-years-old. I’ve never shared this with anyone online and only a handful of people know. I’ve learned a lot of interesting facts about bipolar disorder (40 here) including the fact that 80% of people with it will contemplate suicide at least once in their lives. In the general population, only 1 in 12 people will contemplate a suicide attempt.

One day, I will be brave enough to write about the traumatic experiences I went through when I first went manic. It includes a six week stay at a mental hospital where I was, literally, locked up. My youngest son was only seven-months-old and it was torture not seeing him. What were all the moments I was missing? Though the whole experience was a nightmare, there were some positive things that came out of it. My love and appreciation for my husband, my family and my close friends became unbelievably stronger.

There is this negative stigma surrounding mental disorders like bipolar or depression, but I made a conscious decision to find the positives.

Does it make you more creative? Perhaps. As stated in Psychology Today, “A recent study carried out at Stanford University by Santosa and colleagues found that people with bipolar disorder and creative discipline controls scored significantly more highly than healthy controls on a measure of creativity called the Barron-Welsh Art Scale. In a related study the same authors sought to identify temperamental traits that people with bipolar disorder and creative people have in common. They found that both shared tendencies for mild elation and depression with gradual shifts from one to the other, openness, irritability, and neuroticism (roughly speaking, a combination of anxiety and perfectionism).

“It is interesting to note that, according to this study, one of the temperamental traits that people with bipolar disorder and creative people have in common is a tendency for mild elation and depression with gradual shifts from one to the other. During periods of mild depression people with bipolar disorder and creative people may be able to retreat inside themselves, introspect, put thoughts and feelings into perspective, eliminate irrelevant ideas, and focus on the bare essentials. Then during periods of mild elation they may be able to gather the vision, confidence, and stamina for creative expression and realization.”

It’s great to see that mental health is now being discussed.

This news gave me hope: “The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry are spearheading a new campaign to end stigma around mental health.

The Heads Together campaign is a partnership with experienced and inspiring charities that provide frontline mental health support to people who may need it, whilst raising awareness and tackling stigma. Supported by The Royal Foundation, the Heads Together campaign aims to change the national conversation on mental wellbeing.”

“A spokesman for The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry said:
‘Through their work with young people, emergency response, homeless charities, and with veterans, Their Royal Highnesses have seen time and time again that unresolved mental health problems lie at the heart of some of our greatest social challenges.

‘They are passionate about tackling the stigma surrounding the issue. Too often, they have seen that people feel afraid to admit that they are struggling with their mental health. This fear of prejudice and judgement stops people from getting help and can destroy families and end lives. They want to help change the national conversation.'”

I want to create one of these “like-minded” charities to help those struggling with mental illnesses. Let’s see if I can do this!

Art by raquel-cobi.

June 15 2017

Predicting the Future of Fashion

Staff writer for Fast Company, Liz Segran, met with graduate students at the Fashion Institute of Technology to ask them what they think is going to happen to retail stores. In the beginning, Skylar Yoo will be strictly an online store but I plan on selling the shirts to big department stores as well as (possibly) on Amazon. In the future future, I’d love to have brick-and-morter stores but ones that are totally unconventional. I want people to come to the stores to see incredible, cutting-edge art on the walls, I want one-of-a-kind art installations where people can interact with art, and I want a DJ to be playing some jammin tunes. In this day and age, don’t we or shouldn’t we expect more from a retail store?

Here’s what the graduate students said:
“Department stores must think of themselves as entertainment centers: In Korea, some malls are more like amusement parks, complete with rides and art installations. Some brands should become landlords, leasing out part of their space to smaller startups, which will give customers a reason to stop by the store to see what’s new. For other brands, turning unproductive retail spaces into local distribution centers might be a good idea, since it might allow them to get products to customers within hours at lower shipping costs.”

Will the industry adapt and change? All I know for sure is that we’re living in a fascinating time for fashion.

June 14 2017

We’ve Signed on Luke Lucas!

I’ve admired the work of Luke Lucas for almost eight years now. The Sydney-based artist is skilled at typography, graphic design, and illustration. Call him a jack of all trades. He’s a self-made artist whose work now spans two decades. He’s worked with the best including The Washington Post, Los Angeles Magazine, Oprah Magazine, The Hollywood Reporter, Diet Coke, Variety, Esquire, and Nike. We recently agreed to a two year licensing deal. I couldn’t be more stoked! Here’s a sample of his work. Ridiculous, right?

You can see what we’re brewing up together, here.

June 13 2017

Why Smart Habits Beat Ambitious Goals Hands Down

This morning, I read this really great blog post about how making good habits are more important than creating ambitious goals. Here it is in its entirety.

“We all have goals, right? That’s what going further means, although it’s not always the right way to think about becoming your best you.

Last year, we discussed the dark side of goal setting. Research shows that pursuing clearly defined goals sometimes motivates people to lie, cheat, and otherwise engage in short-term thinking to overcome obstacles.

That’s the problem of focusing on results over process. In other words, allowing your ego to strive for becoming instead of doing.

For example, in the arena of fitness, we say we want to lose 20 pounds instead of focusing on the day-to-day mechanisms of eating well and exercising regularly. That’s the difference between an outcome goal and a behavioral goal.

And what is a behavioral goal anyway? It’s the desire to develop a beneficial habit that sticks. Developing the habit is what’s key, because it’s beneficial whether you achieve the exact outcome or not, and means you’ll maintain the outcome you do achieve.

Last week, Shane Parrish pointed out that the distinction between habits and goals is not semantic, because each requires different forms of action.

His examples:

We want to learn a new language. We could decide we want to be fluent in 6 months (goal), or we could commit to 30-minutes of practice each day (habit).
We want to read more books. We could set the goal to read 50 books by the end of the year, or we could decide to always carry one (habit).
We want to spend more time with family. We could plan to spend 7 hours a week with family (goal), or we could choose to eat dinner with them each night (habit).
There’s a reason why the heading of the Further About page is happiness is a way of travel, not a destination. Living your best life is all about what you do on your journey, not where you ultimately arrive.

Keep going-

Brian Clark
Further”

Love this!

June 13 2017

Explaining the Beauty of Hand Drawn Letters

In order to show you just how incredible and involved the art of hand lettering is, I want you to see it at different stages and I want to explain it to you in words. One of the top hand lettering artists I’m working with, Tobias Saul, created this masterpiece.

Here he is explaining his creative process:
“Everything starts with rough sketches. It doesn’t have to be perfect at this stage. It is more about finding a good composition and a general look and feel. Once I decided on one sketch, I create a bigger, more detailed pencil drawing. It is very helpful to create grid lines to make sure your letters have the same high and angle. In the next step I use a light table to make a cleaner black and white drawing of it. That will be the base for everything further. After scanning the drawing I start to go into details – cleaning up the lines and correcting mistakes. So now as the drawing looks good to me, I start playing around with color, shadows and effects to bring the whole thing to life.”

Now if that’s not amazing, I don’t know what is.

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