A transformative experience: My ability to communicate ceased at 19 – and I discovered my creative expression.

For two years, I was unable to express my emotions, rendering me silent. This experience, however, led me to the discovery of a new means of self-expression.

As a teenager residing in close proximity to Busan, South Korea, I perceived the surrounding everyday noises as a battlefield. When I turned 17, I began using headphones as an escape, and at 19, I made the decision to cease speaking since people never truly listened.

In South Korea, graduation occurs at the age of 20. In spite of my silence, my school friends valued my ability to listen. We communicated through nods and gestures. Growing up, I often felt trapped due to my inability to convey my emotions. However, I now found inspiration in expressing myself without the use of words.

I developed an obsession with music, particularly the works of the Smiths, David Bowie, and Björk. Kid A by Radiohead granted me solace amidst the chaos, and I would listen to it repeatedly, distancing myself from reality.

This introspective journey deepened, with books by Oscar Wilde grounding me. I occasionally experienced lethargy and difficulty getting out of bed, which prompted my parents to seek help from therapists and doctors who discussed depression with me.

I sought refuge in a constant stream of films, immersing myself in the worlds created by various directors. I distanced myself from individuals uninterested in art, and as a result, the intense internal outbursts of anger I once felt began to dissipate.

I discovered a newfound method of communication through text messages. Unlike spoken words, texts can be edited. At the age of 22, I relocated to Seoul and took on a part-time job at a club, where I encountered kindred spirits who shared a love for art. Finally, I began to speak, albeit hesitantly.

Although speaking still frightens me, and forming connections with new people remains challenging, I consciously avoid revealing too much about myself. I now have a career as an illustrator. By moving away from my family and living independently, I have managed to break free from my inhibitions.

During the years of my silence, I bore witness to the transformative power of art. Even now, I prefer expressing my feelings through text and drawing. It serves to silence the noise and aids in my healing.

For those in need of support, Henn Kim’s book I Need Art: Reality Isn’t Enough: An Illustrated Memoir is available (Bloomsbury, £16.99). To help the Guardian and Observer, you can order your copy from guardianbookshop.com. Delivery charges may apply.

In the UK, you can contact the charity Mind at 0300 123 3393, and Childline at 0800 1111. In the US, call or text Mental Health America at 988 or visit chat.988lifeline.org. In Australia, support is available at Beyond Blue at 1300 22 4636, Lifeline at 13 11 14, and MensLine at 1300 789 978.

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