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Seoul Judge Describes Suicide Attempts, Offers Advice

Posted May. 06, 2009 08:24,   


Senior judge Lee Woo-jae of the Seoul Eastern District Court oftentimes cracks a smile when he sees a shower in his chambers. Three years ago, he attempted suicide in that shower, an event which has left an indelible mark on him.

At that time, Lee was suffering from depression and insomnia. He lost money on the stock market. Frequent squabbles with his wife and heavy stress from work prevented him from sleeping.

Lee’s life up to that point was professionally a success. He graduated from the Seoul National University School of Law and passed the bar. After completing training at the Judicial Research and Training Institute with excellent marks, he was appointed a judge at the Seoul Central District Court.

Because he had never experienced difficulty before, Lee could not handle his sudden adversity. From that point, he agonized over how to kill himself.

On Buddha’s Birthday on May 5, 2006, a quarrel with his wife drove Lee to try suicide. He tied a shower hose round his neck. The hose broke and he fell to the floor, where he cried sitting.

“Cold water pouring out of the broken shower woke me up. Though I hanged myself on an impulse, I cried because I was happy to be alive on the one hand and miserable to be alive on the other,” he said.

His suffering didn’t stop there due to chronic depression. In June 2006, he was ready to take 50 sleeping pills and prepared a suicide note. Before going ahead, however, he lied on the bed briefly and fell asleep.

“In a dream, my mother who had passed away two years ago appeared and took my shroud off. My mother was me. On the surface, I wanted to die but I wanted to live in my mind,” he said.

The next day, Lee said he took sick leave and headed for a temple in Mount Gyeryong in South Chungcheong Province. The temple stay failed to help, however, as he spent days mediating with no motivation. He resorted to taking sleeping pills at night to fall asleep.

His wife and young children came to see him three weeks after his seclusion. When they were about to return home after spending time with him, rain started to pour. At his wife’s urging, he reentered the temple.

“I sat for about 30 minutes in a dark room and looked out the window. Oh, my god! My wife and children were standing there in the rain. At the moment, I felt a lump in my throat and burst into tears,” Lee said.

He said he got on the ground and cried for two hours. His tears were his indignation and chagrin. A monk who heard him crying and came to his room said, “Try to put yourself in the shoes of the people who made you suffer.”

Lee said, “I recalled people whom I had bitter feelings one by one. I couldn’t forgive them but I could talk to them in my mind. By doing so, I gradually came to understand them and freed myself from hatred.”

Since then, he has lived by the motto “Tears heal life.” After picking himself up, he returned home in October 2006 and to work in February 2007.

“I realized that I myself aggravated my illness. I thought I was not a person who could face this adversity. My self-consciousness prevented me from coming to terms with my situation. When you acknowledge your weakness and wounds and have a good cry, you can address all bitterness,” he said.

On the series of celebrity suicides and rise in group suicides, Lee said, “Sometimes you will face a situation so difficult, you will think death is the only solution. Once you feel life hitting bottom, however, everything will be okay.”

Lee now speaks in a high tone in court. He stores his favorite songs in his mobile phone as a merry 40-something who sings when hearing “Sorry, Sorry,” a hit song by boy band Super Junior.

“If you don’t consider something a problem, it’s no longer a problem,” he said.