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I Want To Die But I Want To Eat Tteokbokki - Book Review

Posted: April 23 2024

Social Work student & staff projects, Social Work
Social Work student & staff projects, Social Work

Interested in Social Work and want to learn more about the subject? The book reviews written by our Social Work students and staff help you identify the best literature to advance your learning.

This week:

  • Title: I Want To Die But I Want To Eat Tteokbokki 
  • Author: Baek Sehee
  • ISBN: 9781526648099
  • Publication: Bloomsbury Publishing, 2022, 194 pages
  • Reviewed by: Dior Russell, MSc Social Work student
  • First published online in the Journal of Social Work
Book Cover of I Want To Die But I Want To Eat Tteokbokki

This book is about a young woman named Baek Sehee who was born in the 1990s, lives in Korea, and is the book’s author. The author, Baek Sehee, was diagnosed with Dysthymia, a mild, persistent case of depression, and subsequently treated for over ten years. Before that, she studied creative writing and worked for five years in a publishing house. As a result of her diagnosis and treatment, she embarked on a life-changing journey and documented her experiences.

The book is divided into 12 chapters. Each chapter contributes to a chronological journey through Baek’s life and struggles. In the first chapter, she looks back on her childhood and states that ever since she was a child, she was very introverted and sensitive. Baek Sehee reflects on her diary and realizes that she was never an optimist. Her mother’s pessimism was a contributing factor. She states that over the years her condition deteriorated, affecting her throughout high school. She mentions that it compromised her future because she lacked self-esteem and was very critical of herself. Baek describes her condition as living in a hollow world in a permanent state of blur, where she obsessively worries about how others perceive her actions and appearance. Her paranoia grew, and her anxiety became overwhelming. Baek could not manage this journey on her own, so she sought professional help despite her many hesitations. Once in therapy, she embarked on a journey to reconcile the highs and lows she experienced and to work on her memory block. The therapist was kind enough to allow her to record the 12-week sessions. During that time, the open dialogue was honest and real, with many fears being shared. Baek Sehee proposed many questions, such as why she felt so low and sought a better understanding.

Baek comes across also as confident, very hardworking, and sympathetic. However, at times she comes across as confused and a little unlikable. Baek lied constantly, always wanted the approval of others, and was quite judgmental. For example, there was a particular day at work where she was at lunch and stated that she found it difficult to sympathize with her colleagues. On one occasion, she got jealous of her friend, who received a compliment and was told that she was pretty. Baek believes that her responses were also a result of her depression. Through following Baek’s journey, the reader can better understand that there is no shame in seeking professional help and support for mental health issues. In Baek’s world, the pressure on Korean women to conform to an idealized image is an ongoing battle. Hence, she was constantly worried about her appearance and what other people think about her. However, despite the noise that surrounds her, Baek rose above it all and sought the necessary help required for her personal growth.

It is inspiring to know Baek was not afraid to address her mental health issues and developed tools in place to guide her daily. It was clear that most of Baek’s discussions relate directly to Korean culture. Hence, she believed that her journey and story would encourage and uplift those in similar situations. As she continued her sessions, her therapist commended her for being able to identify the root of certain issues and having the courage to deal with them. As she continues to work through the process, she accepts that the condition may never leave her, but there is a great change.

The therapist described their exchange as occurring between two imperfect people and acknowledged she could have answered Baek’s questions better. Hence, there is room for improvement in her practice. No one person is perfect, but we are all unique. The book explores mental health issues, including eating disorders, depression, and expectations from society to maintain a specific look and self-image. These topics closely align with significant social work concerns such as mental well-being. Baek’s narrative emphasized the constraints and cultural structures that impact an individual’s mental health, which is consistent with social work’s emphasis on systemic problems that affect challenges.

The book stresses how important it is to provide a welcoming atmosphere that recognizes and deals with mental health issues, supporting readily available mental health resources and community-wide de-stigmatization campaigns. Baek highlighted the importance of community support and activism for mental health issues by illuminating the complexity of cultural expectations, especially for young people. She exposed how social media and cultural norms negatively impact her self-perception and mental health, which is relevant information for social workers who work with service users struggling with identity issues and the expectations placed on them by society.

This personal account accentuates how vital it is for social workers to foster inclusive and welcoming settings that promote empathy and understanding. The objective and honest depiction of mental health issues in “I want to die, but I want to eat Tteokbokki” is an advantage as it gives readers a direct look into inner torment. The book does an excellent job of humanizing the intricacies of anxiety and depression, which will help others facing similar struggles to relate to it. Baek provides a forum for discussing societal concerns, in particular, the unattainable beauty standards and cultural pressures that are promoted on social media. This helps readers develop empathy and understanding. The book’s depiction of Baek’s guilt about using food as a coping strategy emphasizes the complex nature of mental health issues in a society that values appearances. The book was an easy read. However, one must be open-minded to complete the book to appreciate the light Baek sees at the end. Overall, the book may benefit social work students, professionals, and those with a keen interest in mental health. It clarifies the stigma associated with mental health illnesses, as well as the intricacies of disordered eating, self-image, and the influence of social media on mental health. It promotes candid conversations about mental health issues, argues in favor of seeking treatment, and finds solace in the small things in life. Finally, the book provides a compelling narrative to normalize experiences of imperfection and personal progress in the face of mental health difficulties.