13 Reasons Why

“You don’t know what goes on in anyone’s life but your own. And when you mess with one part of a person’s life, you’re not messing with just that part. Unfortunately, you can’t be that precise and selective. When you mess with one part of a person’s life, you’re messing with their entire life. Everything affects everything.” – 13 Reasons Why.

 

The last day and a half have been a roller-coaster of emotions for me because I felt it necessary to binge-watch the entire first season of 13 Reasons Why. This show has hit me more emotionally than a lot of other shows because of the subject matter regarding suicide, bullying, friendship and helplessness.

I had avoided watching this show for fear that reports of it glamorising suicide may have been true. But that’s not what I got from this show. Unfortunately the show does seem to perceive suicide as a justice-bringer and enforce the idea that everybody will miss you and rethink what they did when you die (as long as you leave them tapes explaining what they did and threaten them with police action) and it also seems to treat suicide in a similar way to playing a game (especially with the thirteen tapes and the map around town). But it doesn’t glamorise the actual mindset or frame of mind that a person has to be in to commit suicide.

There’s a heavy bullying tone going on throughout 13 Reasons Why, what with the bullying being the main speculation of why Hannah Baker has killed herself. Her parents have started a lawsuit claiming neglect on the part of the school and it’s actually quite interesting to see what the school does and doesn’t do in regards to emotional traumas.

One of the first things I really want to talk about is rumours. Hannah Baker’s life goes downhill very quickly because of one picture and a rumour. Now with rumours we tend to only place blame on those that started it, believing that if they hadn’t started it then it wouldn’t have happened. It’s true, it wouldn’t, but the blame is on everybody who shares the rumour, believes it to be true or lets it influence their opinion of a person without once consulting the person who is the subject of the rumour. I may be slightly biased with this but the first few episodes were very tough viewing for me because it took me back to a similar place where my own mental health was completely messed around by a group of people and some malicious rumours/gossip. Some viewers may just say that it’s not enough to want to kill yourself but as somebody who has been in that position, it’s a lot worse than you can possibly imagine. It’s not something that can just be forgotten about easily and you can’t just “move on” when a rumour has completely changed people’s perceptions of you.

We also have to talk about objectification. There’s a huge, huge amount of objectification in this series and it’s very well tackled actually. Hannah Baker feels objectified when she finds herself on a list of “best and worst” physical assets of girls in the school. Despite the fact that she’s on the “best” section of the list, it’s not something we can just dismiss as acceptable. Many people in the show pretend that it’s a compliment but it’s objectification and it’s horrific to think that people are treated like that. We’re all guilty of objectification, I’m not going to pretend we don’t all look at somebody and think “they’re hot”, but it’s when they stop being a person and just become an object that things get into a risky area. To treat somebody like they should be grateful to have men leering at them is a ridiculous idea and a horrible reflection of a sexist bygone era. People are people, regardless of what you think of them, and their feelings should always be taken into consideration. My advice is that if you are going to objectify people (because I believe it’s fantasy to pretend it won’t ever happen) is to do it in your head. Don’t single people down to being anything less than human, don’t ever pretend a person is just made up of one single asset or should be grateful for your attention. That’s not how people work.

One of the more complex issues is the way the school handles everything. Children, in particular teenagers, often pass off like they are fine and dandy with everything going on in the world. When somebody is killed via a drink driving incident then the school puts up posters to encourage people not to drink and drive. Suicide is seen to be prevented via more posters going up and urging people they are important. Whilst this isn’t a bad thing, as such, there is definitely more that needs to be done. One good thing I saw in this series and I know they don’t have it at many schools in the UK is the idea of a communications class. Getting people to deal with how they communicate and interact is an integral part of life as a teenager and schools don’t seem to put a focus on that. They’ll hand out punishments but they won’t actually try and educate the children in the ways of acceptable behaviour. Knowing people commit suicide, teaching people about bullying and suicide statistics would be a hundred percent more beneficial than just throwing down a detention whenever you see a fight.

I did notice, from my own experience of counselling, that the show promotes a very disjointed view of counselling. School counselling currently is awful in most schools. We had one and she did nothing. Like, honestly, absolutely nothing. 13 Reasons Why seems to suggest a need for counselling but then doesn’t acknowledge that the one attending needs to want help. I personally didn’t know whether I blamed the counsellor for Hannah Baker’s death or not. Towards the end of the series she seems beyond help, like she has already made up her mind, and she wants other people to sort her problems rather than work with her to sort them. I know the feelings and I don’t blame her, but to blame the counsellor for not following her after a counselling session is a grey area in my books. Granted some of the things he said in the session were questionably unhelpful but it’s his job to offer help and whether she takes it or not isn’t his fault. It made me realise the necessity for mandatory counselling or counselling-like classes at school. People sometimes need help and are too afraid to seek it out, thinking they are beyond help, but mandatory counselling sessions would help to ensure people don’t get to this point and that they receive the help they do need. It would make sure that kids like Hannah Baker don’t get pushed and pushed right to the edge before they finally make that decision.

The show gave me something that I wished would work in the real world. An anonymous compliment bag. Each student had one and you could write a compliment to a person, pop it into their bag and you wouldn’t have to face the awkwardness of saying it to their face. It was a refreshing idea to help those who might be too afraid to show their emotions. Granted this system gets abused and it has it’s flaws but it’s just an improvement on the way people currently interact. I, like Hannah Baker, need compliments to make me feel better – no matter how anonymous. Even if you think the compliments are stupid or just rubbish little things, they are important to some people and they make some people feel better. It’s a good idea that I wish could be in place in a lot more schools around the world. It promotes a healthy positivity that is lacking in the world.

It is worth emphasising that suicide does not bring justice. If you are feeling suicidal and want people to listen then you need to find somebody to talk to. Somebody will listen, I promise. Maybe not the ones you want to listen, but somebody will. Professionals will. Suicide is not a way to get revenge on those that hurt you. Unfortunately that’s the message that some people have taken away from 13 Reasons Why, which is definitely not the message it was trying to convey.

The show 13 Reasons Why can be very triggering to somebody with a preexisting mental health issue and so I recommend it only if you feel strong and comfortable enough in your mental state. If you do suffer from suicidal thoughts then it’s very important that you talk to somebody open and honestly about your thoughts.

“It has to get better. The way we treat each other and look out for each other. It has to get better somehow.” – 13 Reasons Why.

 

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The Things We Don’t Say

Today was my grandmother’s funeral.

She was diagnosed with lung cancer and then it was only a week or two before she could barely lift her head and wasn’t eating or drinking anything. My dad would tell me that when he went down to visit her all she would have would be three half tablespoons of tomato soup and a sip or two of water to keep her going for the entire day. Despite having spent a couple of years on an oxygen tank I didn’t expect her to go so quickly after her diagnosis.

I had never doubted that my grandmother loved me. I never for a moment believed that she thought anything but positive thoughts about me and the rest of my family. She was a woman who would fight staunchly for her family and loved us with all of her heart. This was no secret and we all knew how proud she was of us. She never played favourites and made sure that everybody was always treated equally and fairly. She is actually one of the few people I can say that I felt never judged me. I knew she would accept me regardless of who I turned out to be. If I succeeded she would always be there with a congratulations and if I failed she would always be there with helpful words to try and pick me up out of the funk. To me she didn’t have a mean bone in her body.

But over the majority of my life I have been struggling with unemployment, depression, anxiety, trust and acceptance issues and my motivation to leave the house had slowly been dwindling to almost non-existent quantities. When my parents and I moved away in 2012 it became increasingly difficult for me to spend time with those people I cared for because now they lived so far away. For these reasons I didn’t get back to my old hometown as much as I would have liked. I didn’t get to visit my grandmother as much as I wanted because my brain wouldn’t allow me to make the two and a half hour drive (including motorway driving) down to my old hometown.

Now I bring this to light because of something somebody said to me at the wake. I hadn’t visited my grandmother for a few years and simply remarked that a picture on the front of the Order of Service book didn’t look like the grandmother I knew. She had gained weight from inactivity and I simply remarked that I never saw her like that. This prompted somebody else to comment “You didn’t visit her? That’s awkward. You probably don’t want to be saying that too loud around here.” This simple comment hit me harder than a full-speed truck.

I suddenly felt like I had let her down. This was woman who had shown nothing but unconditional love for me and now I felt like I didn’t deserve to be called her grandson. I felt like a fraud, a failure and a horrible human being. I still do. But that’s why I write this, because I missed my opportunity to tell her how much she meant to me.

This was the third funeral in my lifetime and I have never felt emotion like this before. The other two funerals I had been to – my grandfather and my other grandmother’s – didn’t leave me devastated like this one because I had no doubt that they both knew how much I loved them. Even if we didn’t always agree on things, even if we argued, there was no doubt that they knew I loved them and I knew they loved me too. This one doesn’t feel the same. This funeral felt like I didn’t belong because I felt like she didn’t know I loved her. I feel like she left this world thinking me ungrateful and disrespectful and she won’t ever know how far from the truth that is.

I am currently a mess of tears and tissues because I’m trying to find the words to explain why I didn’t visit her. Some people don’t understand the crippling pain of anxiety or the inability to do anything when faced with depression. It’s paralysing. I didn’t want to visit her because in my mind I thought she didn’t want to see me. On clearer days I could see how stupid this was but in the midst of depression you don’t see or think clearly. I also thought I had more time with her. She wasn’t seriously ill until she was and then she very quickly deteriorated until we got the phone call telling us she had died.

But there’s nothing I can do anymore. I understand the ultimate-ness that is death. I know that however much I cry or pray she isn’t going to come back just so I can tell her all the things I wish I had told her. But that doesn’t stop me from wanting it. It doesn’t stop me from finally understanding all those songs where people wish for just another day or just another hour, or even just a minute. I finally get it. Because now I feel like she won’t ever know.

I don’t often find myself looking for solace in religion. I have never considered myself a man who would turn to religion for anything. But during the service the Reverend would talk about a day when my grandmother would be reunited with everybody once again. I don’t know if I believe it but I know I want to believe it. I want to have another chance to apologise to her. I want to have a chance to tell her all the things I wish I could have told her and how much I respected her both as a person, a woman, a mother and a grandmother.

I also want her to be reunited with my grandfather in whatever afterlife there may be because I know how badly she hurt when he died.

One of the last things I remember my mum telling me my grandmother had said was how she wished she could see the sky and the trees again before she died because from her hospital bed she couldn’t see anything. The bed she died in had a clear view of both the sky and the trees.