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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In Defence Of: Sheldon Cooper

Earlier today an article appeared on my Facebook timeline in relation to a possible spin-off show from The Big Bang Theory which would focus on a young Sheldon Cooper growing up in rural Texas with his conservative family.

As is the general rule with most internet related media; Don’t read the comments. This popped up on my timeline because somebody I know commented “Oh God no he’s the reason I can’t stand the big bang agrivates me”. This prompted me to look through some of the other comments which were probably a mistake. Another gem was “I think the tv execs mistake the appeal of Jim Parsons for an appeal of Sheldon Cooper. Sheldon has become an the most annoying character on a stale tv show.”

To most people the idea of living with Sheldon Cooper would be a nightmare. But, for some of us, living with Sheldon Cooper is a reality. I have found over time that I embody some of the quirks that Sheldon demonstrates. Now already people will probably be leaping to my defence and saying “no, he’s a character, he’s exaggerated and over the top” to which I would agree to a certain extent. However we have to be realistic and understand that this idea for a person came from somewhere, these “quirks” do sit within some of the general population. Therefore when you decide you hate Sheldon Cooper, somebody like me sees that you probably hate me as well. Truth is you hate Sheldon Cooper because you don’t know him. You haven’t lived his life and no matter how good a television show is it can’t make you understand what it’s like to live in those shoes unless you have.

This is why I make a defence for Sheldon Cooper as a character. Whilst I don’t advocate being more like Sheldon, I do suggest trying to understand more about why he does the things he does.

Sheldon has OCD in his routine. His days and weeks are planned out well in advance and he freaks out with any sense of change to this routine because it throws confusion into his world. I experience this too. Whilst I don’t actually do enough to plan every moment of my life, I do understand that a spontaneous change of plan can terrify a person. It feels like somebody has taken time away from you. Even if you’ve planned to do nothing on that day, it’s suddenly a huge deal when somebody wants to make you work or go out because your time is no longer your own. It feels as if a part of your life is being controlled by somebody else and it is terrifying.

Sheldon also has OCD in other things; the way he has his tea made and his three knocks on doors are just some examples. This could have started out as something innocent, it felt good and so he continued it. As habits go they aren’t the worst but anybody can find anything addictive. Perhaps Sheldon finds these sort of behaviours soothing in an otherwise busy mind and sometimes we’ll do whatever we have to for that hit of relaxation.

Sheldon is rather obsessive over “his spot”. He has a spot on the sofa that is the perfect distance for him in regards to temperature, comfort, television watching capability and other things. This is another sense of control. This way Sheldon knows he always has a seat and never has to worry about awkward social gatherings and where to sit because people know not to sit in his spot. It’s one less thing to worry about in a world where he worries about everything.

Sheldon and his “contracts”. He has roommate agreements and relationship agreements that he makes people sign and agree to. This is the work of an insecure person and I know that because it’s exactly something I would do. It’s not that Sheldon doesn’t trust people, it’s that he doesn’t know how to trust people. He’s been hurt a lot in his life (taken from any of the numerous bullying stories and his turbulent home life) and so it’s not strange that Sheldon would feel he has to have some sort of legal agreement that people won’t break their promises. Also given that he’s not particularly great with his emotions and focuses more on logic, this is a more logical thing to do than just trust somebody won’t betray you.

Sheldon is a know-it-all. Sheldon puts more stock in his intelligence than he does in any other facet of his personality. Without his intelligence he doesn’t know who he is. I know exactly how this feels and yes, sometimes we can come across as a know-it-all or pretentious but it’s just our way of making sure you don’t forget about us. It’s another insecurity really; we don’t have a whole lot else we value in ourselves and so we exaggerate the one thing we do value. Just look at the episode with Dennis Kim, a child prodigy that seems to overshadow Sheldon in terms of intelligence and achievements. Sheldon is lost for who he is as a person when he’s not the smart one. Him putting other people down isn’t a malicious thing, it’s his way of reminding people that he has something to offer. If you want more on this then I suggest you read this blog post which I wrote a while ago about how without my intelligence I don’t know who I am or what I have to offer.

Sheldon expects people to do things for him. This is a sad one. Given that he didn’t have the ideal home life growing up, it’s not difficult to see why Sheldon would cling to a time when he felt loved and cared for. As a child (possibly infant stage and before) we have parents to look after us, make our decisions, care for us when we’re sick, drive us around, buy us things, reward us, etc. It’s a mindset that can be hard to break when you have hated the following stage of your life so much. I know I personally sometimes do this because otherwise I don’t think people would notice me. If I didn’t ask them to do things for me or over-exaggerate when I’m sick then I feel that I would fall into the background and be forgotten about.

A lot of what Sheldon does can be put down to insecurities and fear of being alone or forgotten about. They are also classic signs of mental health issues and so to write somebody off as annoying because of mental health issues doesn’t encourage people to be open and honest about them. Some of my favourite moments of Sheldon’s come when he’s open and honest about not understanding people and how alone it makes him feel, when he tries to explain why he’s different without ever truly understanding it himself.

The show, if you don’t like Sheldon Cooper, shouldn’t be looked at as being about him and his quirks. What you should focus on is the people around him who DO live with him and DO put up with him. How do they do it? Why do they do it? They may be fictional but they are better human beings than anybody who says they cannot tolerate and hate Sheldon Cooper.

As somebody who identifies very closely with Sheldon Cooper it hurts me when other people rail on him for being “a horrible person”, “annoying” and “unbearable” because you might as well have just said the things about me.

How I Coped With Depression: Television

This blog post was inspired by a friend of mine. I hit a low point in life and didn’t know what to do. I was stuck in the pit of jealousy, anger and that horrible spiral that YouTube kept me in. I couldn’t watch YouTube anymore because it was making me feel worthless. My friend suggested some form of escape. Amongst her suggestions was the idea to “get lost in a television series. Totally immerse yourself in it and forget the real world for a while”. While this isn’t a long term solution (because you have to deal with things rather than avoid them) this definitely helped lift my mood enough for me to carry on with life from time to time. What I wanted to share here were a selection of TV shows that really engrossed me and captivated me enough for me to forget all about anything else going on in the world.

Scorpion – This show is about a team of geniuses – a mechanical prodigy, a doctor of behaviour, a human calculator, the world’s fourth highest IQ – who don’t feel like they fit in anywhere because of their intellect and inability to connect emotionally with others. A waitress proves to be their best ally when she joins the team in order to be a go-between for them and “normal people” to help translate and get them to understand and empathise. It all sounds very dry like that but this team of geniuses save the day on a regular basis. Sometimes they save the world, sometimes just one little girl’s life. Oh and you’ll learn a hell of a lot if you actually pay attention to the show. (If any of it interests you then definitely look up the technical terms they mention). It’s all loosely based on the life of Walter O’Brien so while you have to take things with a pinch of salt, the maths, science and logic behind it all is almost perfectly accurate.

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend – Have you ever wanted to drop your boring, mundane life and move somewhere completely different? Find new and different people, have wacky adventures? Well that’s exactly what Rebecca Bunch does in Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. Why she moves is debatable but this is a story of one woman changing her life because it’s in a rut. In true Sitcom fashion not everything always works out for her (it’s television after all) but I felt connected to Rebecca from the first moment I saw her living in New York – she appeared to have it all but she wasn’t happy, not on the inside. It’s not been explicitly stated whether Rebecca has mental health issues although the warning signs are there (she just doesn’t see them because you don’t if you’re so close). The show stars Rachel Bloom and a host of Broadway and professional singers and dancers so you can expect some amazingly funny, moving and thought provoking musical numbers. If you like musicals (not just the hyper upbeat ones either) then this show is for you.

Supernatural – Oh boy, where to begin with this show. It’s quirky, funny, brutal, gory, emotional, sexy and downright fantastic. Two brothers return to the family business – Hunting. Only this isn’t normal hunting, this is Supernatural Hunting, we’re talking vampires, werewolves, witches, ghosts, demons, kitsune and everything in between. Actually everything in general really. The real draw for this show is the chemistry between the characters – having spent twelve years together on the show Jensen and Jared might as well be brothers. Throw in a curmudgenly, paranoid, booze addled mentor; a winged angel who doesn’t understand humans; and Crowley, The King of Hell with a British Accent and razor sharp wit. The writing is on point throughout this show. Even the weaker episodes still hold up a hell of a lot better than a lot of other television shows. The show isn’t afraid to make fun of itself, or the people who work on it and it’s a breath of fresh air in a world that can sometime feel so bogged down in seriousness that you forget to have fun. I wish I could give you a review of each Season but I’ll just have to hope you give it a watch (definitely a recommended watch and kills a lot of time – 12 Seasons worth).

Shadowhunters: The Mortal Instruments – A relatively new show and not one I would recommend to everybody. Read the books if you really want to get involved in this series but the television show is second only to the books (both are streets ahead of the film version). Clary Fray finds she isn’t like normal people when she discovers the secret world of Shadowhunters – an organisation in place to protect the world from Demons (and rogue downworlders such as Vampires and Werewolves). I suppose this is worth watching if you like pretty people kicking ass (which I do). There is copious action and a variety of weaponry but it’s not all an action packed kick-ass show because there are some nice romances that pop up too. I preferred this to the film because it really hit the characters better than the film did. It stayed fairly true to the books (whilst also taking into account the transition of medias) and was actually a nice adaptation from book to screen.

How To Get Away With Murder – Okay so maybe people might frown upon me suggesting this for escaping mental health problems but it’s a nice show to see that even the well presented and the well manicured aren’t as put together as we all think. It’s nice to really see people with flaws (and my god this show exposes a lot of character flaws) but not in a way that you hate them. Told through flashbacks and flash-forwards and unreliable storytelling with immense amounts of deceiving and selfishness, it’s a great show for anybody who wants to escape from the world of picture perfect celebrities and perfectly put together people with perfectly put together lives. If you want to peel back the facade of perfect people and see underneath then this show might just be for you. The characterisation brought about by both the writers and the actors is something of a marvel, a great watch. Viola Davis is exceptional in this show.

With the exception of Supernatural, all of the shows above are available on Netflix (at least the UK version of Netflix anyway) and are definitely worth checking out if you have a subscription. I’d suggest picking up Supernatural anyway though, it’s definitely brought me a whole new comfort realm to fall into when I’m feeling the need for escape.

Sissy That Walk!

I didn’t know it at the time but the way I grew up, and the area I grew up in, was very gender split. If you were a boy then you did things like play sports and if you were a girl then you did things like dance classes. Even the Physical Education classes in my school were gender biased and made sure the boys played certain sports (Rugby, Baseball and Basketball) while the girls did other activities (Hockey, Dance and Softball). At the time this was what I thought the world expected of me. To be the rugby playing manly man that they were expecting. My dad played rugby. My brothers all played football. I was sent to numerous sports clubs to try and give me something I could do.

I knew what I wanted to be at the time but I didn’t know there was a word for it, all I knew is that society around me wouldn’t have accepted it. I knew at the age of thirteen that I was gay and that it was just another aspect of me that society wouldn’t like.

I retreated into the media to try and find solace in the portrayals of LGBT people on screens and magazines. This was not a clever idea and pushed me to the brink of near suicide in my post-University years. This was because the media didn’t portray gay men in a positive light. Not only were they barely seen but they were also promiscuous and bitchy and they appeared as very slender or buff models. This isn’t what an overweight teenager going through an identity crisis needs to believe all gay men to be like.

At University this was reinforced with a rather bad experience with the LGBT society who really personified the idea of the bitchy and two-faced gay stereotype that had shaped my teenage years. This perception was now ingrained in my head and I knew I didn’t want to be gay.

The problem was that I knew being gay wasn’t a choice and so it was who I was doomed to live as for the rest of my life.

I spent a long time feeling not good enough. I wasn’t any of the gay stereotypes and so I didn’t feel like I belonged alongside the LGBT community. My upbringing, the society I grew up in, had made me feel like an outsider. I didn’t fit in with macho-straight guys but I had been conditioned to believe that a man shouldn’t do effeminate things and that whenever I was in front of people I shouldn’t display these qualities. Every limp wrist, hand on hip or hair-flick was picked up on and shamed to the point of me hiding possibly ninety percent of myself.

I like staying up late. At night, when everybody else was asleep, I could be my headphones on and lip-sync into the mirror as much as I wanted. I could be as sassy as I wanted, I could flip my hair and shake my hips as much as I wanted because nobody wasn’t going to disturb me. By daylight I would go back to being your normal mild-mannered, quiet, “butter wouldn’t melt” type of guy.

Even when I accepted that I was gay and came out to my friends and family, I still wasn’t me. I was still this cardboard cut-out of a person that society had forced me into believing was what people wanted me to be. When I look back on this I think how my friends would say that I didn’t hide it very well, that I was still a little bit effeminate, but trust me, there was a whole boat-load that you weren’t seeing. There was diva beneath the surface that I held down for so long it became painful.

Then I was introduced to RuPaul.

My friend, in early 2016, introduced me to RuPaul’s Drag Race and I was hooked. The colours, the lights, the fabulousness, the dresses, the hair. Everything. It was spectacular.

This was what I was needing. I needed Drag Race. I needed RuPaul and I needed his girls because they were the personification of everything I had been trying to stuff down deep inside me. And they were doing it on television. In heels. And these girls didn’t have a single ounce of shame about what they were doing, it was glorious. But not only this, the show also portrayed them as people. They weren’t the butts of jokes or the sex-selling face of a company, they were actual people who just wanted to entertain and look great. Until that day I honestly thought I was the only one with these creative thoughts and that I should keep them quiet or the world would hate me.

And to top it off they lip-synced. Something I had been doing in my mirror since I was a child. These were the people I needed.

I honestly had never felt so passionate about a television show in my life. I wanted to be friends with these girls. I wanted to know who they were and talk to them. They were the most accurate representation of me that I had ever come across and yet I had never put make-up on my face.

I’m still learning. I’m not going to say that now you can see me in Soho with high-heels and a mini-skirt but RuPaul and his girls have honestly changed my perception of society and given me a place to feel like I belong. I can only hope that one day I find a drag-mother to show me how to really bring out the glitter and the sparkles that have been kept beneath the surface for so many years.

Thank you RuPaul. You broke through societies deeply ingrained perception and showed me the reality I needed to see.