This article contains references to and graphically discusses suicide, sexual assault, self-harm, gun violence, and bullying. If you are having active thoughts of suicide and/or self-injury, I urge you call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, click here to visit the official website or dial 911. If you are a sexual assault victim or survivor in crisis, dial 911, call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-4673 or click here to visit the official RAINN website. For additional resources, visit https://13reasonswhy.info/
You are not alone.
I remember when I first heard that there was a "special" and controversial new Netflix show coming out. I remember reading the Facebook posts and comment sections and seeing all the blow-back it was getting. I remember hearing people talking about how "f****d up" this show was.
I remember reading the plot-line and thinking to myself, "Gee, people are right. This really is a messed up thing to be showing. Why would anyone want to see these things?" I avoided watching it because, as a person who struggles with mental illness, I didn't want to run the risk of triggering myself over it.
Well, on May 18th, the all-new second season was released and once again, I was back to reading about what people had to say. It was just more of the same. The same criticisms, the same anger, and the same seeming disappointment. This time, however, I decided that enough was enough.
I decided to watch and take in every single bit of it- no matter if it was upsetting or made me feel unsafe. If you haven't guessed yet, the show to which I am referring to is called "Thirteen Reasons Why", based off of the best-selling novel by Jay Asher.
I'll be honest, at first, I didn't really understand why people had gotten so worked up about it. I understand that the topics of suicide and sexual assault are very serious and need to be handled with extreme care, but I didn't watch anything that outright screamed "disturbing." That all changed very quickly.
I began to see why so many people were angry about the show's content. I sat and watched as characters were brutally and graphically raped, viciously bullied, began hoarding guns and ammunition, and were outright threatened and dragged through the mud, time and time again.
Perhaps most shockingly and disturbing, I sat and watched as the character "Hannah", got into her bathtub, slit her wrists, and bled to death. An on-screen, all-out, no holding back suicide. I sat there absolutely mortified, sick, and terrorized. Nothing could have prepared me for that scene.
If this show hadn't become real for me before that scene, it certainly did afterward. I threw up in my mouth and I felt myself shaking while looking at the scars on my own wrists, thinking about all the times that I wanted to do exactly what Hannah did.
Let me make this absolutely clear: Nothing about "Thirteen Reasons Why" is romantic, or beautiful, or completely and accurately portrays someone with a mental illness. It is graphic and disturbing and sometimes downright horrifying. There are so many things that I wish could have been done better or changed. But, despite all of these things, I do believe that this show has done something extremely important.
This show has created dialogue; it has gotten people talking. Talking about the hard issues in life, what it means to grow up in a world where hurting someone is as easy as clicking "send." Talking about what it means to live and fight with an invisible enemy living inside your head. Talking about how we can keep each other safe from the monsters in our closets, the demons that live inside of us.
"Thirteen Reasons Why" is graphic and disturbing, but it has given us a way to start tough conversations- conversations that might not otherwise have happened. This show and book might not be real, but some of what happens happens to real people in real life.
People get hurt, families get torn apart, reputations get destroyed, and lives are cut short. Although the show is brutal, as someone who knows what it feels like to feel the world falling out from underneath their feet, the messages that this show carries are so important.
As myself and countless others make our ways through the second season of this twisted story, I believe it is imperative to remember these three crucial points:
1. Know your mental and emotional limits. If you begin to feel that the events of this series put you in a state of feeling in danger, then take a break, watch with a trusted person, or consider discontinuing your viewing. Your safety comes before anything else.
2. Take some time to reflect upon the series in its entirety when you finish and think about what you can do to make the world a better place for someone. There are millions of people out there like Hannah Baker, what can you do to help them?
3. Never be afraid to speak your truth. The truth isn't always pretty, but, at the end of the day, it will always carry the most meaning and have strongest impact. Telling the truth will never be more painful than the compounding weight of lies and secrets.
If we learn anything from this story, it is that we must learn to stop hurting each other. We must learn to stop attacking one another physically, verbally, emotionally, and mentally, and instead start learning to work together, to embrace one another, and to love each other, because your words and your actions- they matter.
And if used wrongly, they can end someone's life.