I understand there has been a lot of criticism about 13 Reasons Why, much of it valid in dealing with such a sensitive topic as suicide. I wouldn’t recommend the show to anyone who is suffering or has suffered from suicidal thoughts and feelings. Netflix have now added a warning before the first episode, which really should have been there already.
Yet I have to admit that I was drawn into the story that was based on the book by Jay Asher, which I have not read. I was gripped by the narrative, and although it may be questionable to use such a subject matter in this way, I got a lot from watching it. Whilst it was a story of suicide, it was also about love and friendship. And although messages about suicide can be problematic, the basic idea of openly communicating with others and reaching out to those who may be in need, is a positive one.
Being a teen drama, it brought me back to my own teenage years, and I related to Hannah’s character, who we know from the onset has killed herself. I didn’t just relate to Hannah because of her long, dark, curly hair. When I look back over those years of adolescence, I would now say I was depressed, though I had no clinical diagnosis. I feel a sadness for my younger self and my mum at the memory of screaming that I want to kill myself. I associate a lot of negative feelings with those years, despite there being some positive elements. I went from someone who loved going to primary school, to struggling to make it through each day, just trying to exist.
There’s a video of me as a child saying ‘I’m not weird, I’m Carmina.’ I’ve received a text from a friend meant for another saying I’m weird, received a light-hearted card from a friend about being so strange I make them feel normal, and the head-teacher of a school I worked at once joked that the teachers had had a meeting and concluded that I was strange. For the most part, this isn’t something serious, but throughout my life I have often felt like an outsider. And my closest friends would probably admit they are a little strange too.
Then again, I remember going for counselling once, and the man told me I was okay and didn’t need to come back. It is something that I often feel therapists think about me. Sometimes I think my ability to articulate myself to them means I manipulate them into thinking I’m “normal” and everyone else is “crazy”. Since then, a doctor has nonchalantly told me I’ve got cyclothymia (a very mild form of bipolar disorder), and I’ve been treated for anxiety disorder. Being told I’m okay or normal doesn’t exactly help, because although I’m high-functioning and my mental health doesn’t generally have a big impact on my life, being told such things doesn’t match up to my life experiences – how I am treated, or viewed, by others, or the feelings inside me that may not been obvious to others, but are very much real.
So, when I was a teenager, my mental health was much worse (as I think it can be for a lot of people during this time). It can be damaging to think of this as simply a phase, when support is very much needed whatever age. I think being a teenager can be the most difficult time in your life, but then I’m only 28, so we will see. I had issues at home, and I had a difficult time getting on with everyone at school, and, although I had friends, I often felt like a target for a lot of different groups. Our school had a hostile environment, from the pushing up and down stairs, to the power games in the cafeteria.
I was also desperate for male attention, being at a girls school, but was also terrified of boys. I was like Raj in The Big Bang Theory, only able to talk to the opposite sex when fueled with alcohol (as a slightly older teenager). This naturally led to slut-shaming from boys (and some girls too). Boys who called me a beast, who slapped me round the face, who knocked me with their bike, who rated me out of 10. Boys who cheated on their girlfriends with me, without my knowledge, who said I was fucked up, who called me chewbacca, who said they’d like to rape me, who circled me at the bus stop aggressively saying things I couldn’t hear over my headphones (okay, that was all one boy). Plus, so-called friends revealing things told in confidence.
So, long story short, when I could see these issues reflected in Hannah’s story, it did trigger me, but not in a way that was negative. It brought back these memories, and it allowed me to progress them. I cried a lot, but in a way that was very healing. Whilst I agree with the criticism of the show, and can see it is not something that is suitable for everyone, for me, it helped to see my own life reflected in the story and helped process these feelings that I find difficult to let go.