Thirteen Reasons Why and One Reason I Won’t

I just finished the show Thirteen Reasons Why on Netflix. First let me tell you there are spoilers included in this post, so you’ve been warned.

I read some articles discussing the good and bad points of it, but I wanted to give some additional feedback about the show from my experience and also share my personal experiences with mental illness, bullying, sexual assault and suicide.

Hannah Baker

Hannah Baker from “Thirteen Reasons Why” as played by Katherine Langford

Let me begin by saying that yes, some of what Hannah Baker experienced can be attributed to “normal high school experiences”. Yes, feeling outcast as the new girl, feeling alone sometimes, gaining and losing friendships, etc. are all normal. But there are other parts of Hannah’s story that are far from normal.

 

Overall I felt that the show was more focused on the trauma Hannah experiences than a mental health condition or a clinical definition of depression. Given all the trauma Hannah experiences during a short amount of time, it’s a normal thing to feel sad, depressed and low. Never once does the show reveal that Hannah is affected by any kind of mental health diagnosis or undiagnosed illness. No one ever says anything about mental health at all other than the scene where Clay’s mother suggests he try medication. Therefore, the hopelessness and loneliness that Hannah experiences, in my opinion, is not a byproduct of a mental health condition; it’s a reaction to trauma. She’s bullied, sexually assaulted and abandoned. She’s experiencing everything from guilt and shame, to flashbacks and triggering and the people she does turn to for help don’t recognize the signs or do nothing and her normal coping skills aren’t working. Maybe they just didn’t ask the right questions.

Hannah Baker experienced trauma.

It’s not her fault. She’s a victim in all of her trauma. To blame Hannah for what led to her suicide is ignorant. In the long run, Hannah did have other choices, but the choice she decided was best for her was taking her own life. Yes, it’s always sad when a preventable tragedy like this happens, and it’s a senseless loss of life. I’m not making judgments on Hannah for this choice, nor am I saying “she shouldn’t have done it”. I’m only saying that it was Hannah that made that choice, and it was hers to make.

I don’t get to decide what is best for Hannah’s life, only Hannah does.

While watching the show I identified with Hannah. I know what it’s like to feel alone, bullied, assaulted and hopeless. I know what it feels like to experience trauma and the lasting effects of trauma. I know what it feels like to think the only option is suicide. Even as I watched and knew what would happen eventually, I found myself screaming at the TV at the people who could have helped Hannah. I yelled at them about what else they could have done or resources she could have accessed. As I was sobbing and watching helplessly as Hannah slit her wrists, in what was the most heart wrenching scene of the show, I thought about all the ways her story had gone sideways, and all the ways it could have gone differently. I was thinking about why she felt suicide was an option for her, and why it isn’t an option for me.

I’ve been where Hannah Baker was. I’ve reached out to people to get help only to have them tell me to “move on” or “cheer up”. I’ve felt like I wanted to disappear, like my life was too hard. I’ve had people say I was a “drama queen,” a “slut,” and that I was making things up or making them “all about me”. Even this blog will be misconstrued by some as all about me. (It is, but it’s also about trauma reactions and mental health and it’s my blog.)

I’ve sat with that razor blade at my wrist willing myself to cut. I’ve had two failed suicide attempts. I’ve used cutting as a form of coping. I’ve had many more times when I contemplated suicide or even had a plan but didn’t carry it out. I’ve wished that I didn’t exist or wished I could disappear. And still I say that suicide is not an option for me.

Here’s why:

Suicide isn’t the end of my pain, it’s the transference of my pain to those I care about.

Think about it for a minute.

I love those who are in my life. I want the very best for them. I have family, friends and coworkers who care about me as well. If I were to take my own life, they would be the ones to feel the fallout just as the friends and family of Hannah Baker did. They would be left with the questions, the guilt, the shame and sorrow of what I had done. They would stay up late at night, unable to sleep because they were thinking about something they could have done differently to help me or stop me. They would cry at my funeral and every time afterwards when my name came up or they were reminded of me. They would be embarrassed when someone talked about the stigma of suicide and what it meant about me as a person, when they implied that I was selfish, weak, or unable to cope or when they blamed my bipolar.

Suicide isn’t an option for me because I can’t bear the thought of leaving them my pain. I want to leave a legacy of my accomplishments, my victories, my happy memories. I want people to cry because they miss me, and because it’s a shame that I am no longer alive, but know that I had a good life. I want people to talk about how I tried to dispel the stigma of mental illness and was open and honest about my symptoms and mental health. I want people to know that I lived with passion, I loved as much as I could, I lived my life to the best of my abilities regardless of my bipolar and the challenges it posed.

I want people to know that there’s no shame in asking for help, and if you can’t ask on your own, have someone help you or let someone know you need help. They don’t have to hide it. Just tell them “I need help” or “I’m suicidal. Can you help me please?”.  I want people to know they can offer help even when it’s not asked for. Like this “You seem pretty down. Are you feeling like hurting yourself?” or “Do you ever feel like hurting yourself?”

Let’s talk about mental health and suicide!!!

Suicidal thoughts are not shameful, I think everyone has them at one point in their life. So let’s talk about what is a shared experience for all of us regardless of the cause or reason we feel/felt that way. We can say “We can rely on each other and be honest about our feelings.” or “I’ve had suicidal thoughts. Have you?” or even “I’m a safe person to share suicidal thoughts with.” I guess it’s been my experience that offering help and having someone say “No, I just need to talk.” is much better than not offering. Discussing things makes it so that having future conversations isn’t awkward or difficult. If someone had cancer, they could talk about it openly. If someone had a broken leg and needed to go to the emergency room, they’d ask for help. Why should mental health be any different?!

I want people to know that medication can be a helpful tool for some people, and there’s no shame in that either. No, medication (or therapy, or anything else) cures mental illness-at least not yet. And finding the right meds, or combination of meds, or combination of therapies is BEYOND CHALLENGING and can be so frustrating! But it’s important that you do what works for you. Don’t judge yourself based on the meds you take. Don’t let others judge you based on your meds either. Everyone takes some kind of medication in their life because they need it. So if you need it, and that’s what you want, then there’s no shame in it. And if you don’t want meds, that’s ok too because it’s YOUR choice.

Lastly, I want every single person on this planet know that you are cared about, you matter and if you were gone this world wouldn’t be the same. This is true for every single person alive. Sometimes your brain will try to tell you this is a lie, but it’s not. So think about what will happen when you’re gone before you go. We all will die someday, that’s the nature of this fleeting journey we call life, so just be sure you really lived. And above all, be kind to yourself and to others. You never know what is going on with them.

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Mother’s Day

It’s the week I dread most in the entire world. The week that rubs motherhood in my face and makes me feel utterly devastated every year. I’m happy for those who are mothers, but completely jealous. I try not to be bitter, and I apologize if sometimes it feels that way, but it’s hard for me.

You can tell me all day “your time will come” or “you’ll be a great mom” but it doesn’t help the pain. I’m grateful that my partner understands and when I tell him “It’s gonna be a hard week” he gets it. It’s gonna be a hard week, and every year it gets worse.

It’s hard to look at (what I view as) “the success” of others and feel failure in my own story. I know that this is an irrational thought and I shouldn’t believe it, but it has sunk so deeply into my soul that I’m worried if I never have kids, it will just break my heart to the point of being broken forever.

For those of you who don’t know, I had kids who called me mom before. When I was married, I had two sons. They called me mom and I knew them from when they were 2 and 3 until they were 9 an 10. These boys meant the world for me. It was my true crowning victory at the time. I know those of you with kids will understand the joy that having a child brings to your life, and this feeling (I’d imagine) was the same for me. I felt my life was complete and my family was whole. When he and I divorced in 2008, my whole world came crashing down. At first he told me he wanted to allow me to interact with the boys. He sent me letters they had written and I visited them a couple of times during the next year. Soon after, he got another woman pregnant and she harassed me into submission. I had to let the boys go. I didn’t get to say goodbye. I didn’t get to see them one last time, and I didn’t get to tell them why. It wasn’t ok for me to do that.

A couple of years later, I (very hesitantly) started dating another man with children, a ten year old boy and a three year old girl. After he and I had been dating 6 weeks or so, he wanted to introduce me to them. From the second I met them, I loved them. They were the kind of kids that just wrapped themselves around your heart and didn’t let go. For about a year I stayed at home with the kids, mostly the three year old while the boy was at school. I bonded with the kids, and once again I felt at peace with my life. But I wanted a child of my own, and the man I was dating didn’t want that, so eventually the relationship ended. Once again my heart was broken. He and the kids moved away, so I couldn’t stay in their lives at all even though my ex would have been ok with it. About once a year he sends me photos of the kids. While I’m grateful for this small, kind gesture, and I appreciate it more than he’d ever know, sometimes it still hurts. It reopens that deep wound and I feel the loss again.

Some people will make comments like “I know you’ll make such a good mom one day” or “you are so good with children”. They even say things like “your time is coming, it’ll happen”, but the more days that go by, the more those words hurt as well. I’m impatient and I would like that day to be here already. I’m not getting any younger, and I’m worried about my ability to get pregnant as I get older and become “high risk”. “You can take mine for a few hours and then you’ll never want kids again!” Really?! You think a few hours with your children will stop my desire when I’ve spent years with caring for both my own and other people’s children. I love naughty, challenging children. They are so undervalued. I’m as ready as I will be. I know there will be challenges, but I enjoy problem solving. I’m already exhausted many times, and I am eager to accept these sacrifices in the pursuit of my dreams.

What’s the worst is when they mention any of “my kids” like “you were so good with them, it’s just proof you’ll be such a good mom”… Ouch. It’s those words that cut me to my core and break my heart.

Yes, I am good with children. I have a degree in Early Childhood Education partnered with 12 years of experience in that field. I’ve always been good with children. I love their sense of creativity and wonder. I love their ever-exploring and questioning minds. I relate to all the questions they ask, it drives me to never stop learning.

You’re right, it may happen some day, but what if it never does? How will I accept that fact? How will I deal with that “failure”? What will motivate me to continue my life and feel successful? How many hours will I weep the day that I really know my window is gone. Yes, there’s always adoption, and I have always been open to that option. I’d love to become a mom to a child who needed a compassionate and safe caregiver. I wouldn’t mind an older child that others consider “damaged” or “traumatized”. I’ve done work with trauma survivors. I know it’s challenging, but I feel I would be understanding and possibly a good fit, depending on the child.

You are welcome to ask me to care for your children. If I’m able, I’m happy to do it. I won’t always be able to do it for free, but I’m also open to hanging out with you and having your children around. I don’t mind. I’m happy to give you a break from the stress of being a parent. I know you (and your partner maybe) still need time to yourself.

Finally, yes, I was an amazing mother to those kids (both sets) and I have every intention of being that kind of parent for my own kids, if and when that time comes. I still love those children with all of my heart. They are now going on 17 and 16, 16 and 10. As time speeds by I think about them and all the milestones they are experiencing. I try not to focus on the fact that I’m missing them, but rather that they are growing up so fast, and I’m glad they have fathers to raise them to the best of their abilities. Yes, sometimes I wish I was still a part of their lives, but I try to remember that I was a good mom to them, and that they loved me very much. I like to think they remember their time with me fondly or still may care about me, but I may never know it.

So I want to send my love and light to those that feel like me. I want to give you all hope and support. I know I’m not alone. I know there are others who have lost kids by divorce, death, termination of rights and alienation or many other ways. I want to let those of you who long to have children that you’re not alone. Those of you who have loved children and lost them, there are people who understand that pain, myself included. I want to encourage you to not listen when those irrational thoughts come creeping in if you want to be a mother. There are ways regardless of age, relationship status or income. Where there’s a will, there’s a way. You can choose to be patient, or you can take matters into your own hands, the choice is up to you. It’s your life. Do what you want with it and don’t worry about what others think. Sending you much love as you also struggle to celebrate Mother’s day. And please know that if you feel like you’ve been a mother in any capacity, this day is for you too.