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.

How The Giving Tree Helps Me Explain Domestic Violence

The book “The Giving Tree” by Shel Silverstein is one of my all time favorite books, and is beloved by millions of others around the United States and the world. The story of a tree who would do anything to make the boy he loved happy and in the end, giving of her own life in order to please the boy. It is a timeless classic that speaks to many people from all walks of life. But I never imagined that this book would be the tool which helps me explain how it feels to be in a domestic violence situation.

When a relationship starts, it’s happy and wonderful. Everyone is having a good time, there’s no red flags and all is good. Just like in the book, the people in the relationship enjoy one another’s company, and each is devoted to the other. Just like in the book, the partners play and both are happy.

As time goes by, little bits of unhappiness creep in, but nothing alarming and each tries his or her best to remain happy even though things are starting to look not so shiny and new anymore. In every instance of domestic violence, one person takes the dominant role (the boy) and the other takes a more submissive role (the tree). The dominant person becomes more and more demanding and powerful while at the same time becoming more distant emotionally. Meanwhile, the submissive person becomes more and more powerless, and in an attempt to make the dominant person happy, gives and gives more of him or herself in an attempt to make the relationship work like it once did when everyone was happy. The submissive person starts to see that the relationship is unbalanced, but doesn’t do much to change the situation other than offer the dominant person more and more of what he or she wants.

In the end, the submissive person runs out of things, or in this analogy affection, to give the dominant person much like the tree in the story, and the relationship becomes exhausting to the submissive person. Yet still the submissive person stays, hoping that one day things will get back to where they started. However, at this point, the submissive person has become a shadow of the person they once were. All the beautiful things that this person once shared with his or her partner are now gone just like the tree which has now become a stump in the book.

Now I will be the first to admit that domestic violence knows no genders, no sexual orientation and occurs in every culture, but more of the domestic violence cases are men abusing women. Part of me wonders if this is in part because so many women are mentally wired (either by nature or by their upbringing) that they need to please others. I don’t know about anyone else, but I was taught at a very young age to play nicely, don’t say rude things, look and act nicely, especially when others are around. My family greatly valued how others perceived me and were not happy when I started to speak my mind and the feedback they got from others about me was that I was an opinionated loud-mouth who was bordering on rude.

I was thinking today about how so many people in this world are also so afraid of what others will think that they change their own behavior in order to accommodate that instead of doing what makes them happy or even what’s right. For example, I know there are many people who have witnessed something happening they don’t like and stand by and say nothing. I’ve heard a friend tell me they watched a child get physically abused in Wal-Mart. I asked them “Well did you say something to the parent?” and they said no, they did not. When I asked why, they said “Because it was none of my business.” So apparently my friend cared enough to tell me about what she had seen and how opposed she was to what this woman did to her child, but not enough to say anything to the woman or anyone else who could potentially stop this from happening in the future.

The reason I say this is that I guarantee that you know people who are currently in a domestic violence relationship or have been in the past. I don’t want anyone to try to stand up to an abuser and get injured, but if you find out someone you know is in one of these situations, help them. Offer them a safe place to stay to get away for a night or forever. Offer to watch their children if they need you to. Offer to talk to them or go somewhere with them if they want company. While this is a small gesture which won’t take much effort on your part, this can mean the difference between someone giving everything they have like “The Giving Tree” and having a healthy relationship. Everyone should care enough about their friends to be honest about what they see in a relationship from an outside perspective.

YOU can be the one who says “Wait a minute, that doesn’t sound healthy.”

By doing this, you could save someone’s life. Just remember that.

A Personal Glimpse into Domestic Violence

So there’s a You Tube video circulating right now regarding a woman who takes a photo of herself every day for a year in a domestic violence relationship. Read the article here. (TRIGGER WARNING!!) First let me begin with the fact that it says clearly in the article that the bruises were made using makeup, so I was happy to read that. In the video there’s a vibrant young girl. She has a beautiful smile and she has meticulously done makeup in the first shots. As time wears on, her smile fades and we see bruises start to appear.The bruises get worse and worse as the year goes on until the final shot. In the end she has multiple bruises in many stages of healing, her smile is vanished and her hair and makeup are unkempt.

I wanted to make a few points regarding this video as a survivor of a domestic violence situation. First, I want to emphasize that this can happen to ANYONE. It’s not a “that will never happen to me” type of situation. I hear it all the time when I reveal that I’ve been in a domestic violence situation. “I can’t believe you’d put up with that!” I’m definitely not the kind of girl to take a beating and not say anything, but that’s not how it happened. Domestic violence is a slow sequence of events that can in some situations build to physical violence. It’s not like the guy takes you on a first date and says “Hey just to let you know a little bit about me, I love to hit my partners. Hope you’re ok with that…” Many times there are no clues. It escalates over weeks or months. In my case, it took 2 full years to get to the actual punches. There were slaps and shoves before that, but the actual punching happened about 2 years after we started dating.

Second, there are a TON of barriers to leaving that people who have never ‘been there’ just sometimes don’t understand. If there are children involved, it’s multiplied EXPONENTIALLY!!  If you’re living with someone and want to end the relationship, there’s a lot of loose ends to tie up if you’re not willing to just pack a bag and leave in the middle of the night. Compound that with a guy that already punches you in the face while saying he loves you. There could be death threats or actual attempts on your life if you attempted to leave! You have to have a place to go to, and since my partner had cut off a lot of my connections with friends, that made it hard. Plus I felt guilty about bumming at my friend’s houses. I didn’t want to take advantage of my friends. I knew the situation wasn’t perfect, but it was better (in my opinion) than trying to leave. It was also easier to stay as I knew what to expect with him. I knew how to handle the abuse after a while. I adapted to ease my suffering and I used coping skills to get by, as do many women in this situation.

Third, deep down I did love him, and sometimes nearly 10 years after it ended, I still look back fondly at some of the memories we shared. I’ve had people ask me “But how can you love someone who hits you?” I can’t explain it, I just did. I was going to marry him. I had every intention of enduring the pain of abuse for the rest of my life because in my mind his good times made the bad times bearable. When he wasn’t hitting me, he was treating me pretty damn well. He took me out to dinner. He bought me gifts. He held me and kissed the top of my head like we were a normal couple. When things were good, they were good. If I walked away from the bad, I also was abandoning the good, and that was a lot to lose.

But not all domestic violence situations make it to that step of physical violence, there’s lots of other forms of intimate partner violence that no one ever talks about. Emotional abuse (at least for me and many survivors I’ve talked to) is the hardest to overcome. It can take many forms. Name calling and belittling was my ex’s abuse of choice. Those words still haunt me to this day. My heart still skips a beat when I hear his name or someone mentions him. He still causes anxiety in me for the things he did even though ten years have passed.

dove

“Give me wings so I can fly far far away from here”

The moment in my life at which I decided I needed to get out was when my friends had an “intervention” of sorts with me. They invited me over and told me how scared they were for my safety, explained to me that my situation wasn’t healthy, told me they loved me no matter what and wanted me to be safe. Words ca not express my gratitude to those two women who helped me see the first ray of sunshine in getting out. I owe them my life and I only hope that they know how truly special they always will be to me regardless of distance or when the last time I saw them was. They made a HUGE difference in my life.

A high school classmate wasn’t so lucky. Her husband took her to a local cemetery and forced her to shoot herself and then shot himself. This tragic story happened just a few years after I was out of my own situation, and I couldn’t help but think that had things played out differently, that could have been me. This woman was a beautiful and vibrant person. I’d known her since childhood, and she was funny, smart, talented and amazing. The end to her young life was a tragedy, but no one even knew what truly was happening until it was too late. She was 31 years old.

I want to end with this point, if you’re in a relationship which isn’t healthy for you, seek help. Getting out may not be the answer for you (as already stated, getting out can have TONS of barriers and be incredibly difficult or impossible for some people). You may have children with this person and you may want stay, but seek help in the form of a domestic violence hotline or counseling. These folks can help you come up with a safety plan to keep you as safe as possible or leave if you ever decide that you’d want to. Some hotlines can refer you to shelters where you will be kept safe and where you are is kept confidential. There is help out there and people who understand what it’s like to be in that situation.

You are NEVER alone. There’s always a way to get out alive.

I don’t make any promises that it’s easy. It’s not. I make no promises that it will never happen again, it could. But if you want out, there are ways. I can promise you that once you are out, you’ll see the sunshine and be grateful for every day. You will see what a strong and amazing person you are. Every single story I hear from survivors, that’s the one thing I always am amazed by, how strong they were. Through it all, they made it. They did it.

Survivors of domestic violence are amazing and strong. Believe it.

For more resources or access to the National Domestic Violence hotline go to http://www.thehotline.org/ (or call 1-800-799-7233) or find a domestic violence organization in your area.

(I’m not paid to advertise for them, I just think they are a great resource for anyone who is in a domestic violence situation and feels alone.)