A Survivor’s Thoughts on 13 Reasons Why

I’m what you’d call a survivor. I’ve lost multiple family members and friends to suicide. I’ve had three major depressive episodes in my life where I contemplated suicide. Here are my thoughts on the controversial Netflix series 13 Reasons Why.

We’ve all witnessed shocking, gruesome things on television. I always turned my head during rape scenes, but I used to love gory scenes. After my first loss to suicide, these scenes began to trigger me. I first noticed this when I started crying uncontrollably during the movie “Cocktail,” after a character sliced his own throat. If someone even puts a gun to their head, I have flashbacks of my loved one putting the gun in his mouth, his final thoughts, and the mess he left in the bathroom. I wasn’t there, but as a symptom of my post-traumatic stress disorder, I imagined it, every day, for months after his suicide. The destruction of suicide loss is so encompassing, it can result in PTSD.

I was one of the many who was triggered by 13 Reasons Why, but I chose to watch both seasons. There was a time where I needed to avoid these triggers, but I am at the point in my healing where I am able to face my fears. I am attempting to examine my feelings rather than dissociate or numb them with alcohol and drugs.

I felt strong enough to watch it, and I felt even stronger after.

I thought they got a lot wrong in Season 1. They didn’t talk much about mental illness, when 90% of people who commit suicide suffer from a mental illness. It’s targeted toward impressionable teens. My high school students, who are no strangers to trauma, watch this show and may not understand what they are seeing. It’s horrifyingly graphic at times, and some believe it glorifies mental illness and suicide. Many argue the show never should’ve been made because of “copycats” and suicide contagion.

If a few hours of television can raise such a high alarm, perhaps there’s a deeper problem.

We all have feelings of depression, anxiety, many of us face traumas. These experiences are especially confusing as children and teens. We might not know we need help, I didn’t know I needed help as a high schooler. I believed I wasn’t raped, I believed the rumors like everybody else. I got drunk, so it was my own fault when I woke up with two of my “friends” inside me on my fourteenth birthday.

Nobody, not even my own friends, told me what happened to me was wrong, that it wasn’t my fault. No one ever told me that it happens to others, that my feelings were normal, when it’s time to ask for help. Instead, we all suffer in silence because we’re too afraid of being judged and persecuted. Meanwhile, the person sitting next to you may be going through the same thing. Rape and domestic violence victims, mental illness and addiction sufferers, we shouldn’t feel forced into silence because we fear stigma.

We go to art and the internet for answers, then blame it for coming up short. When we are the ones, educators, families, friends, who are falling short.  

Despite its shortcomings, I think there were some improvements in season 2. Both seasons emphasized the guilt and devastation we all feel as a loss of suicide, but season 2 also showed the anger that comes with suicide loss. If you’ve lost someone to suicide, you know how deep and complicated the grief process is. You miss them and you want to talk to them but only so you can scream at them for being so selfish and leaving you behind. They spoke a little more about mental illness, especially PTSD. It reminded me that I’m not alone, that others go through worse and survive it, most of the time. If they can do it so can I.

It showed me that my feelings shouldn’t isolate me from others, but bring me closer to them, because unfortunately, these horrors are a part of humanity too.

Whether the creators’ intentions were for shock value or to start a dialogue, it did both. While parts of it were too real and others not real enough, some of it may be so nauseating that we have to turn away, these atrocities happen, in real life.

We turn our heads, in real life too, when we refuse to talk about it.

“On average, there are 321,500 victims (age 12 or older) of rape and sexual assault each year in the United States,”  according to RAINN.org. Hazing is still a popular form of sexual assault in high school, college, and the military. 44,965 Americans die by suicide each year.

We might not be ready to see this, to face the disgraceful reality of humanity, but if you can, you should. You should watch it for yourself, and watch it for. the people who can’t, for the people who are imprisoned by their minds, stuck in a cycle of reliving their traumas every day. Then you should talk about it. Talk about your experiences, talk about suicide and mental illness and addiction and rape to whoever will listen. Do it for yourself, but do it also for the people who can’t, for the people who had their voices stolen from them. Hopefully one day, they’ll be able to speak again.

By talking about it we can transform our preconceived notions of a rape victim from a “drunk slut” to the prom queen, and people with mental illnesses from society’s recluses, to your neighbor, your friend, or you. The #MeToo movement and shows like 13 Reasons Why have both ignited a long overdue dialogue, and has given victims control over that dialogue. The exposure of these tragedies has empowered victims.

The road to social justice is long and winding, but it begins when we refuse to accept the current state.

“I’m the one writing this”-Amanda Palmer and Jasmine Power