Maybe you’ve seen it, maybe you haven’t, but 13 Reasons Why has been the centerpiece of a lot of controversy recently. If you don’t know, it’s a relatively new show streaming on Netflix, just to make sure everyone’s caught up here. It’s about a girl who kills herself, Hannah. She leaves behind thirteen tapes with the story of her life, leading up to her suicide. Before she dies, she leaves these tapes with a person who was mentioned on them, and they have to pass them on to the next person or else they’ll be released publicly by some unknown person. As you might suspect, there’s a lot of incriminating stuff on those tapes.
Let’s backtrack here – when I say controversy, I mean that I’ve only seen really negative things about it. How the show can drive people to suicide, how it portrays everything really badly, blah blah blah.
Being someone who’s actually thought about offing myself at least a few times in this past week, I’m here to pull the show apart and tell you what I think. Not like you really care about another opinion you see on the internet, but I felt like throwing my two cents in anyway.
First off, without giving too much away in the story, the people who criticize the show are right. Or, more specifically, the problems people have with Hannah are correct. Yeah, she’s selfish. She goes through all this junk without once reaching out to her parents or the rest of the support that’s around her. She causes her own drama as much as she’s a victim of everything, she doesn’t think about the consequences of her actions, and yes, when it comes to killing herself, she does it to make a point – to get back at everyone who wronged her when she was alive. She didn’t have to commit suicide at all – just handle the situation way better.
The thing I have the most problems with, however, is not the fact that Hannah’s at the center of all this drama and the whole thing could have been avoided had she just dealt with things differently, but rather, that she’s not portrayed as someone who struggles with depression. By all appearances, she’s a normal, perfectly happy girl, who gets so ticked off at her classmates that she decides to teach them a lesson. She’s not harming herself, she’s not lying in bed for hours because she can’t bring herself to get up, she’s not caught up in the emptiness and absolute pain that depression brings. She’s just wound up in this drama. And yeah, maybe she’s lonely. Maybe she’s being bullied and treated terribly, but the show would have so much more credibility if it actually portrayed what depression was like. If she ended up killing herself because her illness got the better of her, not because she was just fed up with the jerks in her class.
All in all, Hannah’s a terrible representation of someone who goes through those challenges. However, I don’t believe the point of the show was to portray suicide and depression, but rather, meant to open up people’s eyes about the reality of our world.
Call it problematic or whatever else you want, but here’s why: it’s real. It’s raw and unfiltered and real. It covers things like sexual harassment and assault, relationships, bullying, LGBT concerns, the difficulties of living in not only our school systems, but in our society. It shows the process of going through grief, and how different people respond to it. It shows people’s regrets, their insecurities, and the secrets they try so hard to hide. The thing is, is that it’s real. It goes through these things, watches the characters as they face these struggles head on, and there’s something about that, that I find comforting.
It’s not about Hannah and her lack of actual depression, shove that part aside for a moment. It’s about the brutal honesty of life. The loneliness, the emptiness of having no one around who understands you. The feeling of spiraling out of control, by being consumed by your own guilt and fears and whatever else that you have swallowing you whole.
I love it.
Here I am, a complete mess. It seems the best I can hope for right now is a few hours of happiness at a time. And the only thing I keep hearing from people is that ‘I’m going to get through this,’ or ‘everything will be okay.’ They talk about the positives, about how all of this is going to work in my favor. Or, at worst, they’ll make one comment about the whole thing and then jump into some positive speech about how their life is great and how wonderfully I’m doing.
They mean well, and I know being positive is important. All this is going to work out for good in my life, and of course I’m going to get through it – but for once, it’s nice to see the absolute trash in the world. It’s nice to see someone talking about things not being okay. It’s nice to watch the lives of the characters spin out of control and get worse and worse. Because, you know what? Life can suck. It hurts like hell. You get bullied and have to go on medication, live with regrets and secrets and fears, and sometimes, you have to go through complete and utter shit before things can get better.
Anyways, my point is, is that yes things are going to be okay. We’re going to get through this. Remember, I am still? All that jazz that I talked about before? And that’s great – that’s wonderful. We’re warriors, right? Fighting our way through these things?
But it’s still trash. It still hurts. Things still suck. You still wake up in the morning wanting to die. Regardless of how positive you can be, it’s still absolute misery. And sometimes, instead of spending your time trying to will yourself to be optimistic, you just have to sit back and acknowledge how bad things really are.
And that’s okay.
I’m not saying the show isn’t without its flaws. Yeah, to some people, it could probably be triggering. Maybe it could drive someone to suicide, I don’t know. Hannah’s pretty annoying, granted, but coming from someone who’s been stuck in this misery for a while now, it’s so refreshing to see something that just shows the rawness in life. I’m tired of pretending everything’s always okay, to laugh and come up with another plan, and count to five until I can put my unappealing sadness behind me and move forward in some fake state of contentment. I’m freaking tired of it, and I’m tired of people who do that. I want it raw, I want it real. I want it messy. Because I’m messy. And I’ve been watching this show while I’ve been going through some of the most difficult times in my life, because it’s such a disaster. I get comfort in that. I don’t want to see something happy, where everything works out amazing in the end and the characters are hopelessly smiling all the time, I want to get down to the nitty-gritty, to embrace the world and how awful it can be sometimes.
If 13 Reasons Why has any reason to exist, it’s not because it represents depression and suicide well. Not at all. It’s because you can look at it and see some of the trash the characters are going through, look at their breakdowns and their victories, and think – that’s me. I’m just as much of a mess as that. I relate to the disaster that is some of these characters.
And honestly, as someone who feels depressed and alone 85% of the time, it’s really comforting to be able to see someone else, fictional or otherwise, struggle with some of the same things you do.