“You Matter, Hannah Baker”
As I took to writing this post, I realized there was so much I wanted and needed to say. While this is a long post, it is condensed heavily from what I originally wrote. This post does contain spoilers.
Warning: Content written on mental illness, suicide, self-harm, and rape.
If you haven’t watched 13 Reasons Why, please take into consideration your mental health. If you cannot watch it because you’re suffering, that’s okay. I do not suggest binge watching the season. I suggest taking it in small doses, evaluating your mental health after each episode. It’s okay to stop. It’s okay to take it slow. What’s most important is coming to the realization of when is too much. If you are struggling, please go here, 13reasonswhy.info, or TWLOHA to find resources available to you.
“You matter, Hannah Baker.”
“Hannah Baker, you matter.”
“Hannah? Hey, how are you?”
“Hey Hannah, would you like to get hot chocolate after school at Monet’s?”
Any of these phrases could have saved Hannah’s life. A glance across a classroom, a smile upon a face, an effort to reach out despite what you may have heard about a certain person. Acknowledging a person’s existence may make all the difference.
For those of you who don’t know, 13 Reasons Why is a book by Jay Asher and recently was made into a 13 episode television show. It’s about a high school student, Hannah Baker, who commits suicide after recording 13 stories on seven cassette tapes of each reason why. Each tape belongs to a specific person and how they aided in the butterfly effect causing Hannah to turn to her last resort: suicide.
Now I’ve struggled with my views on how the show was created and presented. From a standpoint of someone who has dealt with mental illness and has contemplated suicide, but is now healthier, I cannot fully connect to how it might feel to watch this show in the midst of a lowest point. But I did try my hardest to place myself in a mindset that wouldn’t take me steps backward, but would help create a more authentic experience.
I read 13 Reasons Why when I was 15. I was a sad teenager then, but I wasn’t depressed. I was trying to figure out the fog that was starting to consume me. Only a few people knew that I was struggling, but I’m not sure any of us knew how serious it was going to become. But like any other teen–especially teenage girl–I was struggling with insecurities over who I was, my weight, my intelligence … my existence. And as all girls know, the idea of being someone who isn’t wanted and can never be perfect because there is a societal standard, is unattainable. But also, everything we do is our fault. Now take all of this and add on the turmoil of falling into a mental illness.
I remember reading this book so fast. I remember I had purchased the hardcover and I laid on my bed, following along with the map printed in the sleeve as Clay Jensen did with the map Hannah gave him. I loved that it was interactive, but I also loved that I could relate. I don’t remember the book having a dramatic effect on me, but I remember reading it in one go. I don’t remember being shocked by the contents nor thinking that it was a way to help me commit suicide. At the same time, those thoughts hadn’t been spiraling yet. But, the book remained with me.
When talk started about this book becoming a movie years ago starring Selena Gomez, I was excited. And then it stopped and I didn’t hear anything about it for a while until Selena Gomez announced that she was producing it into a television show.
At the time the show as released, I wasn’t in the best mental state. I was excited to see what they did with the book, but at the time, more fascinated in a writer’s perspective, like how the novel got translated into a script. But I didn’t watch it. Something stopped me. I knew I shouldn’t in that moment, so each time I ended a show on Netflix, I avoided it and found something new.
But then Jamie Tworkowski, founder of the nonprofit To Write Love on Her Arms, started writing about it on Twitter, about how we shouldn’t watch it if we aren’t emotionally ready and it’s okay if we don’t ever watch it. And then he wrote this blog about it, which reached thousands of people who most likely needed to hear those exact words. But I became more fascinated in the outrage that this show was causing. Jamie’s was the first I had heard about it, but it definitely wasn’t the last. It barely crossed my mind that this would spark so much discussion. But of course it would. It was a show about suicide aimed at teenagers. Without any one watching it, that’s already alarming to many. What I didn’t realize for a while was how different the suicide was from the book and how graphic it was shown.
You see, for those who didn’t read the book, Hannah Baker swallowed pills in a bath tub. She didn’t cut her wrists in a bath tub, like she does in the show. While the result is the same, it’s often less triggering. Especially when the show graphically shows blood seeping through her skin and the tub overflowing because of the amount of blood mixing with water.
I understand what the creators were going for. I understand that there is a lot that isn’t shied from because the creators wanted it to be uncomfortable. They wanted people to talk, to understand, and to see what really happens.
Yes. I agree. We need to be uncomfortable. We need our eyes to be opened. But we do not need that suicide scene.
A pan out of her dead body in the bath and an overflowing tub would have been enough–more than enough. Especially because they already provided visuals of her laying in her own blood with slit wrists. Yes, they were in Clay’s imagination, but nonetheless, similar to what actually happened. Mind you, those episodes did not have warnings before them. The point is, we didn’t need the close ups. Hannah Baker deserves privacy, despite her being fictional and despite her committing suicide. At the basis of it all, Hannah lost all privacy before she committed suicide, which aided in her taking the final step. At least grant her one last wish.
As I finished watching the show, I started re-reading the book. I wanted to be able to compare both of them and figure out my own standpoint. Now, a week has passed and I’ve been able to come to terms with how I believe.
Hannah Baker’s story is important. Her story needs to be told.
However, Netflix could have done things massively different to avoid this outrage.
Yes, we need to be uncomfortable and we need to talk about mental illness. Those rape scenes, I believed, were very realistic and needed as well, because it made us squirm and really look into the characters, but also look into ourselves. This has become more important now than ever, that our government believes rape should be a pre-existing condition. So yes, we need to recognize that women shouldn’t be blamed for being raped. We need to see the psychological effects that happen.
Each episode should have been provided with a warning of the contents, even the episodes that weren’t that bad, because “bad” is subjective. You cannot know how a person will react to something. This show is held to higher standards because the message that is being shown. Showing a rape or suicide in this show is far more extreme than a horror or drama film.
The beginning of the series should have had a PSA. The cast, Selena Gomez or Jay Asher should have spoke in front of a camera talking about the show and the different ways you can get help. Yes, 13reasonswhy.com/info is a wonderful resource, but it isn’t enough. Each episode that did contain something triggering, like the scenes of Hannah in her own blood or the rape scenes, should have contained a PSA after the episode. Nothing too long, but something to remind everyone that suicide is not the answer, nor is rape.
Finally, while there is a 30 minute discussion with the cast after the show ends on Netflix, there needs to be something attached to the last episode. A longer PSA of sorts. I almost didn’t want to watch the 30 minute discussion because it was something else to watch. Netflix would start it in 20 seconds, but I had the thought process to stop it. I thought maybe it wasn’t what I wanted it to be. It was, however, to someone struggling and having just watched Hannah commit suicide, the likelihood of them taking that moment to decide that yes, they wanted to continue is low. If immediately after the credits someone comes on to talk it’s likely to have a higher impact.
The creators wanted to create a conversation. That they have. But because the show is directed at teenagers who are already dealing with hormones and drama within their own high school, the show needs to be a bit more sensitive.
It’s tackling rough waters. There’s the fine line because you want to talk about mental illness, but especially about suicide. And we often stop the conversations, which aren’t helping teenagers and those who may be struggling get the help they need because they don’t feel worthy of that help. And Hannah’s story is perfect. It’s literally a series of small and big things that add up. It isn’t one massive thing that has happened, which often isn’t the case.
At the back of the book, there is a question and answer with Jay Asher on why he wrote the book. One question is: Do you feel you were trying to put across a certain message with this book. His answer was yes.
“Even though Hannah admits that the decision to take her life was entirely her own, it’s also important to be aware of how we treat others.”
Clay Jensen often says throughout the book and the television show that he didn’t act upon his feelings for Hannah because he feared that Hannah would be exactly like the rumors said. He was afraid to have the rumors confirmed.
“Hannah,” you [Clay] said. “I know the rumors.”
“You can’t know rumors,” I [Hannah] said.
–13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher
However, despite how you think one person may be, it isn’t fair to that person to not ask them who they are and give them a chance to show you.
We all fall victim to this, especially in middle and high school. We listen to rumors, we hear things, we prejudge people. It’s what happens whether or not it’s okay. But why are the bad things bad? Why is it so bad that Hannah may have gone all the way? Why do we not give people a chance after one mistake?
We are constantly trying to make up for our mistakes, it’s called life. We would hate for someone to misjudge us for something we’ve done, so why, when given the chance, are we so quick to judge others?
We aren’t fools. We know how rumors start in high school. We feed off gossip, especially when it isn’t ours. More importantly, when it’s someone we aren’t close to. But would any of us have stopped Hannah? Would we have gone up to her and asked her what was wrong? Would we have noticed the warning signs?
There is a Hannah Baker in every single school. There may be multiple Hannah Bakers. Sometimes the signs are minimal, sometimes they are so drastic we often overlook it. What is one thing everyone person who suffers from a mental illness is good at? Hiding it.
Suicides don’t happen out of the blue.
There is often a butterfly effect that happens. That is essentially what the thirteen reasons are about. There are thirteen certain people that affected Hannah’s life. If you read the book or watched the show, you’ll be able to follow how if one person did something differently, something would have been disrupted and changed.
It’s a lot of pressure to place on a person. A lot of these people didn’t even realize that they were a tipping point for Hannah. And while the tapes aren’t all fair to these people, they are eye-opening. Hannah’s story should be taken seriously and brought into discussions. We should treat people the way we want to be treated. We should treat people with respect and kindness. We shouldn’t be afraid to talk to someone because of the status they hold or because of the “rumors” that may be true. We shouldn’t let popularity keep us from making friends. We shouldn’t do something bad if all of our friends are doing it. We should be able to stand up and confront our friends who may be treating someone badly.
At the end of the day, we should treat people like they are human. They matter. You matter. Every single person’s life matters, despite the bad things they may have done. Because the bad things they do, have been a result of something happening previously.
People don’t wake up one day and decide to kill themselves or someone else. There is a reason behind everything, multiple reasons usually. Take Donald Trump for an example. He hates everyone and everything. Something has happened in his own life that has brought him to this point, to a point of no compassion, kindness, empathy, or happiness. There is a reason he is narcissistic. This isn’t a hate on who the President is nor is it giving him an excuse. It’s a example on who not to become despite them being in a leadership role model position. Even those we look up to or should look up to, can turn on us and on others. We need to recognize our core beliefs and how others fall into that. We need to learn how not to be bullies and how to stand up to those who are bullying. If we can’t stand up to the bullies themselves, we need to pay careful attention on who their targets are and protect those who have been chosen as victims. When we stand behind one another, reach out a hand, and genuinely get to know those around us, we become stronger, healthier, and unstoppable.
Treat everyone with kindness, even if you don’t know them. You don’t know what has happened in their day thus far, you could be the reason that their day shines brighter just by smiling at them down the street.
It’s amazing what a smile, a simple eye contact, or a hello could do to another person. But, you won’t be walking away empty handed, you’ll be walking away with a pep in your step too.
Practice kindness. Practice happiness. Practice how you want to be seen and treated. The outcome will be phenomenal.
So for now, all you Hannah Baker’s out there, I’m rooting for you. I believe in you. Your existence matters.
Six years ago, I was sat, ready to give up on the world. A couple days ago, I received a email telling me in just a few days time my biggest dream would be coming true. If I gave up six years ago, I wouldn’t be where I am today.
I broke down crying and in that moment, Spotify decided to shuffle to the song I had on repeat during my downfall. In the midst of my sobs, I saw the past six years flash through my mind, everything I accomplished, all the mistakes I made, every person I met, every person that left. All the hardships, but all the good times too. All the ups and downs, especially the moment I decided to get help—the hardest of all.
As I stopped crying, I started to laugh and I had the biggest smile on my face. I love myself for not dying that day and for giving life another chance. I love myself for asking for help. I want and hope everyone can get to the point where they love themselves enough to give themselves another chance.
The world is big and scary and it’s easy to give up. But each and everyone of us has a purpose here, whether big or small, and you deserve happiness. You deserve to find that love in yourself. I believe in you.