Hannah Baker From '13 Reasons Why' Could Have Been Me
Editor’s note: If you struggle with suicidal ideation or self-harm, or have experienced sexual abuse or assault, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741. For a list of ways to cope with self-harm urges, click here. You can contact the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 1-800-656-4673.
The binge-worthy Netflix teenage drama, “13 Reasons Why” is sweeping social media feeds everywhere. Each time I see the title, “13 Reasons Why,” all I can think is that it could have been my story. Before you read any further, this article has spoilers. If you want to watch the show without me ruining the surprise, stop reading.
“13 Reasons Why” tells the story of Hannah, a teenage girl who dies by suicide and leaves behind 13 tapes, each one describing a different person who contributed to the events leading to her suicide and why.
It was existentialist philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre who said, “Hell is other people,” which highlights the difficulty of the human condition, highlighting how each person can be the torturer of another, by subjecting them to judgment and alienation. This, in essence, is what “13 Reasons Why” is about — and what my story is about, too.
Like many major life events, I still remember my first day of middle school.
The summer between fifth and sixth grade, in the midst of AOL instant messaging (our main internet activity at the time) and chasing each other around the pool, the girls blossomed into young women and the boys started to slowly become men. More importantly though, where I lived, two elementary schools merged into one middle school. I was filled with exhilaration upon meeting all the new girls (potential best friends?) and new boys (potential love interests?).
The end of the first day of sixth grade, I opened a crumbled piece of paper by a new boy — — the most popular jock from the “other school.” In scribbled handwriting, was a short, simple message. “You have a nice ass,” and his AOL instant messenger name.
Outwardly, Hannah didn’t appear to have the “warning signs” we may be accustomed to seeing in someone who struggles with depression. For Hannah, each event or mistreatment was like a spark igniting a fire, slow at first, and then before she knew it, she was engulfed.
In the second episode, it’s revealed Hannah earned a spot on Alex’s “Hot List,” under “Best Ass.”
As time went on, I struggled to find my place in the social hierarchy of middle school. I’ve always “walked to the beat of my own drum,” but in middle school, I might as well been playing a different instrument entirely. I managed to find a tiny group of friends — we liked the same kind of punk or metal, liked wearing black, sarcasm and hating everyone else. I felt like I fit somewhere for a minute.
In between college-ruled binder papers of pre-algebra and creative writing, I struggled with my sexuality — as many teens do. I wanted to explore the feelings and urges, but like Hannah did, I often found myself the target of objectification by boys and “slut-shaming” by girls.
One afternoon after school, on a warm, early spring afternoon, I remember a group of boys gathered their lunch money and asked me if I would show them my boobs. I said I wouldn’t take their money, but showed them my boobs anyway. The rush of attention and male gaze felt exhilarating , but then I went home, cried, found a razor blade I hid in my sock drawer and self-harmed. I had no idea how to express what I was feeling . I didn’t have the words or the self-awareness to realize I was being objectified and didn’t like it.
The next day at school, a small group of “popular girls” whispered about me. Girls were worried I’d steal their boyfriends, girls called me a “whore.” The rumors were true, but I had no idea how to cope with the backlash I received from girls I thought were my friends. How are young girls supposed to handle their blooming hormones and sexuality with cyberbulling and sexting?
I was proud of my body, but it felt like a curse.
And then seventh grade happened. One night in October, I went over to my friends house to work on a project. Two boys also came to work on the project with us — one was the aforementioned jock, who had spent the last few weeks aggressively flirting with me over instant messaging, but wouldn’t look in my direction at school. They brought a joint with them. I had never smoked pot before. I took one hit.
What happened next is a blur. It’s common for sexual assault survivors to dissociate, much like Hannah Baker did in episode 12. I was not raped, but I can’t tell you the details, even to this day. I remember the door locking and the blue glow of early autumn dusk. I remember my friend pounding on the door — begging them to open it. I remember not being able to talk or move. I was frozen.
The coming weeks were a struggle of sanity. I couldn’t focus, my body and my mind felt detached and then I started having panic attacks. Then one day in P.E., another girl asked me if that boy had ever done anything to me I didn’t agree to.
The two boys had done similar things to a few girls, who had come forward and accused them. This was the first time I realized people don’t usually believe girls — it seems like it’s always our fault. I didn’t want to believe it happened to other girls either, but I knew it did, because it happened to me.
In Hannah’s story, everyone wants to protect the popular football player rapist. Her guidance counselor blames her for being raped because she never said “no.”
One afternoon, I sat in the principal’s office with the sheriff of my small East Bay town. He accused me of smoking pot, saying I couldn’t have possibly been assaulted because I was under the influence. Because I couldn’t provide specific details to the sheriff that day, they told me I had no way to prove anything.
I thought the worst was over, until everyone found out details of the accusations against two of the most popular boys in our grade and started accusing me of being a liar. I was helpless, an isolated target dressed in all black.
How does a mentally fragile teenage girl with an affinity for self-harm handle a large portion of her peers calling her a “slut” and a “liar”? By self-destructing and cutting, obviously. I distanced myself from every friend I had, and asked my mom to excuse me from most of my classes. I sat in the school psychologist’s office most afternoons. I was having panic attacks almost every day. Weeks later, I was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Hannah dealt with slut-shaming, bullying and assault. I dealt with it by escaping. I transferred schools in ninth grade. By not confronting the rumors and stigmas, I may have tarnished my reputation, but I saved my life.
Watching “13 Reasons Why” showed me I could have been Hannah Baker too. I could have ended my life. I know I thought about it a lot.
Suicidal depression is rarely caused just by people treating another person badly. It’s usually in conjunction with biological factors.
Today, I still struggle with the after effects of sexual assault, bullying and slut-shaming, even 15 years later . But I am so happy I chose to survive , that I chose life instead. For a while, it was hard to imagine I could ever get beyond the demons in my head, and sometimes it still is. These kinds of traumas can cause things like PTSD and even change our brains.
“13 Reasons Why” is also meant to show how horrible teenagers can be to one another, but what this showed me is we still treat each other like this as adults. In the media — even from our own president — we see slut-shaming, violence against women and victim blaming. We reward “boys behaving badly,” especially when they are rich and white.
The rape culture we live in is real. Our own president muttered the words “Grab ’em by the pussy,” with no repercussions. Many teenage boys receive their sexual education from porn. I’m inclined to believe part of the reason we have such a hard time believing victims and punishing assault is that we, as a culture, don’t understand what sexual assault really is. If we as a society are only taught about relationships and sex from porn — which rarely ever portrays any form of consent — everyone loses. Young people who watch porn can be taught sex is theirs for the taking.
In “13 Reasons Why,” Bryce — the popular white male jock — proclaims, “Oh please, if that’s rape, then like you know all the girls on campus are asking me to rape them.” In the series he rapes an unconscious Jessica and later, Hannah. He doesn’t even understand what he’s doing is wrong.
“13 Reasons Why” is meant to be a lesson in compassion and communication to people we may not realize are struggling — which is actually all of us , but some, more than others. I want to believe “13 Reasons Why” ends up being a definitive piece of sexual assault, suicide and bullying prevention.
Sometimes, “I believe you,” are three of the most important words anyone can hear.
If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.
If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741.
If you or a loved one is affected by sexual abuse or assault and need help, call the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 1-800-656-4673 to be connected with a trained staff member from a sexual assault service provider in your area.
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Screenshot via “13 Reasons Why” Facebook page trailer.