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How '13 Reasons Why' Helped Me Challenge My Past Shame

Editor’s note: If you experience suicidal thoughts or have lost someone to suicide, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741.

I desperately tried to avoid the Netflix series “13 Reasons Why.” I told those who asked what I thought of the series that I hadn’t watched it yet because I felt it might be too triggering for me. I was lying to both them and myself. I recently made several posts on social media explaining my reasoning for disliking a series I hadn’t watched yet and I reposted articles I felt voiced some of my concerns with “13 Reasons Why.”

One of my Instagram followers messaged me regarding one of these posts. Through explaining to me why the series helped voice how she felt about people from her past and her past suicide attempt, she began opening my eyes to what I was doing and why I was feeling so defensive about this topic. Following this realization, I watched the whole series. And it was incredibly eye-opening.The truth is when I was seventeen (the age Hannah Baker killed herself), I felt very similarly to her. In high school, I felt ostracized, violated, sad and angry. I felt so alone. I often internalized my emotions, but there were notable times I lashed out by saying hurtful things. And there were moments I thought, “If only I could show them how much this hurts.” And that scares me. It scares me because I felt that way before and I never want to feel that way again.I remember being so wrapped up in my own hurt that it was so difficult to look beyond myself. I was so selfish and mean at times. Even though it has been five years since then and I have healed a lot from those experiences, it is still so shameful for me to look back and remember how out of control I felt. I want to confront this fear I am feeling through this writing because the topic relates to the series “13 Reasons Why.” So here goes.

I have empathy for Hannah Baker. But I don’t always have empathy for myself in regard to this topic. So, I am going to challenge my shame and say, “17-year-old Lexie, you are not a bad person for feeling angry and wanting justice for the bad things said and done to you. You are a teenager. Your brain isn’t even finished developing yet. You are not a bad person. You are struggling and hurting badly. It is OK to acknowledge others have hurt you, but please try to remember that while things going on around you at home and school are wrong, two wrongs don’t make a right. Keep trying to focus on bettering yourself. One day you will be free from this environment.”

Lastly, I would like to say while I am aware “13 Reasons Why” can be misleading or confusing or triggering in some respects, it is one story and is not claiming to perfectly convey everyone’s struggles. And while I disagreed with the “revenge” aspect Hannah acted on, I see power in this story. I am so glad this story in particular can resonate with others. While other aspects – such as showing her very graphic suicide – may be detrimental to others, I appreciate the trigger warning at the start of the episode. And I truly appreciate how this story was portrayed. It was very realistic and I think there is some good in that. If the story was watered down, would viewers who have no experience with suicidal thoughts be moved by it? I personally don’t think so.

Though this series was absolutely heart-wrenching for me to watch, I am glad I challenged myself to look beyond my preconceived notions of what the show would look like and look beyond my own experiences. And though the topic may be difficult to discuss, “13 Reasons Why” is undeniably powerful. We need to start discussing heavier topics like suicide. There are countless people hurting right now and even with the backlash, I feel relieved to know the message and story are helping people.

I would also like to say although her feelings were valid, Hannah Baker did have the option to reach out for help. Maybe reaching out and telling someone wouldn’t have made a difference for her, but I would like to emphasize though this character’s trauma and hurt led her to plan to hurt herself, there is still hope. “13 Reasons Why” is a work of fiction. So, if you are struggling, there is hope for you. This series outlines “A+B = C,” but nothing is set in stone for your life or anyone else’s. The beauty of life is that we never know what lies ahead of us.

If you are hurting, please reach out for help. Life may be tough right now, but you sometimes you have to give it time to get better. Your life is precious and you deserve to take up space. Time can heal your pain. So, hang on for your future. Hang on for your goals and dreams. Hang on for those who love and care about you. Hang on for tomorrow’s sunrise. Just hang on. Even if you feel so distant or beyond help, I promise you are worth saving.

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.

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Photo via “13 Reasons Why” Facebook.

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