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'13 Reasons Why' Is Not Everyone's Story, but It Is Still Valid

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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.

13 Reasons Why” may not be my reality, but it is a reality. When people think of a stereotypical person with depression, they probably think of a moody teenage girl full of angst. This girl probably has bad grades, listens to sad music and doesn’t have many friends. Many critics of the show point out that Hannah, the main character, seems to exemplify many of these characteristics. These critics say this is not a representative sample of those with depression, it is simply the stereotypical version portrayed in the media. Yes, Hannah’s reality of depression is different than mine, but it does not mean it’s not as valid as anyone else’s experience.

I’m essentially the complete opposite of Hannah. In high school, I made all A’s. I had a well-off, peaceful family. I had plenty of strong and deep relationships with friends. I was involved in many leadership roles in various extracurricular activities. I was known for being optimistic and hard working. I knew I was cared for.

What people didn’t know is while I always seemed to be fine on the outside, I honestly felt utterly and wholeheartedly empty on the inside. Now I know, the phrase “wholeheartedly empty” seems like a bit of an oxymoron — as if this adverb and that adjective cannot happily sit next to each other in a sentence with appropriate syntax. If you felt like I feel, which I honestly hope you never do, essentially it is such a strong sense of emptiness you feel with your whole body.

It’s as if there is nothing inside me, and I can feel there’s nothing there, and that’s all I feel — the feeling of nothing. It’s like being blindfolded and expecting a surprise, but when I take off the blindfold, I’m in a pitch black room. I can’t see anything. I don’t know how big the room is. I look around and see nothing for what appears to be miles and miles. I smell, hear and taste a cold nothingness. I try to walk in any direction or turn around, but seem to not travel anywhere at all. I only know I am in some room and I don’t know what’s in it or how to escape. I’m essentially trapped in a space I never expected or intended to be in.

I am passively suicidal. Essentially, it means if I didn’t wake up one day, it would be OK with me. I am not going to do anything to take my life, but would not care if something accidentally did it for me.

The reason I personally keep living is because I don’t want anyone to feel as badly as I do. I find motivation in not causing others to struggle or feel the same sense of self-loathing that keeps me afraid of my own mind. I keep living because my family, friends and teachers show they care about me, and it makes all the difference. The reason I am alive is because of the relationships that make me feel a little more worthy every day. I don’t expect these people to save me, I ask for them to stay by me as I work to save myself.

So while I did not have the same social experience as Hannah, I know she and I do share one thing: the sense of emptiness and the loss of identity or purpose. These themes are more prominent at the end of the season, but she subtly referenced these feelings, or lack thereof, in each episode. That is what made it so hard to watch for me.

For someone who doesn’t have depression, it may seem like the reason Hannah died by suicide is because of what all these people in her life did to her. All of these actions seemed to add up to a long equation with a short answer.

Hannah kept expecting someone to step in and save her, even though those actions directly went against what she was verbally communicating. The average person would listen to what Hannah’s verbal requests are, because we are taught to respect people’s wishes. No single person could have saved Hannah from the terror of her own mind. What Hannah needed was to be supported while she worked on herself, because it is not possible for “Superman” to come and sweep away her mental illness.

The central moral from “13 Reasons Why” is the cliché message to just be kind to everyone. Yes, Hannah was depressed. Yes, it would have helped to have healthier peer relationships. Yes, she needed a friend. Anyone you meet could be considered a “Hannah.” You don’t know what anyone in your life is going through unless they willingly share it with you. When people with depression reach out for help, it’s often a small slip of the tongue they’re hoping you’ll catch on to. You can’t expect people to tap you on the shoulder and say directly they need help, find no purpose in life and do not want to continue living. Of course, some people can do this, but many struggling cannot.

Depression manifests differently in everyone. There is no “one story” of depression. That is why it is so difficult to tell when someone is struggling — my struggle does not look like your struggle. If “13 Reasons Why” can leave us with one thing, I hope it’s that the smallest kind actions can make a big difference to someone with struggling with mental illness. A simple smile from a stranger or holding the door can help someone see a little bit of worth in an otherwise seemingly worthless life. Telling people why you appreciate them can help show them they are not alone. Simple actions can’t necessarily save someone, but they can help — and this is what “13 Reasons Why” exemplifies.

I do not expect anyone to be able to save me. I know this is irrational because one person cannot change the terrifying thoughts in my mind. What I do expect out of my close relationships is to be supported while I work on myself. I want my experiences to be validated. Telling me it is all in my head may be true — I can recognize my depression and anxiety can give me irrational thoughts — but it does not change the fact it continually affects my daily functioning. I don’t know everyone’s story, and they don’t all know mine. Everyone’s going through something, big or small, so why not just be nice to each other so life is a little less shitty? So, let’s stand by each other as we work on ourselves. That is what I ask of you, and expect you would ask of me too.

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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Screenshot via Netflix Youtube channel.

Originally published: April 24, 2017
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