How '13 Reasons Why' Taught Me About the Power of Being There
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.
When I was 17, I tried to kill myself. When I woke up the next day, I was not just alive, but also largely unscathed. I didn’t tell anybody. I got on with life and went to school. I’ve never been particularly motivated or ambitious about anything but books, and it seemed like a lot of work to make any more efforts toward dying. I wrote a lot in my journal that evening.
It took three weeks after that for anyone to express concerns about my behavior. It could have been anyone who reported it, for all I know. Most likely, it was my English teacher. Her classroom was something of a sanctuary for me. And even though I had settled on living, at least for the time being, I was very not OK. The way I imagine it, my teacher told the school counselor, the counselor called my mom and my mom ransacked my room, finding my journal in the process. And while my mom read that three-week-old journal entry that could have been my last, I was in the counselor’s office being asked if I was OK. I don’t recall what I said. Probably not much. My silence felt loud, even to me. She was a good counselor, but my words were frozen.
Everything happened very quickly after that. The school mandated that I go to the hospital or get outpatient counseling with a psychiatrist before I could come back to classes. My mom got me into outpatient counseling in a few days, hid everything in the house that could be considered deadly and never let me be alone anywhere for quite some time. To be honest, my memory of that time is blurry. I don’t know how long it lasted, and it’s something I’ve never discussed with my parents. I don’t want to remember.
It’s been over a decade since that day. I stayed silent for several years because I was still ashamed. On the ten-year anniversary, I got a semi-colon tattoo. I decided I was done hiding. I needed that experience to be useful, to mean something beyond that fact I “gave up” for a while. And to be honest, I needed a visible reminder of the value of life. My tattoo is an antidote to the occasional suicidal thoughts I have. Suicidal thoughts don’t just go away. I believe Amy Bleuel’s death really brings home this point. Makes it that much more powerful and poignant.
There are some things I still avoid, though. I can’t listen to some music without those old monsters coming out to play. And I avoid, at all costs, TV shows and movies where suicide is thematic. I find it too triggering. So when I saw a new show on Netflix called “13 Reasons Why,” I scrolled right on past it. The avoidance tactic worked until my friends started talking about it. People wrote on The Mighty and Facebook about how important this show was. Everywhere I turned, it kept popping up. Good or bad, this show would not leave me alone.
So I caved. Two days ago, I finally bit the bullet. I just finished it an hour ago.
At first, it made me want to crawl into a hole and die. It made my skin crawl with memories. There were scenes I watched on mute, reading the subtitles. Other scenes I watched multiple times. There are parts of Hannah’s story that I have never experienced, and in many ways, I related to Clay more than Hannah. I kept myself to myself. I never wanted to go to parties — if anything, I avoided them like the plague. I was never privy to or victim of abuse or rape. And because I kept myself so isolated, I managed to fly under the radar and avoid being bullied almost entirely. It helps that I was in high school before everyone and their mothers had any online presence. I was so invisible that when I got a friendly valentine from the school librarian one year, none of my classmates noticed or cared enough to make fun of me for it.
Hannah Baker showed me how badly things could have gone, and how very lucky I was to be as introverted as I am.
Of course, my self-imposed isolation accomplished the same thing as Hannah’s social ostracism: we both ended up painfully alone. The solitude was toxic. In the same way I couldn’t reach out, so too was Hannah silenced. Differences in circumstance aside, the biggest factor in my survival was that one anonymous person took the time to notice I was in trouble. Had that not been the case, I would have tried again eventually. One person made all the difference in my life.
We cannot always catch the signs of struggle in others. All we can do is step outside ourselves long enough to notice when something isn’t quite right — and not shy away from the hard conversations. I believe Clay was right: He left when he most needed to stay for Hannah. May we all remember that sometimes just being there is the most powerful thing we can do for each other.
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 page.