This is my spoiler filled blog about the Netflix show 13 Reasons Why. If you want my review without spoilers to decide if you should watch, then click here.
Ok, at this point I am assuming you have seen the show. This blog post is part of my process to unload the burden it left on me. Perhaps you have a similar feeling.
First off, let me say something about this post. I have decided that I may edit it for grammar or spelling, but I will not go back through and edit it for content. This is a flow of thought exercise in being vulnerable and real. So forgive me if it is a bit of a mess.
We’re all a bit of a mess. That is part of the point of the show. And how do we go on with that knowledge? As the show points out, one of the things that keeps us separated is that we are always curating our identity. Anytime I write a blog already scares me because I am putting myself out there to be critiqued by everyone, but at least I usually have some security that I can reread, revise and edit to make me look more intelligent or avoid saying stupid things.
Oh, by the way. I killed Hannah Baker.
Ok, so that was a bit corny. I gave in to the urge to try to come up with a clever, click bait title. I’ll try to keep that to a minimum. No clever organization of this post into 13 Reasons Why we should be better to each other.
But seriously, I’m a counselor and I totally identified with #13 Mr. Porter. When he was talking to Hannah in episode 13 I just so desperately wanted him to shut up. I knew if he would just listen and be present she might be able to connect and heal.
And yet, what I am doing here is trying to model honesty and vulnerability, and to do that, I have to admit that when I listened to Mr. Porter talk, even though I knew he was missing the mark, I had the gut wrenching concern that I could make that same mistake so easily. Perhaps I have. I have been counseling for over a decade and have seen many suicidal teens, but to my knowledge none have committed suicide. To my knowledge. And that could just be luck. Ugh.
I had a professor in my Master’s Program that told me about the Imposter Syndrome. The idea that even professionals, doctors, professors, most adults secretly feel that they don’t deserve to be where they are. That if anyone really knew how out of our element we are, we would get fired, run out of town or worse. And the idea is that this inadequacy and secret shame is extremely common, if not universal.
When I watch Mr. Porter in episode 13, I figure everyone else sees him and thinks how terribly unfit and poorly trained he is, but I see him and think that could be me. I mean, the questions seemed reasonable. He had good intent. He wanted to help, but was focused on the problem and not the person. I’m sure I have done that before. It’s a pretty common fear.
There are so many, many things I could talk about at length regarding this great show, but in order not to bore you, I just wanted to try to stay focused on the communication barriers in the show. How many times did you just want to scream that they should just say something. Just say how you are feeling! Just say what you are dealing with! Ask for help!
But this wasn’t some annoying sitcom device to perpetuate tension. This was an in depth analysis of the things that keep us quiet. Netflix included a 30 minute follow up that I highly recommend. In it, they remind us that the teens aren’t just being difficult; they seriously lack the skills to express themselves. I don’t mean to offend any teens here with this statement, but it is simply a fact to accept. There is no shame in accepting that you are where you are in the process of learning those skills.
Listen to adults talk about High School. They usually explain how they “survived” it. But when we think back on it, we think about it with the benefit of all the skills we gained and so easily forget that you are just now learning them. We also often forget that things really are so much different now.
Ok, jumping around, but upholding my promise not to edit, how do we help teach those expression skills? Well, that is what I am doing now. I’m modelling by being vulnerable and present now. I’m muddling through. I intentionally avoided reading any other reviews or commentaries on this show. I did not go do research on all the signs of depression, grounding techniques or the expert opinions on suicide. All those things could make me look more like I know what I am doing. But they also come across as clinical and detached. Don’t they?
That’s not to say they aren’t important. That’s not to say that other people do not have better things to say than me. But I’m here. I’m being me. I’m muddling through. That’s all we can do.
That is all we can do.
And it is enough.
Perhaps you don’t even know why I’m acting like this is a thing. But I’m honestly choking up now. And that’s embarrassing. Being real is so foreign that we don’t even realize how rarely we do it.
What if I decide that what I think I have to say is worth saying? Isn’t that arrogant?
What if I encourage people to be honest and real and they can’t handle it? What if my words lead to someone else’s pain? Then aren’t I responsible?
I’m trying to build a business and if I make a fool of myself in this blog, will I still be able to provide for my family? Why take that risk?
I took note really early on in the show, that while we so quickly may think the teens should have communicated more, look at the adults. Lawsuits, businesses, jobs at stake and rules quickly exerted just the same amount of barriers to communication for the adults as it did the teens who worry about reputation, consequences and future.
I liked what one of the producers in the show said during the follow up. It was something along the lines of, “It takes an immense amount of self-determination and strength to stand up and act in that 15 seconds where it really counts.” (That’s not a direct quote. I don’t feel like stopping to research it. Let’s muddle forth!)
And that’s one of the key things to take away from this show. It is so easy to judge where other people fail, but all it takes is a moment of fear to keep us from acting before it is too late. And aren’t we all guilty of that? Haven’t we all killed Hannah Baker?
Ok, sorry, corny again. But it is an excellent phrase to capture the fact that we are all guilty, all capable and all responsible for a life full of moments where we failed to connect, communicate and help people.
And the alternative is to do something. To muddle on. To get messy, make mistakes and do better. You have probably heard it said that you don’t have to have it all figured out, but did you assume the person saying that DID have it figured out? I bet you did. But the reality is, anyone who says that is equally trying to help you have the courage to keep going just as much as they are reminding themselves.
There I go getting choked up again. Oh well.
So, if you want to be the hero of the story, you have to realize that you have to do something in that 15 second window. You won’t have a warning. It will be scary and uncomfortable.
Just. Do. Something.
And, you won’t. Sorry. You won’t. You’re going to fail. Oh well. Or maybe you did something, but it was wrong. Oh. Freaking. Well.
And keep trying. Dangit! Tears again.
Yeah, you may have noticed I don’t cuss. I have my own reasons. Let’s not judge each other.
And you take a deep breath and keep going. It is ok.
Just like when Tony and Clay climbed the hill. Tony explained, “You wouldn’t have died. You might have broken a lot of bones, but you wouldn’t have died.” (Again, imperfect quote). Now, I dunno. He might have died if he had fallen wrong.
Anyway, that’s what you have to do. Take risks. Muddle through.
I got interrupted writing at this point and did not get back to finishing for a week. And all week I wondered if I should post this. The fact that I admitted getting choked up when trying to be motivational is so embarrassing.
I remember a Sunday School teacher who was telling us how much he cared about us and getting teary eyed. We were all uncomfortable and thought something was wrong with him. I think that memory simultaneously scares me about showing emotion and modeled for me that it can be done. So, now 25 years later, I’m doing the same thing.
Here’s what you have to remember when you take emotional risks, or any risks in life.
If you do anything that matters, then someone will be upset. The only way to never upset anyone is to never do anything worthwhile.
So even if you are afraid, take a chance to express yourself with trusted friends and family.
Some may criticize 13 Reasons Why, because it may prompt some to suicide. You will hear about this when it happens. But, you will probably not hear about the countless lives saved and people who treated each other better because of it.
The alternative is to be afraid to talk about suicide. To be afraid of speaking up. To be afraid of connecting with people. If you play it safe and fly under the radar, you may never feel the pain of mistakes, but you’ll be guaranteeing that you will miss out on unknown opportunities for helping, connecting, growing and saving lives.
Fear and inaction killed Hannah Baker as much as any other reason.
So, I’m going to take a chance and post this.