I remember watching the original Star Trek when I was a child and taking note of how often Spock and Kirk would debate logic versus emotions. In retrospect, I think they did a good job of valuing both. Inspired by those debates, the young counselor in me came up with this theory.


What if emotions are like a super fast computer that quickly evaluates a situation based on past experience and generalizations to warn us of danger or problems?


Have you ever felt angry before you even knew why you were angry, only later to process that someone had violated your boundaries or undermined your security? Have you ever felt uneasy or anxious about a situation only later to recognize all the clues and warning signs?

Anger, fear, frustration, worry, etc. come on quickly and the unpleasantness motivates us to change our behavior. They can serve as excellent warning signs and indicators that we need to take a situation seriously.


The problem is, because this survival mechanism needs to process things so quickly, our emotions are based on generalizations, assumptions and past experiences, which are prone to error. For example, when you have all those odd physical reactions to public speaking, it is because your body reacts to the anxiety of being judged, the same way it would react to prepare to run from a lion. It is a protective mechanism that we regard new situations and people with hesitation and care, but to the extreme this becomes racism and seclusion.

And while our logic is certainly still prone to errors, given more time we can usually discern better what is right and true and what was just a false alarm or poor judgment.

Feelings are just another way to get information about the world, but just like sight or hearing, they can be impaired or faulty. I like to think of feelings as warning lights on a car dashboard. They are indications that something might be wrong. They should be respected, not ignored. But there have been times that I had a low tire warning light, checked all my tires with a gauge to find they are fine and later found out that the pressure sensor was broken. It feels a bit odd to drive around with that warning light on afterward, but I know why it is on and that things are ok.

Society appears to be doing a better job lately of recognizing that feelings need to be validated. Too many people have been hurt and told they were wrong to be upset. And too many people have ignored their feelings when they shouldn’t. Furthermore, depression, anxiety and many other mental health issues are invisible illnesses where people appear to be fine from the outside, but have a very real internal experience of pain and distress. Consider that if someone has tinnitus and experiences painful ringing in their ears, but there is no external sound, their pain is still real. It is largely ineffective or counterproductive to tell someone their experiences are not real.

But, it is an opposite and equally problematic extreme to confuse validating a person’s experiences with saying that those experiences are reality. It is a delicate balance for both those experiencing painful emotions and those caring for such people. But it is good to first validate that feelings are real, and painful, and distressing, and confusing. People are not crazy for being angry, or scared, or stuck.

But then no one should stay at this point too long. Feelings are real, but not reality. Just because you feel scared does not mean you should run. Just because you feel hurt does not mean anyone did you wrong. Just because you feel hopeless, worthless or a failure does not mean you are.

When actions are based on feelings all kinds of things go wrong. Half my blogs are basically getting at this point. I plan to write Feelings Part 2 soon as an example of this. And many of my clients, especially people who struggle with bipolar disorder, are basically just trying to learn how to stop letting their emotions be in control of their lives because of the ongoing problems this causes.

On the other hand, many people have tried to be Spock and be purely logical, and that usually fails or has its own problems, because our emotions are valuable and a crucial part of our existence. Often the best parts of our existence come from emotions. When we are in touch with reality, including the painful parts, life becomes so much more vibrant and rewarding. I think the balance is to learn how to use feelings as clues to navigate our lives, but not let them be in charge of steering the ship.

And as many people say, the longest distance in the world is between the head and the heart. It is a very difficult challenge to act based on your will, rather than you feelings, but it is a challenge worth accepting. At the end of the day, it is not what you feel, but what you do that matters.

On the bright side, most people find that once they realize they do not have to act based on feelings, they start to do things differently, challenge their reality and have new experiences. And, as I said at the beginning, since feelings are largely based on experiences, new experiences are often the best way to eventually change our feelings.

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.

Not today.

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.