My three issues with Thirteen Reasons Why

Making a series about a girl who killed herself was always going to be a risky one, but up until episode 13 it was actually going really well. It didn’t seem to be glamourising, but it still successfully showed the complicated, sometimes seemingly irrational to those unaffected, emotions and situations that affect those with mental health issues. I was obsessed with the show and was on the verge of forcing everyone to watch it.

Now I would actively discourage people from watching it.

In an essay I just wrote I had to examine the irresponsible ways journalists report mental health: things that harm, sensationalise, or stigmatise against the subjects of their stories. So when watching the thirteenth episode of this series all the ways you can irresponsibly report mental health were on my mind. While there was no stigmatising language that I was aware of, and while I personally don’t think it sensationalised the story, it still did a lot that I think is potentially harmful.

I’m upset because this kind of thing can affect real people, with real lives and real struggles, and something that was so clearly trying to help still seems to me to have got it so wrong. So here’s what I think they did that I’m not okay with (I would say spoiler alert, but I’d actually rather have been warned about this before I watched it so I’m not saying that):

Issue Number One:

My first, and probably main, issue is that they show in very graphic detail how Hannah kills herself. I’ve heard that they did this in order to put people off copycat behaviour, which is why it was so horrific to watch. Despite this, I was still completely shocked at this irresponsible portrayal. In researching for my essay, one thing I saw repeatedly was that we shouldn’t give tips on how to copy the behaviour, and that is exactly what they did.

The main reason that I have issues with this is that everyone who watched it now knows how to copy it. Even people who might be feeling fine now might be struggling in years to come and will now be able to remember exactly how to do what Hannah did. I realise that it’s really not too hard to find out how to do this, but why make this even easier for people who might not know where to start looking, or that might be too scared to look?

I understand that this isn’t what they were trying to do. But I still think it’s completely unacceptable. You should never show these things on TV. If someone can be harmed by art then art should 100% be compromised.

Issue Number Two: 

My second issue is in the fact that there is no narrative explaining how someone can help themselves. When Hannah seeks out help she is ignored. And the moral is that we, the assumed watcher, should look out for those who might be struggling. But we, the assumed watcher, might also be struggling, and so what do we do? Just sit and wait for a knight in shining armour who may or may not be called Clay to come and help us?

Shows like this need to show how people can seek help. Yes, it is terrifying, but a positive portrayal of someone seeking and getting help could be what encourages someone to do so themselves. The only portrayal being a negative portrayal, however, could discourage someone from seeking help.

So I’m not saying that Hannah’s negative experience shouldn’t have been told. I’m saying that the alternative, where someone else does ask and receive help, should have been portrayed alongside this.

Issue Number Three: 

I’ve seen a lot of people joking about the fact that a lot of her reasons seem completely irrational and this bothers me. I think that the reason she killed herself wasn’t actually on the tapes, because the reason she killed herself was that she was battling mental illness.

Mental illness makes possibly irrational things seem rational and so on the outset some of the reasons she has for killing herself should not seem appropriate to those not in the same state of mind. However, what I didn’t like was the way the show portrayed them as the only reasons for her actions. Emily Madriga says:

‘When Hannah’s mental pain became unbearable, it was due to her surviving a series of traumatic emotional events, yes, but more importantly it was due to her mental health — a battle that inappropriately takes place mostly off-screen.’

The issue here is not that Hannah leaves the tapes, it’s that we don’t see what’s going on behind the tapes. By portraying her story at face value, we are left with the idea that we are all ultimately responsible for each other’s mental health.

Yes, we do need to talk to each other about these things, and we do need to support each other, but sometimes that won’t be enough. And that does not mean that other’s actions are our fault. We can’t read each other’s minds.

Yes, we all need to look out for each other and be considerate of how our actions might affect others, that is so important, but we also need to be aware that most of us are not trained psychologists and so sometimes all we can do is support and lead friends, or ourselves, to people that actually have the knowledge, training and resources to help.

If Clay had told Hannah he loved her would that actually have saved her? If he had helped her identify what was really going on and led her to someone who could help then maybe he could have. But by not explaining what was going on behind the outright reasons the characters, as well as us, were left to believe that there was nothing else going on, when this was most likely not the case.

So to sum up there really was a lot that 13 Reasons Why did well. But there was also a lot that it did not do well, and I think these are things we should be aware of when consuming fiction dealing with such a complicated and delicate subject. BUT hopefully 13 Reasons Why’s popularity has paved the way for more responsible portrayals of mental health in fiction!

 

Opinions and me

I’m sitting and I’m staring at something I wrote. Nobody else in the world has ever read it, nobody but me. My phone is on the opposite side of the room. My opinion of this is completely unmarred by anything else.

img_2211I’m proud of it. It’s completely me, unaffected by the fact someone else may think that sentence is ‘redundant’ or that word doesn’t fit. It’s completely, fully me.

I see opinions everywhere. To do with me, with books, media, science, religion, people I know, people I don’t know. Opinions are encouraged. But they can be damaging.

I care about opinions. I care too much. I let them affect most of what I do, in ways that it shouldn’t. In simple things like wearing a dress because I know other people think it looks nice on me, and in not so simple things like going for a run to deal with how the world tells me I should look.

My finger moves, and I click send. The poem I’ve written is sent off to an editor. In the world I sometimes inhabit, the writing world, you set yourself up to be judged every time you click that send button.

If I were to lie and pretend I was what I wanted to be, I would say that nobody’s opinion but God’s opinion mattered to me. I wish that was true. Every day I strive for that to be true. But it’s not.

What the editors of a literary journal think of my writing matters to me. What the person interviewing me thinks of me matters to me. What my friends think of me matters to me. And what the people who really, truly, know me think of me matters to me.

img_1478I know the truth. Lots of people know me. A few people know me incredibly well, better than I know myself probably. But there is only one who knows me really. God knows me in the fullest way possible. He knows my jumbled, unedited thoughts, he knows my immediate feelings, he knows my motivations and how they turn into actions. He knows my private persona and how that becomes my public persona. He knows who I am and how that differs from who I try to be. And he still loves me.

Why do I still allow myself to be defined by opinions of people who know me at the basest of levels, when God knows me at the highest possible level and continues to love me?

“To be loved but not known is comforting but superficial. To be known and not loved is our greatest fear. But to be fully known and truly loved is, well, a lot like being loved by God. It is what we need more than anything. It liberates us from pretense, humbles us out of our self-righteousness, and fortifies us for any difficulty life can throw at us.” – Tim Keller

Other opinions aren’t always bad – they’re important. If I was stuck in my own head all the time then I would be prejudiced, closed to change, closed to progress, closed to joy outwith myself. I don’t want to be that person. But that doesn’t mean that it’s okay for me to be at the other end of the scale and to base everything I am and do on what other people think.

Saying things theoretically always creates a good distance between believing them. I know what I’ve said is true, and I do believe it. But it doesn’t stop my habitual repetitive care about what other people think. But I’ll get there eventually, and that gives me hope. Because God knows me, really, truly knows me, and loves me in the fullest way possible. So I want to put less scope on what other people, my grades, and even my own mind say about me, and more on what God says.

“See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him.” – 1 John 3:1

What I’ve Learnt In 2016

 

  1. You maybe should have trusted your lecturer when he gave you the exam questions rather than spending over a month in the library
  2. You want to be a teacher? 
  3. (Everyone else saw that coming? Someone could have clued me in, though, I mean seriously?)
  4. Balance is important
  5. You are not defined by your grades
  6. Calligraphy is surprisingly fun (lol nerd) 
  7. Doing UCAS is not any more fun than it was in sixth year
  8. Some people actually think the stuff you write is worth reading
  9. You can’t (don’t? won’t?) drink caffeinated tea anymore. Not ideal, really, is it?
  10. Being patient is important 
  11. An ankle sprain really really hurts
  12. (Your friends are very very patient)
  13. You don’t need to have some sort of five year plan
  14. Getting a good sleep every night is important 
  15. (You very rarely get a good sleep)
  16. Your writing blog can reach 7900 followers without you having to dedicate all of your time to it
  17. You’re so over dramatic that it actually hurts sometimes (Seriously, chill out)
  18. You say a lot of stupid words – ‘bub’, ‘gal’, ‘y’all’, ‘chill’, ‘bud’ are all included in this list 
  19. You’re still too emotional about situations that require calm, level thinking
  20. You can trust your friends
  21. You’re a lot more extroverted than you thought. Sometimes
  22. Running isn’t all that bad
  23. (That’s a lie. It’s just a lot more bearable than you thought. But it does get easier)
  24. Orange hot chocolate though
  25. Trust God and things tend to be okay
  26. And even if they’re not okay – they will be one day because hope
  27. Time to yourself is important
  28. You are capable of a lot more than you thought
  29. Including getting a bird called Stuart out the house (even though he was probably inside for over 24 hours and you miss him now)
  30. Pray and things seem better
  31. Talk about the things you’re worrying about rather than ignoring them
  32. Sometimes you just gotta leave the library to spend time with friends – that’s okay
  33. Half the things you learnt in 2015 you learnt again in 2016 because sometimes these things don’t quite stick. It’s okay. You’ll get there eventually

The Man with the Sax

The first thing I noticed was the saxophone in his hands. He entered the train with a blast of stifling warmth and I almost sighed aloud at the thought of another entertainer coming to interrupt our subway trip and beg for our money. That was before my eyes travelled to the cast on his arm. It was stained with a light patchy brown which was a far cry from the pink or blue most of us got when we broke a bone as a child. Then he started shouting.

‘Attention everyone!’ his voice was hoarse, an accent I didn’t recognise mixed with a New York twinge. He was from here now, but hadn’t always been.

When I realised he was addressing the train, my eyes travelled downwards, avoiding his eyes which were searching those seated in front of him. I noticed the dirty trousers he was wearing, the holes in the material of his shirt, the once sturdy, now scuffed boots on his feet. For the heat that was permeating the city, the clothes he was wearing looked ridiculous in a melee of shorts and summer dresses. They may have been made bearable by the train’s air conditioning…even more so if they were the only clothes he had.

Not really listening, as you don’t really listen to anyone who does this on a subway train, my brain seemed to click into motion as I wondered if this was his life. Spend three dollars to get into the subway network, then jump from train to train with an old sax and a battered money cup wearing old clothes and a beaten cast? Go home – did he have a home? Go somewhere, eat maybe, try to sleep, and then repeat. He looked middle aged and it hit me that this was probably all he had. I tried not to over-dramatise his life in my head, reminding myself I didn’t actually know any of this, but it was hard when it seemed so credible that this could be his life.

We’d seen subway buskers multiple times before, but not like this. The young male pole dancer, the mariachi band, but they all seemed younger somehow, more cheeky, less desperate. They were people you wanted to give a dollar to rather than needed to give a dollar to.

He seemed almost drunk as he lifted the sax to his mouth, stumbling with the movement of the carriage. And then he seemed to come together, pulled by the invisible string of his music. The sound was beautiful – melodic and sweet, but no one in the carriage relaxed. The music had a harmony of awkwardness that was impossible to ignore.

I couldn’t look at his swaying form any longer. Instead, I looked around me, at my fellow passengers.

They were all looking down.

The woman diagonally across was staring down at her phone, a harsh apathy plastered across her face. To the outsider she didn’t even register that there was other people on the train, no less the man with the sax in front of her. She was either unaware or numb to this.

Next to her was a slightly less evolved New Yorker, his face conflicted, portraying a slight hint of sympathy – but still looking down, unwilling to look at the performing man.

The passenger to his left had closed his eyes, pretending to sleep or else actually asleep. Either way he was uncomfortable with the man’s presence so chose to ignore it, or so used to it that he didn’t even bother to stay awake to watch the commonplace scene of desperation.

I wondered how you could reach this point where your sympathy disappeared. This man was desperate to the point of begging and none of us were even willing to treat him with so much dignity to even look him in the eye. I thought about the dollar bills in my purse. I didn’t need them. He did.

He finished with a shrill, unexpected shriek of his sax, and with that noise the music was gone and the shaken figure returned.

‘God bless you, God bless you,’ he said in his hoarse voice as he walked up and down the carriage with his crushed cup. Nobody looked at him, their eyes fixed on their phones, their laps, their feet.

I almost judged them for having been so desensitised as to ignore such a basic human need.

But I couldn’t judge them. Because I was looking down too.

Stars

I look to the sky and see nothing.

Except that’s not quite true. A moth flies across my field of vision, glinting a white light as its wings catch the startling floodlights of the city. The buildings around me soar up to scrape the darkness, the square windows glowing and sparkling in an almost convincing rendition of the stars. A dozen planes fly above me, the meteors of the city…but none of it comes close to the real darkness I saw just a week earlier.

The word darkness has connotations of loss, even death, of a sadness so deep that there seems no hoIMG_4772pe. But in a situation like the one I was in, in the countryside where it gets so dark that you can see nothing before you,when no lights or buildings are put there out of fear of the dark, we look up and discover what’s hiding in the night. And it’s something that’s worth the fear of the dark to find.

It’s dizzying looking up. Appreciating the night sky is almost cliche, but in reality, in the moment, when all there is is you and the sky, there’s nothing cliche about it. The demands and judgements of society, for just a moment, are hidden by a beauty so vast that it makes us forget that we’re supposed to be bored of the wonders of the stars.IMG_4771

As I stand there, surrounded by friends and happy thoughts I see not just one, or two, or three, but a total of ten shooting stars flash above me.

It’s a shared experience, it’s a single moment, it’s a small feeling of contentedness. It’s something which so many people have put into words that to do so again seems silly.  The stars mean a lot to a IMG_4862lot of people – they’re a reminder of a creator, of something bigger than themselves that’s in control. For others they’re something to be studied, to learn about. And for me – they’re a few things. They’re, typically for a Christian girl, a reminder of God and his power. Along with this, they’re also friendship. In that shared experience of looking up above with friends I feel like I bond so much more with those around me – watching the sky and seeing something naturally incredible together has brought me closer to so many people at so many special moments.

But now, in the city, as I gaze up at a starless sky, I feel oddly alone. I’m not, I’m surrounded by friends and by strangers. But there’s something in the lack of a reminder above me of a bigger plan, of something more than myself which hurts my perspective. We’re constantly building bigger and bigger, trying to make our own shooting stars – when really all we need to do is look up at the world that has been made for us, andIMG_5299 in that we can meet each other and God. But when you take that away, when you reach a point where you can’t actually see the stars – it leaves me unsure of where that leaves us, when all there is is us: alone, singular, and the centre of each of our own little worlds.

 

Open Windows

‘Ugh.’ I barely notice the complaint leaving my mouth, possibly because complaining is becoming like breathing at the moment. A wasp is buzzing on the wrong side of the window, and I barely have it in me to care anymore. I shift in my seat, wincing at the harsh lines of the chair tattooing itself onto my skin. A thin layer of sweat seems to cover me completely, and I pause in my gloom to consider the fact that I’m possibly the most disgusting human being in the world at this current moment. I look out the window to return the harsh glare the sun is sending my way, and mutter to myself again, attempting to conjure up the strength to deal with the wasp before it comes any closer to my done-with-summer self.

The wasp itself seems tired, the journey through the open window an exhausting adventure it regrets now as it bashes itself against the glass. I should deal with it before it stings me, I think, but considering this is the third time it’s happened today, it’s hard to find the motivation. Maybe I should just close the window?

I turn back to my book, remembering the darkness of winter. I remember candles, woolly jumpers…happier times, one could say.

IMG_3261The ever present mocking voice in my head chooses now to remind me that, actually, winter wasn’t all that great either – in fact, for most of it I was desperate for Summer to reappear.

Typically, now that it’s here, I’d rather it was anywhere else. I try and cast my mind back to winter, to re-embrace the rose tint that blurred my outlook.

Summer days start early, even though university is finished and I can sleep all I want. Habit tends to take over, and I wake up early (though I don’t get up early). My window is constantly open, and the summer air creeps in and wakes me with a maternal call. It’s the smell of freshly mown grass and summer mixed into a cocktail of warmth. It wakes me in a slow, contented start to the day – until the screech from somewhere far too near indicates that the baby birds who appear to be sharing a bed with me have decided they’re hungry.

IMG_3217
Points if you can see the baby starling that’s been my alarm clock recently

But I can still wake up slowly. All I really need to do today are the projects I’ve decided I want to work on. I’ll write, I’ll maybe go for a run, I’ll read some trashy books, some quality books, I’ll try and sort out my basic grammar knowledge (which is abysmal), I’ll message friends I’ve lost contact with during term time. I’ll organise, I’ll tidy, I’ll do all the things I can’t do when I’m drowning in uni.

But I don’t even need to think about uni. All I need to think about is what I’m doing now, in a way which is refreshing to an alarming degree – the previously constant worry about exams and assignments and lectures is a not unwelcome, but bewildering absence in my mind and my projects seem to be a way to keep it stimulated so that it has something to worry about.

If I get up early enough the sunshine has a slightly different glow to it, and the air has a different feel to it, like the day is just starting up, ready and waiting. There’s something about it that’s so refreshing: the commuters in the train seem a little less muted, the scenery around me doesn’t need a filter to be instagram worthy, the birds seem louder, happier. Even rain in the summer is beautiful – it sounds like it’s pattering down on a tent, reminding me of camp, of adventure, of other places.

IMG_3185
#nofilter

As I rise to greet the day, I realise I can wear what I want without really having to worry. Suddenly my hair is in fashion again – that messy beach look that I rock all year round is cool, my freckles are back, and I’m a little less pale than I normally am.

IMG_3325I turn to open the window wider. Open windows are surely the most wonderful part of summer. Driving with the windows down, letting the world breathe through into the house throughout the night, a cool breeze welcomed in when the heat is unbearable.

IMG_3079.JPGSummer in itself is a bit of an open window, I realise. Any other time of the year, the window remains closed and I’m left with one objective: to work on my degree, to pass, to succeed. During summer that’s not the case. I can drop everything and go to the beach. I can go away for a couple of weeks to do camps without worrying about missing things. I can visit friends who live far away. I can spend days writing. I can spend days reading. All these things are available to me in a way that they never are during term time…all because the window is suddenly open and I’m not confined to this one thing I have to do.

Summer is freedom and beauty. Summer is being away from the norm…but I get bored easily. There comes a day when summer becomes normal, when it becomes boring. When that comes, I’ll be wishing for the confines and boundaries of winter again. For schedule, for deadlines, for a closed window because there’s just too much air. I need focus, I need limits. IMG_3379

Nothing can stay perfect and free forever. But for a few months, before the wasps and spiders and moths decide to invade, an open window is exactly what I need.

 

 

My Little Jar of Happy Things

On my bookshelf sits a little, inconspicuous jar. It’s surrounded by beautiful books, make up brushes, box sets, study equipment and a little bit of mess. It’s quiet, it doesn’t shout out to anyone who sees it, other than it being a little bit hipster becauIMG_3166se of the blackboard sticker stuck on top. Even now, after having it for so long, it’s strange to me that such a little, seemingly meaningless jar can hold so much joy.

What this little jar is, in reality, is just a jar. But if you were to come and open it up, other than this being a bit of an invasion of privacy (what are you doing in my room anyway??), you would discover it’s basically fit to bursting with little bits of paper.

When I was in fifth or sixth year of high school (which is getting worryingly long ago now) I decided to write down little things that made me happy for a year and put them in a jar, to cheer me up wheneverIMG_3161 I was feeling down. And like most good ideas I have, I was sure it was probably going to be exciting for a month or so and then ultimately teeter out.

But as you can probably guess, it didn’t. Over the past 4/5 years, I’ve been writing down things that have made me happy and putting them in that jar. And this morning I looked back in that jar for the first time in a few months, and the warm feeling I felt in my stomach was enough to dispel the anxiety that has been rumbling away there for the past few days (exam problems, amiright).

IMG_3153What I didn’t realise when I first wrote down something like ‘I passed my prelims!’ was that I was about to start collecting little forgotten moments of joy in my life, moments that time extinguishes with bigger things and new challenges. Little moments of joy are, I think, what get us through life, and without them I don’t really know where I’d be. A good book on a cold night, making a new friend, laughing with my family – lots of tiny things that are forgotten within even a few weeks. But I wrote so many of them down, and now I might never forget them.

IMG_3146Looking back was honestly like reading a book of my last few years. I found excitement over being accepted into Glasgow Uni of all places, but then even more excitement about accepting my place at Strathclyde. I suddenly remembered the absolute horror of waiting for replies from unis, and the ultimate excitement in realising that yes – I was in, and four years of my life were now planned.

I found the excitement in friendships developing that I had thought would never happen – friendships which, even though I am incredibly thankful for, I do take for granted because they’ve become just like breathing to me. I forget that there was a time when I didn’t know these people, or that I was worried we wouldn’t still be friends when I got to this stage in my life – and the utter joy on those tiny bits of paper at the realisation that I was getting somewhere helps me to relive and re-appreciate the people in my life.

IMG_3155There are moments that I don’t remember, but bits of paper celebrating God’s provision and plan for my life, and though I don’t know why I was celebrating that at the time, it’s beautiful to see that God was working then, as He is now.

I found moments in Daniel and Nathan’s lives which were massive milestones tIMG_3147.JPGo me – the first time Daniel giggled at me, the first time Nathan smiled when I sung to him. Things that now happen every time I see them, but then were new and big and exciting.

And there are things I’ve taken out of the jar. Plans I had which were never going to happen, some friendships which naturally drifted apart, futures I saw for myself which I know now weren’t what was best for me – but instead of just putting them in the bin, I replace them with the lessons I’ve learned, with what I’ve been taught from the bad times, and what I have now that can go and be remembered in such a happy little jar.IMG_3151.JPG

I forget to look in it often when I am feeling down – typical really, but sometimes all I want is to feel a bit sad, and have a good cry. But on a morning like this morning, when all I feel is that studying is never going to end, that I’ll never reach where I want to be – it’s amazing to see the little things that used to make me happy that are now just life to me. It makes me wonder what, in a few years, I’ll be reading from today in my little jar and going…’Oh yeah, that was such a big deal to me back then? That’s normal now.’ There’s something so beautiful to me about the happy things in life becoming the normal things.

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