These last few days I’ve been watching Thirteen Reasons Why. For those that haven’t seen it, let me warn you now, it’s about suicide. Normally I wouldn’t watch something like that as it’s triggering, but something about this show has been calling out to me and I waited patiently for it to become available on Netflix.
To summarize—and yes, this post will have spoilers, you’ve been warned—a teen girl commits suicide and leaves behind 13 tapes explaining why she did what she did.
On the surface, the show seems dark and full of hopelessness. I kept wondering why I was watching it. Why someone would protect these tapes and secrets left behind. Why these seemingly small things had amounted to someone’s death.
But I kept watching. I couldn’t look away either. I felt connected to the young woman that ended her life. I just didn’t know why.
As the story unfolds, the viewer follows one young man and his journey through listening to these tapes—in order—unfolding her choice to kill herself. There are many times when he wants to stop listening and I imagine that’s what it’s like for people left behind when someone chooses to take their own life. But he doesn’t stop. He takes breaks but keeps going.
Eventually, he learns that all the seemingly small things connect and soon the picture is much bigger and begins to make sense.
As I watched, I began to feel the suffocation of being surrounded by people that don’t see you. There are people everywhere, but how many look? How many take the time from their busy lives to stop and ask if someone is okay?
Not many. That’s for sure.
I remembered not being seen… that feeling of being swallowed up by the realization that no one cared.
Until the day someone did.
I’ll never forget the day.
I was in a call center. The lights low and annoyingly fluorescent. The hum of phones and people talking to their customers in the background… And then there was this man, my eventual husband, on the phone and watching me as I stared at him like an idiot.
He must have seen it in my eyes… The disconnect. The emptiness. Because he asked if I was okay, but it wasn’t a simple question. It wasn’t one of those that people ask just so they know they’ve done their duty. It was a real question that demanded a real answer.
Because he was real.
And I answered. “No, I’m not okay.”
This is a memory I’ve shared many times before, but this time I’m speaking about it, I’m understanding something I never have until now.
He saw my pain and asked for real because he’d lost someone he loved dearly. He wasn’t able to help her. And he, to this day, is still affected by this.
So when he saw me that day, that blank stare in my eyes, he knew I wasn’t okay and his question was genuine.
That day, I had hope for my future.
What he didn’t know and likely still doesn’t, is that at that time I would sit in the bathtub daily and talk myself out of slitting my wrists. Which just so happens to be the way the young woman kills herself in the show.
I didn’t do it, clearly, as I’m still here. Though each day was a struggle. Each day I had to talk myself out of following through and bleeding out in the tub.
As time moved forward and I kept not following through, I began to pull back from all the reasons why I felt I had no choice but suicide to begin with. I’d let go of people that hurt me, moved to a new place, and I was getting new friends and people in my life that made me feel better about being alive.
They made me feel better because they saw me.
Though not quite enough, as the feeling never fully went away. I just stopped listening to it.
Until tonight, I’ve never been able to see how all the little things led me down that road. Just like in the show, there were many little things that led to bigger things, or bigger things that led to me spiraling inward and questioning those close to me.
And for what?
To make this make sense to someone that’s never been in that place of feeling like there are no other options, let me say that when you’re in that mindset, options aren’t there.
Part of what the show unfolded was how this young woman would witness something and no one would believe her. People would defend those with money, power, popularity… despite there being at least some evidence.
The young girl not only witnessed stuff happening to others, but things happened to her as well. And because she doesn’t fight what’s happening in the moment, people don’t believe her.
What I saw in this fictional character was myself. There were times I didn’t fight. Mainly because I already felt dead inside. So when someone forced themselves on me, I didn’t always say no. And later, the same questions this fictional character was asked reminded me of myself being asked the same thing.
I hadn’t said yes but I hadn’t said no either.
This complicated things as I began to feel responsible. And in some ways, I was. But the fact that I didn’t say no didn’t mean that things that happened didn’t affect me negatively.
And as I look at all the things I witnessed, all the things I had to keep secret, all the things I tried to tell on or share about but wasn’t listened to, all the things that people still refuse to listen to and accept simply because their version of what happened isn’t mine, it’s all making it quite clear as to why I never thought I had an option besides suicide.
There is only so much someone can do to get people that are supposed to love them to listen, and if they still refuse to hear you, those people kill you a little inside. With each denial, each attack, each roll of the eye and disregard of what they’re being told, these people slowly kill you.
I loved these shows. Not only did it show how we so often choose to look away, but also how ugly suicide really is. And how and why people venture down that road. It helped me to see that when I was so suicidal, it’s because no one was paying attention. It’s because people didn’t want me to be in a bad place because then they’d have had to take action.
And isn’t that why people protect abusers and look away so often anyway?
So they don’t have to take action?
I think one of the biggest things that the series showed me was that there are always options. If the people in your life aren’t showing you this, then it’s time to find new people.
It also showed me how there were times when people did care and tried to get me on another path, but my distrust—due to others—made it almost impossible for me to believe them.
When I talk about all of this I speak mostly of the past. The people currently in my life have done a great job paying attention and checking in with me if they think I’m not doing well. And I’ll admit, it’s made a huge difference in my life.
But the series impacted me deeply because there was a time when I felt so hopeless. I couldn’t share about what I’d seen or experienced because the people I was sharing with didn’t believe me. They labeled me instead.
Tonight, I feel fortunate to have so many wonderful people in my life. People that don’t need me to show pictures to prove something. People that take me seriously when I say I need them. They step up. They take action. As I do for them.
I couldn’t understand why I got so overwhelmed when I was younger. Why I felt like no one would ever believe me. Why I felt that suicide was my only option.
But now I do.
It’s the little things. It’s all the sighs of frustration when someone doesn’t want to listen. It’s the times they dismissed something because they’d have to acknowledge some part of the situation. It’s all those little things like, “You’re not suicidal, stop overreacting.”
It’s others’ lack of responsibility and willingness to be accountable that made me feel I had no other choice.
I made it through. Somehow, I made it through.
And now, as I see all of this and it makes perfect sense to me, I finally understand…
We may not be able to stop someone that is intent on suicide. But we can choose to see them. We can choose to listen and witness their pain.
Sometimes that pain may still be too much and our witnessing won’t be enough. But at least that person would feel seen. And heard.
The most toxic thing I’ve come across isn’t violence or rape, it’s apathy. It’s inaction. It’s looking away. It’s ignoring… Violence—in some ways—at least makes sense to me. Humans build anger and sometimes that anger turns to rage. Other times it is narcissism and the lack of ability to feel for others. But inaction is the worst.
At least for me.
Rape is awful, but not being seen? Far worse. If some of those people that looked away and to this day, still ignore, had just acknowledged what happened to me—what I saw and went through—rather than ignored, it would have made the violence more tolerable.
And that part wasn’t the responsibility of the main abuser. It’s the responsibility of those that are supposed to love you. The ones that aren’t abusing you directly but are still abusing because they refuse to see you.
I’m glad I watched this series even though it was fucking tough to do. Several times I didn’t think I’d get through it. But I did.
I got through these hard times in my own life too.
Going forward, I see how important it is to witness others’ pain. To listen, even when it feels inconvenient.
If people hadn’t witnessed my pain and shown me that I mattered, I’d still be on the path of suicide.
Thankfully, I’m not.
I don’t know if people that are suicidal should watch this series. While I fully appreciated it and learned a great deal from it, it certainly could trigger viewers. I watched it because I was ready to face whatever it brought into my awareness.
And I have.
What I’ve come to is that I’m only partially at fault for being so suicidal. And while I’d always felt it was the most violent abusers that led me there, I now see it wasn’t.
It was all those that looked away and dismissed my pain.
That awareness has changed everything.