I’m sure I won’t be quite the last writer to respond to the Netflix series ’13 Reasons Why’. I know I’m late in the piece, but it took me a while to get through the series. And once I had? Well, I wish I had never gone there. I wish 13RW didn’t exist. And I wish the bullying, mental illness, self-harm and suicide didn’t exist either.

It’s so easy to forget the impression this bundle of heartbreak has. Even two days out from having finally finished watching it, and I’ve abbreviated not only from ’13 Reasons Why’ to ’13RV’ but the pain of watching those last episodes has started to ease. It’s not quite so raw as it was two days ago. “Life goes on“, or so they say. But it doesn’t always, does it?

So where am I coming from in choosing to write about 13RW? I’m not a teenager going through similar angst. I’m not a parent of teenagers watching their offspring going through this angst. Actually, I could have easily opted not to go anywhere near this series. I did because I was curious. I have friends who have tragically lost offspring to suicide. I have friends and family who have teenage offspring. I have (extended) family who are teenagers themselves. And I wondered. I wondered what the hype was about. I wondered about the series behind what others were writing about.

It took me a while to get through the series, not because of the distressing nature of some material in it, but because I found it dragged in the first half. It was like I was watching the old television series ‘Beverly Hills 90210′ with a lot of the gloss taken off. I struggled to get engaged in the series because teenage angst (as it seemed) just wasn’t something I was interested in.

But I kept going, and as the material became more distressing, I became more engaged. To the point where the last few episodes, which centred on rape and suicide, had me glued to my seat and becoming more and more distressed and well, traumatised. By the time the series was finished my mind was replaying scenes over and over. Scenes I could do without being repeated. Scenes that I wondered how teenagers would cope with when I was so badly affected.

Of course, it’s fair to say that the reasons I was so affected were such that teenagers might be unlikely to react the same way. Or perhaps they might react for different reasons. But still, it made me think about my teenaged nephews and niece. The teenagers I love and care about. How would they react to ’13RW’? Had they seen it by now? What was their response?

My niece is almost thirteen and has apparently expressed her wish to see ’13RW’. This was on my mind as I finished the series. I had a desperate wish to wind back the years so that she would be a young child again. I wished that she wouldn’t need to be exposed to the events in ’13RW’. Ever. I wish that I could wind back the years for my nephews too.

Then it occurred to me why I might want to do this. I was only a year older than my niece is now when I began to be exposed to some traumatising and distressing events in my life. Things that I didn’t have the knowledge or the maturity to handle. Things that I wasn’t able to talk about. That no one heard about.

At the time, I deemed it impossible to talk to my parents about. Actually, they would never hear of the distress I lived with then. They were simply left to wonder why my behaviours were as they were. Wonderings that were never answered for them, because I simply buried it all very deep down inside.

The trauma of those years actually lives with me still today. I resolved some of it in my years of therapy but my therapy was cut short and I never completed the journey.

Perhaps that’s why I fear for my niece and nephews in watching ’13RW’. Because I fear of their lives away from the television carrying such trauma. It’s why I want to roll back the years.

I know I can’t. I know that I can’t protect them from distress in the way that I wish I had been protected. Not only are they human beings who have to make their own way, but also they are not my children. I love them and I want to keep them safe from bullying, rape, self-harm, suicide and other issues of mental health. But I know I have little control over that.

What struck me in ’13RW’ was how little the parents knew of what was happening to their children/teens. That doesn’t seem that different from real life for so many. Certainly, for me, my parents didn’t know what was happening to me. If they had, I’m sure they would have at least, attempted to protect me. They simply couldn’t protect me from what they didn’t know of and what wasn’t happening under their roof.

While I thought that ’13RW’ dragged at the start, I was somewhat overcome by a tsunami of feelings by then end. It transported me back to my own teen years. Somewhere I usually try hard not to think about. Somewhere I wouldn’t wish on any young person that I love.

That’s where I’ve gone in watching this series. It’s where my mind has journeyed across the past few days. It hasn’t been pleasant, and actually, it’s not what I was expecting. I thought I could handle it. I’m a suicide attempt survivor and I thought that a fictionalised account of another suicide and other teenage trauma would not upset me. I was wrong.

” If you hear a song that makes you cry and you don’t want to cry anymore, you don’t
listen to that song anymore.

But you can’t get away from yourself.
You can’t decide not to see yourself anymore.
You can’t decide to 
turn off the noise in your head.”

— Jay Asher (Thirteen Reasons Why – the book)

Thanks for reading



6 thoughts on “13RW

  1. Sid Dunnebacke

    I watched the first eight episodes in one go a couple months ago, Cate. I can’t watch a Disney cartoon without getting emotional, so you can imagine my response to 13RW. I was struck by how little my daughters’ school and its students resemble those portrayed, and I don’t know which is more “real”. I do know that I identified with Clay so much that it was painful, and watched through “his” episode.

    Either way, I’m still debating whether to watch it with my girls, in no small part due to something my sixteen year old said to me earlier this year that, well, shook me to my core. I’ll not repeat what she said, but it related. I don’t know if she and I are the target audience, being able to relate on some level to the ideas presented, or if you are, being that you’re very well able to relate, or if parents are or if teenagers are or what, but it really packs a wallop and is not easy to get over.

    You can’t turn off the noise in your head, indeed.

    1. I can’t imagine watching 13RW marathon style, but I’ll say this that the second half would have been even worse in that manner. You probably stopped at a good time. One episode at a time, during the second half was definitely enough for me.

      I’m sure that it must be a difficult decision as to whether to watch the series with the girls, but when the time is right I reckon you will know. As for the sixteen year old, as a non-parent I admit I’d have nightmares about many things they say. I guess though, the fact that she took the effort to say whatever it was to you is probably a good thing (even if it gave you a few gray hairs). At least she’s talking to you. Keep focusing on that.

      Noise in the head? Impossible, even in the absence of sixteen year olds.

      1. Sid Dunnebacke

        Yeah, i don’t know what I was thinking that weekend I binged on that show. I should have chosen a silly comedy from the ’60s like the Dick van Dyke Show, or something. And very astute about focusing on the fact that she’s talking – I am actually beyond grateful she chose to let me in and confide in me, and I’m going to take your advice and focus on that.

    1. I completely get it and I respect your decision. I think there could be more people who would benefit from taking such a stand. As for me, I’m still half way through it and as time goes on I have less and less inclination to go back to it. Who knows, maybe I won’t. Whatever, I know that looking after ourselves has to be the number one priority, always.

  2. “Well, I wish I had never gone there. I wish 13RW didn’t exist.”

    I think you are so right to wish both those things. I told you in another place that I had watched it bit didn’t remember; I think in reality I stopped watching. I made a conscious choice to walk away.

    Pretty much all I had heard was how mental health professionals everywhere were quite upset because of the way the show addressed all of these difficult topics — suicide being the biggest and most intense, but by no means the only one.

    When I did eventually watch the whole thing, I did it with an extremely critical eye, to put it mildly. And long before it came to the worst of things — rape, suicide — I was already disgusted. To me this program is only about suicide in that it was the only, the worst climax it could reach. I didn’t see so much any cohesive narrative as I did an opportunity to garner viewership by the most disgusting means available.

    Yes, there was a semblance of storyline and the illusion of “all these events combining and leading up to. . . .” But to my eye, it seemed a great deal more like one or more developers had gotten together and trolled the news for all of the worst and most horrifying things teens can experience and be exposed to, then sticky-taped them all into a “show.” All that was missing was the human trafficking. And I’m speaking of the experiences of those other than Hannah, too. It’s like even something as comparatively simple as the friend struggling with her sexual orientation was entirely one dimensional; only the worst pieces of her experience existed. Even having two supportive and loving gay fathers was turned into a negative, somehow.

    This of course all culminated in a very graphic, gratuitous scene of suicide. I cannot see what purpose, other than that of continuing the determination to shock and horrify that ran through the majority of the show, was served by the incredibly graphic portrayal of a teenaged girl cutting her wrists. By the way, Hannah was undoubtedly a better student of anatomy than any 16-year-old ever to make such deep, true cuts on her first attempt. There simply was no reason to show that in the manner it was shown. The point was made.

    I could go on, though I feel I’ve already done that to you too much. And perhaps in their own very ill-informed way, the writers of the show were trying to produce something helpful. Certainly suicide is something that needs more open and frank discussion. But clearly they failed to do anything but spread the contagion (and yes, suicide has been shown to be quite contagious). According to the American Psychiatric Association, ”
    Google searches using terms related to suicidal ideation rose significantly in the days following the . . . release of “13 Reasons Why”. . . . [S]earches using the terms “how to commit suicide,” “commit suicide,” and “how to kill yourself” were all significantly higher following the series’ release.”

    There was also apparently an increase in searches for suicide hotlines, which is well, but I believe the latter result could have been achieved without all the trauma inflicted.

    Obviously I don’t have a decision to make on whether my girls can watch it, and as of yet I’ve heard nothing of any of them wanting to. In a perfect world they would never see it, but in that same world no child would, not in its current incarnation.

    There is a great need to discuss many things with our kids: bullying, substance abuse, sexual assault, self-harm, suicide, the failure of adults to be supportive, and on and on. 13RW does none of this, and all that is left is a gruesome glorification of something decidedly not to be celebrated in any shape, form, or manner.

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