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.
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