And now, in an astounding feat of bravery, I will attempt to touch this topic with a ten-foot pole.
If you’ve hip to the jive within the past few weeks, then you remember when Netflix released the first season of 13 Reasons Why, and you also remember the controversies that follow.
If you’re unfamiliar, here’s the gist: the television series is based on the premise of what happens when a teenage girl commits suicide and then leaves cassette tapes detailing the reasons why to the people she says caused her death. The cruz of the controversy lies within the question of whether the show glorifies suicide or sets up this scenario as a revenge fantasy for high schoolers.
Let me clear: I’m not here to change anybody’s minds about anything(though, to be clear, I will almost always agree more with the freedom of speech over censorship, and this show is no exception). Also, I watched the show with full knowledge of the characters and the plot; I read the book it was based on, by Jay Asher, when I was still in high school.
What I do want to talk about is why it’s important to speak up if you or someone you love is struggling with bullying, harassment, or mental health issues. One of the things that I think the show did accomplish well was show how many people would have been willing to help the main character, Hannah Baker, if she had only told them what was going on.
I won’t sugarcoat things for you: issues like rape, drug abuse, and self-harm are incredibly relevant to today’s teens. And no, I’m not just talking about “normal kids” or “public school kids;” I’m talking about all of them. Over the years, I’ve met people from all walks of life who have struggled through their teen years, including myself. It doesn’t matter where you come from, or whether or not you think these issues “relate” to you. They do, or they will, and you need to be prepared to talk about them.
So, here are my 13 Reasons Why it’s okay not to be okay.
1. Your Feelings Matter
I know it feels like a joke now to say that someone’s feeling are “valid,” but that doesn’t make it any less true. Here’s one of my favorite quotes, from a super surprising source: comedian Louis C.K.
When a person tells you that you hurt them, you don’t get to decide that you didn’t. –Louie pic.twitter.com/T9fUYViBim
— Louie (@LouieFX) April 24, 2015
Whatever you’re dealing with, whether it’s personal, or even caused by other people, you can recognize your feelings for what they are. You don’t have to hide them, or brush them off. In fact, that usually makes things worse.
2. You Don’t Have to Tough It Out
They tell us that nobody likes a complainer. But letting people know what’s going on in your life, especially if it’s difficult enough to threaten your happiness, shouldn’t be called complaining. Admitting that you need help is nothing to be ashamed of.
3. You Can Take a Moment
If something or someone is stressing you out, you can step away from the situation. There’s nothing wrong with taking time to reflect on you and your emotional state. Don’t make it a habit, but also don’t construct a prison of your own making.
4. It’s Not Your Fault
Even if everything you’re feeling is completely internal, no external forces involved, you still shouldn’t blame yourself. It might be what we call a “heart problem,” or it could be something you need medication for. The point is, you don’t need to feel like a bad person for not being completely in control.
5. You are Not Weak
This isn’t an issue of strength, either. You are not weaker or lesser for the way you’ve been feeling. You’re human, and there should be no loss of pride or value concerning that fact.
6. There’s Nothing “Wrong” With You
This isn’t something to “fix.” You are not broken. Again, you are human. This is a season of your life, and in all of its difficulty, you are still you. Sometimes, you need help, but that’s not a reflection on you or your character.
7. No One Can Tell You How to Feel
Even me. This post isn’t supposed to be a diatribe; it’s meant as a comfort, to say that whoever you are, if you’re struggling, I believe you. One of the most helpful things I’ve learned since working with kids, especially at-risk kids, is that if they tell you anything that is remotely suspect of trauma or abuse, your immediate response should be: “I believe you.” I’m not going to negate your feelings. I’m here to listen, and if you need, help.
8. That Doesn’t Make This Okay
Don’t let someone demean your feelings by saying this is just a “growing experience.” What you’re going through sucks. Actually, it more than sucks, but at the risk of sounding too vulgar, I’m going to leave it at that.
9. You are Not Your Emotions
You are not a “sad” person, a “troubled” person, or a “difficult” person for what you’d dealing with. As I’ve said before, you’re still you; emotions do not change anything. You are you feeling sad, feeling troubled, having difficulties.
10. You are Not Alone
I hate to say it, but I’ve been there, too. Most people have. For me, it was anxiety, and some days, it still is, though I’ve now graduated past the bit where I’m afraid to leave my dorm room/apartment(not the best time for me). We all have struggles. We all have burdens. We’re here to help, not to judge.
11. You Have a Voice
Speak up. You don’t have to suffer in silence. People are here, and they’re willing to listen, as long as you’re willing to talk. They say the first step to feeling better is admitting you have a problem; if you can talk about it, you’re already halfway there.
12. There’s Always Hope
As Annie says in a roundabout way, tomorrow’s only a day away.
Things will get better. How you feel now does not dictate how you will feel in the future. You can’t change your emotions, but you can change your attitude.
13. Take It One Step at a Time
Don’t take any drastic measures. You don’t have to change your life in a day. If you want something in your life to change, whether it’s you or the way you’ve been treated, it’s okay to take it slow. Going to fast can make things feel even less in your control, and that’s not a good feeling. The goal is to make you feel at peace with yourself, not like it’s up to you to “fix” or “be fixed.”
So I hope that if you’re struggling, you talk to someone about it. It doesn’t have to be. You might not even now me. But if there’s anything I’ve learned from watching and reading things like 13 Reasons Why, it’s that everyone has something they’re working through, but that doesn’t mean we have to do it alone.