Despite being someone who occasionally self-harms by seeking out trite image macros on Pinterest to make myself cry, I HATE crying. It gives me a headache. That’s why I prefer not to watch Oscar-bait dramas, rom-coms, and sitcoms. There are plenty of films and shows in the world that I’m told I’m “missing out on” because I resist watching things that are, in my opinion, manufactured to provoke a sentimental response for no reason other than for the latest Hollywood “It” person to add a creepy looking gold dude to their statue collection. Some people like that stuff, and that’s great. I don’t. Which is why I’m kind of pissed off at myself for watching what I’ve been watching lately.
A couple of people at work recommended “The OA” on Netflix and I binge-watched the heck out of that because it started off with kind of a sci-fi/fantasy/just weird creepy stuff premise and by the time it became obvious that it wasn’t any of that, I was determined to finish it. I was a complete wreck by the end of the last episode. I’m still mourning the wreck I made of my most crucial relationships and the themes of forgiveness and bonds of friendship in that show left me sobbing for hours.
Next, I watched “Shameless.” All seven seasons. I had seen a few episodes here and there and for the most part, just thought it was funny and fucked up, and I wanted to watch it all. I had no idea what I was in for when the character, Monica, turned up. Even before the climax of the eleventh episode of season two, I was shaken because of the depiction of that character’s mental illness. I was actually typing a text to my friend about how that episode was affecting me when the really dramatic stuff happened. I hate using the words “triggered” and “flashback” but I don’t know of another way to describe my response without them. Lots of guilt, lots of shame, lots of panic…because of a stinking TV SHOW!
Then this weekend, I decided to watch something recommended by the same people who recommended “The OA.” I don’t know what it says about me or them that they thought I would really like a show about a girl committing suicide: “13 Reasons Why.” I guess there’s a book, too. I think I started watching it around two or three in the afternoon yesterday and I didn’t stop watching until it was completely over. I could not look away. I didn’t sleep last night because I was watching this show and now I can’t get it out of my head. It was gut-wrenching.
I feel kind of stupid for being able to relate to it so much because I’m an adult and the majority of the characters are high school kids. (Sidebar: why is it that the majority of films, shows, and books about suicide are teen-centric? Adults deal with that stuff, too, whether or not we want to admit it.)
The show starts with this girl already dead. The whole thing is about why this girl killed herself. I did wonder occasionally if the show was going to include her actual suicide but I figured that even if it did, it would be pretty much like every other onscreen depiction of suicide.
It was not. Not even close.
It was graphic and violent and horrible. When a character onscreen kills themselves, it’s usually accompanied by slow and mournful music and they just seem to drift away peacefully while looking tragically beautiful. We don’t see the reaction of the person who finds them, either. We see a romanticized interpretation of suicide because we’d rather not have to confront a painful, messy, ugly, horrifying, violent truth.
There were other things about it that affected me deeply but that one scene is going to be with me for a long time. The filmmakers are taking all kinds of heat for it but they stand by their decision to depict it like they did and I’m glad. And by that I mean, I’m both glad they did it and that they’re standing by it. Our pop-culture needs to knock it off with the Opheliaesque garbage and, if filmmakers have the guts to take on mental illness, sexual assault, bullying, and suicide at all, show it as it is. There was not one tragically beautiful thing about my suicide attempt. There was nothing peaceful about it. My son didn’t stand there looking sad and thoughtful while I was carried out of the house. That’s not reality. “13 Reasons Why” isn’t entirely reality either, but it came closer than most other stuff and that’s HOW IT SHOULD BE.
I won’t say I enjoyed the show. I’m not sure how I feel about it, to be honest. And if you’re going to watch it, prepare to be upset by it. You’ll definitely learn from it. There is an awful lot of stuff, mostly about loneliness, the main female character, says that I can relate to. I don’t know how to express it, though. I WANT to talk to people but I don’t know how to do that without feeling like I’m whining and being a burden. I think the audio recordings in the series are that character’s last attempt to communicate with people and her last attempt to be heard. I get that. I want to be heard, too. I’m not good at it and I usually just upset people which means I isolate myself even more. I don’t want or need anyone to fix me or give me advice or anything like that. Most of the time I just want someone to be there to listen. I’m too afraid to ask for it, though.