This is an open letter from a guest writer who prefers to remain anonymous.
To Both The Fans and The Haters of 13 Reasons Why:
At the beginning of January 2011, I read the book 13 Reasons Why. I loved it. I loved that it gave light to a serious and taboo topic. I loved that it showed how simple actions can change the course of someone’s life. I loved that it felt real; that I felt such a connection to characters on a page.
At the end of January 2011, I attempted suicide for the first time. My life was falling apart in front of my eyes, and I thought that death was my only way out. I have a lot to say about this, but the majority of it doesn’t regard the subject of this letter. What I do want to talk about is how 13 Reasons Why affected my decision to try to take my own life.
Let the fans of the show chime in here. Let them tear me apart for saying what my 16-year-old self thought. I know that’s a very big claim to make, and I know the statement makes it sound like I’m blaming someone else for a decision that was- ultimately- my own to make. (I'll note that Hannah made some of these same statements, but I know that there’s a difference.) That’s not my purpose here though. Let me try to explain:
Jay Asher is a brilliant writer. I loved reading 13 Reasons Why and being able to connect with the characters. At times, reading the book made me feel less alone in my isolated state because there were characters who felt the same way I did. But depression lies to you. Even if you cognitively believe that there are other people out there who feel the same pain you do, depression tells you that you’re all alone. And when it gets bad, it tells you that the only way out is to end it all. I believe that Asher’s point in writing the book was to help young people dealing with depression and suicidal thoughts feel less alone. I think it may have worked for many people. But it didn’t for me.
I want to clarify that 13 Reasons Why is not the reason I tried to kill myself. I’m not blaming a book for the biggest decision I ever made. But- say what you will- I do think that it affected my decision. It did not give me the idea of suicide: I had been thinking about that for a long time before the book. However, to me, it did idealize suicide.
I was a 16-year-old girl, and all I wanted was to be heard. Hannah Baker was heard. Hannah Baker really stuck it to the people who led her down that path. I wanted that. I wanted to hurt the people who had hurt me, and I wanted to let people know that their actions did affect my life. Yeah, that’s immature. But I was a 16-year-old girl for goodness sake. Hannah Baker’s suicide was everything I wanted from mine. Hannah Baker was an emblem to me: she took her death and gave it "meaning" by forcing other people to see how their actions affected her.
13 Reasons Why showed me all the "glory" that suicide could give you. Yeah, that’s sick. In reality, there is no glory in suicide. Anyone in their right mind can see that. I obviously was not in the right mindset to read the book at that time. I was having constant suicidal idealizations. I was writing about it. I was reading about it. I was thinking about it all the time. Suicide had consumed my life.
Now it is April 2017. Everywhere I turn on social media, people are praising Netflix’s adaptation of 13 Reasons Why. Part of me is elated that people are starting to talk about such a serious subject; that they're realizing the consequences of even their smallest actions towards other people. But there is another part of me- and that part is terrified. I’m terrified to watch the show because of the bad memories it evokes. (Yes, I’ve watched most of the show anyway, but I have to constantly make sure that I'm taking care of myself and knowing my limits of what I should watch.) I’m also terrified because what if there are other people out there like my 16-year-old self; other people who are blinded by depression and mental illness and cannot see the true message of the show?
I’m not saying that people shouldn’t watch 13 Reasons Why. If you feel like you can handle the mature material, then by all means, watch it. Watch the show and talk about what you’ve learned. I think that’s the good that can come out of it. But people also need to understand that there are others out there who- because of their state of mind- should not watch it, due to its graphic content and the message that it could send to someone who's consumed by the thought of death.
13 Reasons Why was not the reason I attempted suicide. That is a messy story that would take much more time to tell. I’m only writing this to say that the book affected me and my decision. That being said, I think that 13 Reasons Why is a necessary story. The book and the show are providing a platform for people to talk about a taboo topic. For that, I applaud it. I don't think the aim of the book and show is to glorify suicide. But I need to say, to those reading or watching it: be careful. For people in the wrong mindset, it can be detrimental. At least, it was for me.
The Girl Who Took the Book Too Far