Friday, May 4, 2012

Thirteen Reasons Why (Part 1)

*May is Mental Health Awareness Month and I'm talking about it.*
All opinions are mine alone, based on my own very personal experiences, experiences of people close to me, many many years of my own reading and research, a few relevant college courses, some counseling, talking to lots of Drs, etc. I consider myself fairly educated and informed on mental health issues, but also just have my own unique perspective and opinion on things that you may or may not agree with. I hope to present my views respectfully and compassionately, keeping in mind that we are all different, and ask that you do the same! Thanks!:)

Let's first jump in with perhaps the most taboo of all mental health topics: suicide. I read this book in March and I could hardly sleep at all the night that I finished reading it, Thirteen Reasons Why, by Jay Asher. Partly was just that it was a topic and story that stirred up a lot of emotion in me, and then, as I always do, I had gone on Goodreads to add it to my list and I browsed some of the other reviews. My thoughts became even more tumbled and tossed as I considered and debated and wanted desperately to discuss some of the responses I had read. I've been thinking of writing this blog post ever since.

SPOILER ALERT: I might give things away. If you don't want any details spoiled, you may want to read the book first before proceeding. It may not matter. But it might. You've been warned.

Here is the plot summary from Goodreads:

--Clay Jensen returns home from school to find a mysterious box with his name on it lying on his porch. Inside he discovers thirteen cassette tapes recorded by Hannah Baker, his classmate and crush who committed suicide two weeks earlier. On tape, Hannah explains that there are thirteen reasons why she decided to end her life. Clay is one of them. If he listens, he'll find out how he made the list. Through Hannah and Clay's dual narratives, debut author Jay Asher weaves an intricate and heartrending story of confusion and desperation that will deeply affect teen readers.--

Hannah lists 13 people who had interactions with her, mostly negative, that impacted her decision to commit suicide. A lot of hot teen topics, like rejection, rape, spreading rumors, betrayal, etc. come into play. So, since Hannah lists her 13 reasons why she decided to end her life, I'm going to list my 13 responses to this book, responses to responses, 13 thoughts, 13 ramblings, things to think about, topics to discuss, reasons to read it, etc. Hopefully it will make some sense.

1. A lot of readers complained that the book seemed to make it seem ok that Hannah left a tape for these 13 people in her life blaming them for her suicide to make them feel guilty. I'm not sure what to say about that really except that the people left behind after a suicide will probably be looking for answers and be ridden with guilt (whether or not they ever should) anyway. I don't know for sure. I have never been in this situation. But I don't think the book makes this seem "ok" any more than any suicide is "ok." It's not. It's not ever. There is no way to get around the complexity and depth and confusion of feelings of those left behind, I imagine. I don't know if the presence or absence of a note of one kind or another ever makes that better or worse. I don't know.

2. There was also an idea that somehow presenting this idea of suicide makes it seem like more of an option to teens who might be struggling. I know that there is the fear of some "copycat" crimes, so to speak. But I am reluctant to think that a book like this might be impetus to put someone over the edge and have them suddenly think "hey this is a really good idea! I'm gonna do this!" Feelings of isolation, being misunderstood, and like there is no one to turn to seem like they are much more dangerous than reading a book like this. Addressing the topic and talking openly takes out some of the sting.

3. One of the things that is emphasized again and again in the book is the warning signs of someone feeling suicidal. Hannah displays so many of them it almost feels like an 8th grade health class movie at some points (this also gets some criticism). And no one picks up on them. And of course they wouldn't, because we wouldn't have this story if they did, obviously. The idea, of course, is for you to think of those around you and think hard and if someone ever starts showing any of those signs, to do something and not be afraid to do it. Seriously. Youth (and adults) need to know there are resources to get help and where to get it, for themselves or a friend. This book points some of them out. So Kudos for that.

4. There is some talk about poor Clay, the other narrator (besides Hannah herself) who finds the box and listens to the tapes and tries to figures out how he made this awful list of people who made Hannah feel like she wanted to end her life (which she did). It turns out Clay did nothing wrong. Hannah put him on there to let him know he didn't do anything to hurt her. I think it made him an effective narrator though because otherwise we would hate him and wouldn't want to listen to anything he says.

5. At the end of the book, the author points out that one of the things he wanted to get across is that what we do matters. What we say, or don't say, to another person, might matter more than we know. We matter. We matter to each other. Sometimes we like to think we are our own little islands. Standing strong and alone, not affected by anyone, making our own choices, doing what's best for us and letting everyone else do their own thing. But what we do to each other matters. Of course we are only accountable for ourselves. And no one "caused" Hannah's suicide - or anyone else's. That was her choice and hers alone. But could someone have helped her? Could one person doing differently have made the difference for her? Maybe. We can do so much good and affect people for good. Goes both ways. This is a tricky balance because then it gets into the guilt again, and whether or not we should be made to feel guilty when someone feels bad for something we've done (is that manipulating, or a natural consequence?). But I think in all the teaching we do in our children that no one can "make" you feel a certain way, we need to be careful not to inadvertently teach that we are not responsible at all for actions that result in feelings in others. Hm. More on that later, I think. But what we do matters. Big lesson.

6. And finally (for today, since this is turning really long) one of the most important things about this book, and this topic, that kept mulling around in my brain and kept me awake all night, was the importance of not judging anyone else. Ever. Ever. We will never know why someone has done what they have done. Not if they have left volumes of journals. Not if they left a note. Or 14 cassette tapes. Not if you were their best friend. Not if you were their therapist. And certainly not if we are observing from the outside as most of us are. We will never know someone so deeply that we could ever understand the depth of pain someone must have felt that they would take their own life. I leave that to God alone. Just please please don't ever judge. I saw so many comments like, how selfish it is, what kind of reason is that, I suffered more than that and I'm still alive . . . I mean, really?!? How could we ever understand? If you've never felt that way, or suffered from a mental health issue, then just be grateful, truly grateful. And don't judge someone else who is suffering in a way you will never understand.

PS - If you have felt that way, or are feeling that way, I hope you have gotten help, or will . . . please . . . find someone to help you. Email me at kbluedays at gmail dot com if you have any questions for me personally or if I can help you in any way. :)

(to be continued . . . )

Suicide Help Lines:
Lifeline 1-800-273-8255

1 comment:

Amy said...

I thought the book was OK. I didn't really like the use of suicide as a way to point out what others had done; I felt that it took away from the fact that suicide is a mental health issue. I also thought that it was a bit manipulative--"They'll be sorry when I'm gone." I agree with you about not judging. There was recently a suicide in a very public place here in Fairfax, and while most of the online comments were sympathetic, there were many that took the stance that suicide is a selfish act. I think that people who think that way have never been to those dark places. We need to have more compassion about others, and education about mental illness can go a long way.

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