Tuesday 9 May 2017

Books That Changed My Life: Thirteen Reasons Why

This is going to be a sporadic series on the blog (meaning I have no idea when or how often I'll be posting because scheduling is hard guys) but I've been batting it around in my head for a while. It will get personal because hey - changed my life. So feel free to skip over these posts! Although some will be more gut-wrenchingly personal than others. Hint: This one falls into the gut-wrenching bracket. 

I want to start by saying that everyone has their right to feel however they feel about Thirteen Reasons Why. Book or Netflix adaptation. I never ever want to invalidate someone's hurt or claim to be some sort of supreme judge of what is or is not accurate and helpful mental illness representation. I just want to talk about what Thirteen Reasons Why means, and has meant, to me. 

The first time I read Thirteen Reasons Why was when I was seventeen. Shortly before I was diagnosed with chronic depression and anxiety. At that point I was well into the self-blaming portion of my mental illness. Everything felt like it was my fault and even the way I was feeling felt self-indulgent and wrong. So many people had it worse than me, right? So why do I get to feel like this? One of the criticisms I've seen of Thirteen Reasons Why is that there isn't a reason. Let alone 13. And I think that's right. In a way. I don't have a reason necessarily. I have lots of little reasons sure, but as a teenager I felt like those weren't enough. And on their own they weren't. One rumour about me wasn't going to make me depressed. Sure. But a whole succession of rumours all believed by multiple people, rumours that eventually affected how people looked at me and treated me? That affects me. And it's that me that I saw in Hannah. In understanding her "reasons" I started to understand my own. Which incidentally led me to see a doctor and get diagnosed, get treatment, get on medication. All the help that Hannah herself never gets.

I remember reading it and crying and wanting a different ending for Hannah. Something better more hopeful. But at the same time this was the first instance of a book about depression where there wasn't a big turnaround. A sudden lessening of the problem. And for me, trapped in the middle of it and never having experienced that resolution - those always ended up feeling cheesy and unrealistic to me. I couldn't understand them. I could understand Hannah. But in wanting her to live I began to want myself to live. 

So many times we talk about needing diverse reads so that we can see ourselves in them. And god I need that. I need accurate mental health books, I need LGBT rep and for so much of my life I haven't had that. And no, Thirteen Reasons Why isn't perfect. I do have problems with it. And I don't fully agree with Hannah's actions. But reading this book, as cliched as this sounds, was the first step on the road to me saving myself. And I'm not there yet. Maybe I never will be. But I'm living with depression now not suffering from it. 

And like I said, this isn't meant to suggest that people's hurt isn't valid. If Thirteen Reasons Why hurt you - if it didn't feel accurate to your experiences or your views then that's fair! Because mental illness varies wildly. And I don't expect my experience to be the same as anyone else. If I had read Thirteen Reasons Why for the first time now, at 23 when my depression is very different from it was before - I'd probably have a different reaction to it. In fact I know I would. I don't relate to Hannah anymore. I have sympathy for her but I don't have that same instant click of understanding that I had aged 17. 

But the problems I have re-reading it now - the problems I have watching the Netflix adaptation (which by the way I am only two episodes into so can't really speak for) - they don't lessen the effect it already had on me. So Thirteen Reasons Why will always hold a place in my heart and my mind. It will always be one of the "books that changed my life" and I am so freaking grateful that I read it when I did.


  1. Great post! Thanks for sharing. This is why I think the show (I haven't read the book) is so important. It may not be perfect and I know it's being called "controversial" and all that, but if one person (or many) relate to it, and get help, then it's doing a good thing. And while I've never had depression ( my mom has though and was hospitalized for it when I was younger) watching the show reminded me how effed up high school can be. I think it did a good job showing THAT too.

  2. I LOVE THIS POST!! I 1000% appreciate people sharing that 13RW hurt them & they didn't find its representation accurate, because, like you said, everyone experiences mental illness differently, so it IS important to acknowledge that, and sort of warn others that it might hurt them, too. It'd be great if the positive and the negative critics could exist in peace next to each other, because BOTH are super-important.

    Wonderful post! <3