I watched all 13 episodes of 13 Reasons Why in 2 weeks.
(FYI, there is a spoiler at the end of this blog post!)
An episode a day.
I actually could have watched it all in a matter of a few days, but I paced myself. I wanted to appreciate each episode for what it was.
For those of you who haven’t heard of this show, it’s an original Netflix series based off of the novel by Jay Asher. The story focuses on the suicide of high school student Hannah Baker, and, for lack of a better term, the “suicide note” she left behind. The “note” is actually 13 individual cassette tapes that explain why she killed herself. Each tape identifies 1 of the “13 reasons why.”
The show has gotten a lot of flack from the media, the education system, pundits, journalists, and even people who have had suicide impact their life in some way. While I can see where those viewpoints come from, for me… I saw it another way.
I could relate.
For a good chunk of my life, I had my own “13 reasons why.” While many of them don’t even compare to the trauma that Hannah had to endure that formulated her own reasons, I had my own that, at the time, seemed pretty bad.
I was a very unhappy kid.
I remember nights when I’d go to bed crying. Days when I’d struggle to get out of bed to do anything. I remember not knowing if I could handle it anymore.
To this day, I can flip through my old journals and identify the reasons why I thought I should end it. Looking back now, I can still clearly remember each and every one:
ONE: UNENDING PHYSICAL PAIN
While this may sound like an obvious reason, it doesn’t make any less of how much suffering I had endured as a kid with Crohn’s disease. I was diagnosed with the disease at 8 years-old and suffered through chronic stomach pain and fatigue throughout my childhood. It was at 11 years-old, however, that the pain, and my life, spiraled out of control.
I’d spend my nights on the toilet, bleeding internally, constantly battling the feeling of hot knives ripping through my abdomen. I’d spend my days in bed, trying to catch up on the sleep I missed the night before, missing out on the days activities.
I would often wonder if it would be easier if I ended it.
I spent most of 2 years, between the ages of 11-13, in the hospital because of my Crohn’s disease. I also spent almost all of those 2 years alone. Sometimes, I’d have a parent, my brother, or a social worker to keep me company, but I was in too much paint to socialize. When I wasn’t writhing in pain or trying to rest, I was left alone with no one to talk to.
THREE: LACK OF SOCIAL SKILLS
My hospital stay had not only reduced my day-to-day human interaction, but it also weakened my social skills. At the time when most kids were learning social constructs on peer-to-peer engagement and were forming friend groups, I was sitting alone, often only speaking a few sentences to a nurse or my parents, per day. I forgot how to engage in normal conversation.
It didn’t help that before the hospital stay I already had trouble connecting with my peers. Early on, I had been deemed an outcast, so trying to fit in was overwhelming. When I left the hospital, I quickly realized that isolation had made my ability to socialize even worse and I became even more awkward. I was weird, I said weird things, and I would hate myself for saying the things that I did. I’d often wish I’d never have to talk to anyone ever again.
FOUR: BODY IMAGE
I hated my body. From being disgustingly underweight at the peak of my Crohn’s disease to suddenly being overweight at 150 pounds of water and only 5’3, my body never looked good. I was either skin and literal bones and being made fun of for being “anorexic,” or I looked like an alien that had landed from another planet because of steroids.
Unfortunately, even after getting off the steroids, it took a very long time for my body to even out. Being steroid free meant I was getting healthy, and getting healthy meant that I could eat again. After 2 years of barely being able to eat, I started eating anything in sight. Since I did not understand (nor had I experienced) the correlation between consumption and weight-gain, the water weight dropped but the regular weight piled on. It made me look even worse, and I hated it.
FIVE: LACK OF FRIENDSHIP
Never having been a popular girl among my peers, I didn’t really have friends to hang out with. In elementary school, here and there, I’d find myself in a “friend” group, but it constantly felt like I was just being included as a nice gesture or out of an unspoken obligation (probably through a parental figure). I did have 2 different close friends (at different times), but they both moved away and left me on my own shortly after our friendship developed. In the absence of friends, I’d often pace around the perimeter of the playground, waiting for the bell to ring.
Without friends in elementary school and after having been alone in the hospital for almost 2 years, I went on to a high school where everyone already knew each other. Friend groups were already formed and, because my lack of social skills, it was even harder to break into them. I would try, but would usually just be given some polite conversation coupled with a pity stare until I went away.
SIX: CONSTANT PEER RIDICULE AND HARASSMENT
No only did I not fit into the “friend” groups, but I was also picked on by them behind my back and often even in front of my face.
I went to a private elementary school where the kids all had nice clothes and I didn’t, so I often got picked on about my clothing choices. I remember one time, a girl named Marnie decided it would be funny to lift the (albeit, ugly) sweater dress I was wearing above my head to show all the boys my underwear. Another time, my winter boots, which we had to leave in the hallway outside of the classroom, were filled with staples and a bunch of them got stuck in my foot. I still don’t know who did it.
High school wasn’t any better, as I found myself being, what is now called, “cyber-bullied.” I will never forget the feeling I had when I thought I had actually made a “cool” friend, named Katie. She sat next to me in English class and we talked often. She also lent me her support after I received a nasty, anonymous email saying that I was a horrible, ugly, and disgusting human being. She kept telling me she thought it was this girl named Grace, (also in our English class.) Grace really was the nicest girl, yet I believed Katie because she was my friend. It turned out, Katie had written that email because, as she told me later, because “she felt like I deserved it.”
In elementary school, as stupid as childhood “love” is, so many of the popular girls had “boyfriends” and I was sad that I did not. In high school, I ended up being the only girl out of the friend group that I eventually made, who was not dating someone. I was the “single” girl, but not the type that anyone tried to set up. To be honest, I wouldn’t have set myself up with anyone, either. After all, I was awkward and overweight. I ended up going to prom with one of my friends’ exes (with her permission!), but he ended up abandoning me halfway through to hang out with the “cooler kids,” anyway.
I wish I could say that there was a lack of boys in my life, but there actually wasn’t. Instead, I was surrounded by boys who ridiculed me at any chance they got. In high school, no matter what class I had, the boys would take it upon themselves to make snarky comments out loud about me, in front of everyone. This guy named Stew was one of the worst culprits, often getting us both kicked out of class for causing a disruption.
Yeah, you read that right. I would get kicked out of class despite being picked on. I still remember the time my art teacher kicked Stew and I both out of the class to sit in the hall for over 30 minutes for being “disruptive.” It was like she wasn’t even paying attention to what was going on.
It didn’t help that the art teacher constantly disapproved of my work and gave me low grades – it was art class, how can you fail!? I had spent most of my young life thinking that I might be a fashion designer, but the terrible marks she gave me on the fashion sketches I drew for our mandatory art books killed that dream in a matter of 1 school year. (Ok, so I may not have been that great, but at least I was trying…)
I wasn’t great at math, either, thanks to missing so much school due to illness. Unfortunately, my math teacher only cared about the (underage) boys in our class, and would spent most of the time flirting with them instead of trying to help a failing student (me!) Whenever I had a question, she would tell me it was a stupid question, or rush through answering it while rolling her eyes. “Why do I even bother?” I would think to myself.
My drama teacher wasn’t much better. While I still got really great marks in that class (so did everyone), he was always underestimating me and giving me condescending feedback, almost as if he had better things to do than to talk to me. He had a penchant for favouring the pretty girls (often with big boobs) and so he always gave them the starring roles in the school play, no matter how terrible their acting skills were. I was passionate about acting, so I continued to go out for the school plays, but was constantly cast in roles where you could have cut my lines and it wouldn’t have mattered… like in my graduating year, where I had to wear all black with my face painted so that I could simply carry around a deer puppet in 2 small scenes. My dream of being an actress was crushed almost every day.
I still remember our graduating drama class project like it was yesterday, where we were paired in 2 to recite the love scene from Romeo and Juliette. After our presentation, the teacher pulled me aside and said that despite pairing me with the lowest performing student (his words!), I surprised him with my “best performance yet.” In my head, all I was thinking was that he just hadn’t been paying attention.
I was also extremely passionate about singing, however, from day one, my high school vocal teacher decided she didn’t like me. She was very outgoing and larger than life, so I think my social awkwardness and trying to fit in in that class rubbed her the wrong way. She had to grit her teeth to give me any sort of positive feedback and that was rare.
It was one thing to be constantly ridiculed by my stupid peers, but having grown adults treat me like I was less than worthy of being in their presence made me feel like my future wasn’t important. Why have a future at all?
NINE: LACK OF PURPOSE
With my future dreams constantly being crushed by the teachers who couldn’t care less, it didn’t help that I could barely find my place in a world full of opportunities. My high school had tons of clubs and sports teams, as well as a large student council with tons of opportunities to jump in on. While I made it into the school plays for those 2-line roles, and I was in the regular choir because it was mandatory for my vocal class, I never got into any of the other clubs. Part of that was on me and my body because I had no stamina or skills to play sports thanks to my disease and hospital stay, but and no one liked me, so I couldn’t get on the student council. It started to feel like my life was lacking purpose. Why was I even here?
The feeling of a lack of purpose slowly seeped into my daily life, and I was getting sub-par school marks. I was struggling with some subjects because I had missed 2 years of school, but I was also lacking guidance. My brain had lost its ability to learn properly, and the subject material was confusing and hard to learn. I often felt like I was just an idiot and didn’t try.
ELEVEN: HOME LIFE
As a kid, my parents were pretty hard on me and would pressure me to do well in school. When I got an A on a test, I was asked why it wasn’t an A+. As my grades got worse because of terrible teachers and lack of support, my parents got harsher on me… with good reason, I suppose. The constant pressure began to get overwhelming and I would procrastinate. This procrastination also made my parents push harder, not just about school, but about life in general. I constantly felt the weight of their expectations.
It wasn’t enough that I was being bullied by kids and teachers at school, but it felt like living with my brother was an ongoing battle. I know that this is something every kid would say, but adding the stress of fighting with my brother over trivial things just added to the already mounting pile of issues that weighed heavily on my shoulders. It would physically hurt to have to yell at him to leave me alone to watch TV in peace.
I won’t go into much detail, because, honestly, I don’t want to, but I was physically and emotionally abused. To be clear, I wasn’t sexually abused, as Hannah and another character were in the show (sorry for the spoiler!), so I cannot speak to that trauma, but I can say that I had to deal with being hit, punched, slapped, being called a bitch, an idiot, and more to my face almost constantly. I won’t say who did it because it’s over now, and I can’t say why they did it, because I honestly don’t know, but it made an impact – I’ll tell you that.
THIRTEEN: IT WAS NEVER GOING TO GET BETTER
With all of this weighing on my mind, I thought I would never see a light at the end of the tunnel – it felt like the constant ridicule, pressure, and failure would never go away. I not only feared that my disease would return as it had before, but I worried that I’d never get over my awkwardness, never grow into my body, I’d be friendless and loveless for the rest of my days, I’d never be good at anything, but that it didn’t matter because I had no purpose, anyway. I was depressed and I had no idea what to do, or who to talk to about it – it felt like there was nothing that could be done about it, anyway.
I never did it. (Obviously.)
And while my reasons don’t even compare to those that Hannah had to endure, they meant a lot to me.
It’s important to remember that anyone could have their own 13 reasons that don’t sound anything like mine, or like Hannah’s, or like someone else’s. They are those person’s reasons and what’s important is to realize that they are making an impact on their life.
To all of those people, I want you to know something:
Whether it be 2 reasons, or 20 reasons, or whether they have to do with sickness, with abuse, with poverty, with anguish – with anything – I want you to know that with time and with determination to improve, things can get better.
Every time I thought about doing it, I couldn’t. I realized that it was because, deep down, I knew that with time and determination to improve my life, I would get better – so I held out.
How did I know this? Because my body was proof that it can work.
I had struggled with Crohn’s disease without any hope for a cure until, after a bit of time, a strong determination to not give up, and after ostomy surgery, that I did actually get better.
I guess in the back of my mind, I knew this. I knew that if I just stuck it out, as I had before, I would be ok.
My ostomy saved my life in more ways than one.
It’s now been more than 10 years since I last thought about ending my life. Today, every single reason I listed above is gone.
My Crohn’s disease has remained mostly in remission for over 15 years, and I’ve avoided hospital stays and further isolation.
I am no longer socially awkward… though some of the many new friends that I have made might say otherwise! I joined clubs, formed study groups, and even joined a sorority that I became president of!
I might have given up the dream of being a fashion designer, but I can actually call myself a professional actress, because I now get paid to be on TV!
I no longer feel stupid, as I graduated from my undergrad with great grades and earned a Masters degree in half the time. I am even running my own, pretty successful digital marketing agency!
As a young adult, I actually really enjoyed the dating scene, but am now married to the love my life. I have now also become incredibly close with both my mother and my brother (my father passed away 8 years ago, but we got close too).
Sure, I still get “cyber bullied,” but it’s mostly from people criticizing me for things that I’m actually proud of… (like UO, to be honest!) Haters gonna hate, amiright?
Best of all, I have an overwhelming sense of purpose.
All it took was time.
I want to make it very clear to anyone thinking about suicide – whether it’s because of Crohn’s disease, because of the possibility of getting an ostomy, or even just because life seems too tough – with time, and perseverance, I promise you, it gets better.
It was just recently announced that “13 Reasons Why” will run a 2nd season. What they’ll focus on? I’m not quite sure.
What I am sure about is that I am glad that my life will run another season.
One final note: in the show, it’s clear that Hannah had no one to talk to about her reasons, and growing up, I felt that I didn’t, either.
So, to anyone who feels like they have their own reasons, any reasons (ostomy related, not ostomy related, health, family, friend, love, work, related – anything) and you feel you don’t have anyone to talk to, you have me.
Send a message through to the Uncover Ostomy Facebook Page, or find some other way to reach me and I promise you that we will set up a time to talk. If you’re near me, we can grab coffee, or if you’re far, we can do a call or a video chat. I just don’t want to let another person spend another day thinking about their reasons.
You have someone to talk to. Just say hi.
This post originally appeared May 18, 2017 on Uncover Ostomy.