13 Reasons Why: Having Sympathy

ALERT: this post will have spoilers.

 

Last week I read the book 13 Reasons Why, which is a book that is made up of 13 tapes recorded by a girl who commits suicide and leaves these tapes to explain why she did. Each tape is a person, and she sends the tapes to the people on them so that they can understand what happened. After finishing this book I found myself frustrated at the portrayal of Hannah, the suicidal girl the story centers around. She was portrayed as selfish, dramatic and bratty. She blamed her suicide on others. She never asked for help or accepted help when it was offered. And some of her reasons for committing suicide seemed a little ridiculous, like being teased about having a nice ass. I found this frustrating because it seemed to infantilize how serious many people’s problems are, and how hard they fight to get help and are often denied it.

 

At the same time, I did find the book powerful in that Hannah clearly pointed out how other people’s actions affected her and particularly pointed to the sexual harassment that was heaped on her. I thought that it was powerful that the effects of this were taken seriously in the book, and that it was made clear that it was not ok for someone to smack her ass or try to cop a feel. So I was conflicted. I didn’t want a book to circulate that treated people who are suicidal like they’re attention seekers or stupid or selfish. But I also felt that there were some good messages.

 

And then I read this review. This shitty, shitty review.  It basically straight out said some of the things that I was thinking. And when I saw them baldly there before me I realize how much of a shitface I was for my reaction. Because here’s the thing: even if Hannah’s reasons WERE trite or overdramatic or whatever, there are people out there who feel suicidal for those same reasons. There are people out there who do feel that their suicidal impulses were at least in part created by others. And those people have EVERY RIGHT to EVERY SINGLE ONE of their feelings. There is no right or wrong way to be depressed. There is no justified depression and unjustified depression. If someone feels so desperate that they will take their own life, you don’t get to judge whether or not the reasons were good enough. You sit your ass down and you feel sorry and you listen if they left you some way to make sense of it. They had no obligation to explain their feelings to you, and they had no obligation to have feelings that you felt were acceptable. People get to feel depressed in whatever fucking way it happens to them.

 

This is one of the reasons that I get frustrated with the concept of “tumblr depression” or “tumblr eating disorder”. You know the person. The blog that posts all black and white pictures and melancholy quotes. The girl that seems to take everything personally and dramatizes everything and sort of passive aggressively refuses help while asking everyone to pay attention to her. And a lot of people get pissed at these sorts of blogs and individuals, because they say that’s not real depression. That’s just someone looking for attention. That gives people with real mental illness a bad name. She just cuts for attention. She just starves herself because she thinks anorexia is cool. Now on some level this is understandable: it can be really frickin’ hard to talk to someone when they’re acting like this. But I hate to break it to you, it can be hard to talk to someone with mental illness. And if someone is cutting themselves in order to get attention, THEN YOU SHOULD GIVE THEM SOME FUCKING ATTENTION BECAUSE HUMAN BEINGS DESERVE AND NEED ATTENTION.

 

I went through this kind of phase, and while it may look trite and stupid from the outside, it hurts just as much as “real” depression when you’re on the inside. You don’t get to judge someone else’s feelings and tell them that they’re not actually depressed or unhappy, or that the reasons they’re hurting themselves aren’t valid. If someone says they’re hurting then you damn well better believe them. Even if they are using passive aggressive techniques to try to get attention, that means that they’re hurting. They’re lonely. They feel pointless or useless or unwanted. Asking for attention is not a crime and being sad about stupid things is not a crime. If someone is unhappy it’s not our place to judge why. It’s our place to offer sympathy and try to help. Because no matter how silly something might seem to us, it’s real to the individual, and blowing off someone’s unhappiness as trivial is simply being inhumane and unfeeling.

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