*DISCLAIMER: as an organisation we neither recommend nor advise against watching the series 13 Reasons Why. This show deals with topics of drug use, drinking, depression, rape, bullying, domestic abuse, and suicide. While we realise the show may be healing and encouraging to some, we also acknowledge that it may be triggering and harmful for others. Please consult a therapist, guardian, or your recovery team before watching if you are unsure.
Note: If you haven’t yet watched Thirteen Reasons Why, I encourage you to first read my previous article “A Guide to Watching 13 Reasons Why” — this will help you decide whether this is a good show for you to watch and also offers some considerations before starting the series and while watching.
I finished watching Thirteen Reasons Why a couple of weeks ago. The story wasn’t new to me (I read the book several years ago); but the experience of seeing the stories of all the characters play out in live motion was new. Seeing the characters depicted in person brought them to life in a way I wasn’t expecting.
Though I realize this won’t be the case for some, my experience with Thirteen Reasons was overall a positive one. That being said, the show still affected me.
Even now, weeks later, it’s still heavy on my mind, as though I take it with me everywhere I go. This is the first thing I want to discuss for those who have finished watching…
1. Be prepared for it to stick with you.
The only word I can use is haunting. But not in a bad way. Is there such a thing as good haunting? Or even neutral? When the show ended, for me the story lived on. To this day, I can’t get it out of my head. By this I don’t mean specific scenes; I mean the story as a whole. I want to say this was the creators’ goal.
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Though the characters and stories are based on Fiction, they are still real, honest depictions of life. Life goes on and the stories of all the Hannahs and Clays, Justins and Jessicas (to name a few) continue. This is not something easily forgotten.
2. The characters will likely stick with you, too.
For me, the characters felt very much real. It didn’t help that I had never seen Katherine Langford (Hannah) in anything else, same with many of the other actors (though who is with me in remembering Dylan Minnette in those role?
Several days after finishing the series I was at Starbucks and a guy walked in who looked just like Alex. I froze in shock and a wave of emotions came over me. I realized quickly it [obviously] wasn’t him, but that didn’t make the feelings go away. Friends of mine have reported similar experiences. The same can happen when going through social media and seeing images or clips of the actors.
3. If it’s too much, or you are feeling triggered, it helps to talk to someone.
I see a counsellor regularly. It has been incredibly helpful to dig through some of the thoughts and feelings left behind from watching 13 Reasons. Additionally, talking with close friends (whether they’ve seen it or not) about it and about my experience watching it has really helped.
If you think you are in crisis, please visit our Resources Page for a list of helplines.
That being said….
4. Be prepared for people to have different experiences and responses.
This was the most shocking and difficult part for me. As I was watching through the series, I was feeling more and more validated and more and more heard. I identify with Hannah in a very real way. I couldn’t wait to talk to other people about this.
Imagine my surprise when the first person I excitedly opened up to shut my hopes down immediately. “I hate the show. It’s completely unrealistic and Hannah is a complete drama queen.” *shattered*
I then dove into social media and was blindsided and overwhelmed by all the criticism. I am fully aware everyone will have their own opinions, experiences, and responses. Some people will love it, some will not. Some will have lots to say, others won’t have much. That being said, what hit me was the overwhelming amount of hate towards Hannah and her story.
Reading things like how “dramatic” Hannah is, how selfish or unrealistic her actions are, and, worse, how “everyone else had issues and they didn’t have to kill themselves so what’s her problem?” threw me into a tailspin I was not prepared for.
Additionally, it was not easy reading over and over again how “dark” and “dirty” and “wrong” Hannah’s story (which reflects my own) is and how it should not be seen, heard, or shared.
I realize triggers are real (and are different for everyone) and I also realize some people just plain hate this series. However, hating on Hannah doesn’t do anything more than drive home the very point the series is trying to make (and further solidify the aspects of our society the series is trying to change).
This being said, if the responses of others towards Hannah, the series, or any of the other characters or experiences that you may identify with get you down, I have two things to say to you:
- Turn away from social media, at least for now. Your mental health is more important than engaging in or reading up on any type of ideological debate.
- Your story matters and is worthy of being heard. It is not too “dirty” “dark” or “dramatic” to be voiced. Your story deserves to be validated. It is real to you, and your experience surrounding who you identify with in the show is just as real. Your story is not wrong.
5. When it’s too much, know when it’s time to stop talking about it.
This was difficult for me. Amidst the aftermath, at some points it just got to be too much. Add to that working on articles related to the series, and I hit several emotional (and mental) walls. During these times I completely stepped back from it all, stopped initiating conversation about it, and found ways to distract myself.
Leading to number six…
6. Find distractions when you need them.
It’s important to think through and talk about your experience and feelings. However, it’s not always healthy to dwell. Listen to yourself, and pay attention when it gets to be too much. When you need to step back, have distractions at the ready.
For me, anything mindless helped. I immediately dove into a lighthearted, very surface-level show to shut my mind off from all things related to 13 Reasons. Video games also helped; for me, games like Kirby and Shantae with happy storylines and bright colours helped reset and relax my mind.
7. Lastly, do what you need to do and then move on.
It’s important to talk about it. It’s important to write about it, sing about it, draw it, whatever helps you express things. Experience it, feel it, heal from it. But then it’s also just as important to know when to move on.
I believe once you’ve seen it, it will likely always be with you; however, you do not have to stay present in the world of 13 Reasons. Move on when you are ready. Stop keeping secrets, share your story, listen to others’, and be part of the change. We don’t have to remain stuck.
At the end of the day, this show is still just a show. There is a real world out there with real lives and real stories (yours being one of them). Take what you’ve learned, and move forward.
I want to share one final note with those of you who are reading who are feeling hopeless and alone (because I’ve been there):
Don’t live in secret.
It is understandable after facing the backlash against the show to feel like your story should be kept to yourself. This, however, couldn’t be further from the truth. Remember, one of the main themes of the series is that secrets make us sick (and can even kill us).
If you are struggling, tell someone. If you feel alone, know there are people who love you and there are places you can go. Hannah’s story does not need to be your story.
Make your voice heard. There is help and there is always hope.
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If you haven’t, I encourage you to watch the special feature at the end of the series under “Trailers & More”
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Please remember that everyone is going to have different experiences–some more personal than others. Please be mindful and respectful of this in the comments and in general while engaging in any discussion around 13 Reasons Why.
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