1.) How did you hear about the show?
I read 13 Reasons Why while I was in high school and sometime after I graduated I heard it was going to be made into either a movie or a television series. I was apprehensive because of the content, but at the time I was nowhere near as “socially aware” as I am now. So, when I heard it was going to be made into a Netflix series through social media I was excited although I did not remember much of the book other than how it ended and the general gist of it.
2.) If you’re willing to share, do you personally suffer from a mental Illness or have a family member/friend that suffers from one? If yes, feel free to elaborate.
I would say that I have a lot of friends who have suffered from a mental illness. I’ve thought about how to explain this question to people without a lot of back story, but when I was in high school one of my friends committed suicide. I do not feel right giving out his name and I hope the reason why is clear to people soon. So, just for the sake of clarity I am going to call him David.
David and I met in middle school. He was a friend of one of my neighbors who would give me a ride home and sometimes he would catch a ride with us. Sorry, if this comes off a little odd I am basically just doing this as a stream of thought type thing rather than a professional setting because I feel like it will honor David more. I don’t want David to be his suicide. He doesn’t deserve that.
Anyway, I felt like it was crucial to mention him coming home with us because as most middle school boys do he reeked of Axe body spray all the time. So much so that my neighbor’s Mom wouldn’t let him get in the car sometimes because it bothered her allergies. David was his own person through and through. He marched to his own drum so to speak. To be honest when David and I first met I thought he was really annoying. Like really fucking annoying. We barely got along and we would bicker all the time. He was from a conservative background and I just…. wasn’t. A lot of a worldviews and I think we helped each other learn a lot about life, even though we were only preteens.
Flash forward to high school and we were closer friends. I thought he was less annoying and he probably thought the same of me. We were both part of the thespians club (theater club basically). This really fit David’s personality. He was outgoing, liked to laugh, and loved to entertain people. During high school, we had different groups of friends, but we were still bonded together by thespians.
In retrospect, I started noticing some changes in David in our senior year. However, I didn’t think anything of it. To me David was just……being David. When I say, this kid was a character…. he was a character. He started to grow his hair out and I think he would tell people he was growing it out for charity. Which, everyone believed. He had a really good heart. Eventually it was past his shoulders and he would pair it with this white beanie that he wore all the time. No matter what. In addition to this at some point he changed over to this diet where he would only eat fruits and vegetables and nothing else. Like, I have very vivid memories of him eating a whole raw red bell pepper at lunch….as if it were an apple or something. David and I weren’t as close senior year. He stopped coming to thespians and I was vice president of the club that year so I was even more dedicated to it. I never really asked him why he stopped coming though. That is something I regret. To be honest it is something I am going to regret for the rest of my life.
One day in December I had left the class where I was a teacher’s aide to go say hello to my friends at second lunch while I made copies for the teacher and I stopped to talk to David. It was raining that day and being that I live in California, we don’t really do indoor cafeterias or hallways. We had one small multipurpose room but there was no way the entire school would fit in there. So, some kids ate in classrooms of teachers that were okay with it and others sat in the small number of covered hallways that we did have to get away from the rain. David was in one of the classrooms and at the time I couldn’t tell something was off. I honestly hadn’t had a full conversation with him for two or so months prior to this. He asked me if I was doing okay and I said I was fine. At the time, I was a HUGE Jonas Brothers fan and he talked with me a little about them and asked me to bring him a mixed CD with my favorite songs, so I said I would. Then I told him that I had to go back to my class and he said he wanted to tell me something before I left. Basically, he told me that I was a good friend to people and a good person and that I should not let the world take that away from me, ever. Admittedly I was super weirded out by that. It was totally unexpected and out of left field. So, I said thanks and that I missed talking to him and I told him that we should make more of an effort with each other and he agreed.
A few days later, David committed suicide. He was only seventeen years old and his eighteenth birthday would have been in less than a month. I will go into details on how if you want me to, but to sum it up asphyxiated himself. The reason why I want to leave his real name out of this is because his parents never outright told anyone that he committed suicide. We were all left to put the pieces together ourselves. I remember the day we found out like it was yesterday. David had NEVER missed a day of school. I am talking never, ever. I remember not seeing him on my walk from my first to second period. I would always see him and we’d say hi and I would give him a hug. I loved his hugs. He would bear hug you, y’know? I thought it was weird at the time but I assumed he got held up in his class and I forgot until lunch. I had first lunch and one of our mutual friends came out of her class and went to my table and asked if any of us had seen David that day. We all said no. She said that she had heard something happened to him, her Mom had sent her a text or something. We were all rattled and the mood turned sour. Our friend went back to class and I instantly started to cry because I sensed something was wrong. One of the people at my table was the voice of reason and said we shouldn’t assume things and that it would be okay. The bell rang and we all went to our advanced theater class. I was basically crying the whole way there because people had started to talk. The choir room was right next to the theater so I stopped by in there and said, “Is it true? Is what people are saying about David true?” David was supposed to be in that choir class. One of my friends nodded and said yes. I turned around and left the choir room bawling my eyes out and my friend who responded followed me and hugged me and we both cried. I wanted answers. He said he didn’t know any details.
I walked into my advanced theater class and the mood was dark. Everyone had heard and was upset. Some people were crying, but most people were quiet. This was unusual for a theater class…. we usually got yelled at daily for being loud. The teacher came in and said, “What’s wrong with you guys? You’re acting like someone died.” It was a poor choice of words but an exact quote I will never forget. She didn’t know. Someone in the class spoke up and told her about the rumors and she went to go call the office to see if it was true. A few minutes later she came back and the mood was somber. She said the rumors were true and the principal would like to meet with anyone who wants to talk. A bunch of us went to the office and some kids from the choir class came too. I remember calling my Dad on the way to the office and telling him I was skipping a class because David had passed and I was sobbing. When we got to the office the principal was there with the campus police officer and he let us know what happened and explained that they would provide grief counseling if need be and he was very sorry for our loss. The word “suicide” was never outright said, but it was implied. It was as though it was a dirty word or something. He said he would personally excuse us from whatever classes we needed or he would call our parents for us. I appreciated that.
Over the next few days I days I agonized over David’s death. I hoped I wasn’t on one of his tapes so to speak. I felt like I abandoned him when he may have needed me the most and honestly, I hate myself for that. I replayed our last conversation repeatedly in my mind and I could barely sleep for a week. Let me be the first person to say that grief is never easy nor is trying to struggle with self-blame where in retrospect no blame needed to be placed. I wish I could say it got easier over time. In a way it did, losing my friend to suicide was agonizing at first and the pain was right there in my face for a couple of months.
However, the pain did get easier to manage over time. I went from being sad about his death almost every day to only thinking about David every so often. It’d be random thoughts too. It has been 6 years since David passed away and I go months without thinking about him and randomly it will hit me again. Sometimes I think David likes to send me signs that he is still around in some way. In the early weeks after he passed I remember having a dream about him that was so lifelike that I remember most of the details. He was wearing that white beanie I mentioned earlier and I remember seeing him from a distance and he was just waving at me. I tried my best to go to him, but I couldn’t. He waved at me and then turned around and left. I’m not spiritual, but I believe in signs because of him. I’m not sure what the dream meant, but I can only assume. A few months later I remember being by the boy’s locker room waiting for someone to come out of it after a football game and it reeked of Axe body spray. I immediately started to cry because to me that was him saying hello. Then about a year or so ago I was in the grocery store in the produce section and I was really struggling internally. I was on my phone waiting for my Mom to be done and something made me look up from my phone. Not too far away from me was a teenage boy, wearing a white beanie, who was picking out red bell peppers. In that moment, I felt my eyes fill up with tears and I had to pull myself together quick because I knew it was just David saying hello again and letting me know he was there. Oddly enough, when I got home that day I realized it was the anniversary of his passing.
Now that I am older and have more life experience I can understand why he did it. As much as I loved David, he didn’t love himself. I couldn’t ever make those feelings he had go away, especially as a seventeen-year-old. So, to round this out I wanted to leave a message for David. You made me a good person. You are not your suicide. You are still your compassion and kindness for all people. I will not let you become your darkest moment.
To anyone who may feel as though suicide is the only answer, please don’t do it. I can’t tell you what happens to you after because I don’t know. I can only tell you what happens to the people around you after you die. It’s really hard for your family and friends to live without you. I don’t want to guilt trip you but people will miss you a lot. I miss David all the time. To be honest the people who do love you will be really confused for a long time. This is me being real and transparent and I do not mean to hurt anyone’s feelings, but please don’t do it.
I’m so sorry about your friend. I hope I can do the story justice. It deserves to be heard.
Thanks, I appreciate it. I’m glad I got to share his story.
3.) Were you aware of the subject matter before going into the show? If yes, were you hesitant at all?
I was aware of it since I had read the book, but it had been a long time since I read it. Before watching the show, I couldn’t pinpoint details or anything but I knew the content would be sensitive.
4.) What about the series did you like?
I liked the diversity of the cast and I liked how it felt heavy. It was hard for me to binge watch the show because a lot of the issues weighed heavily on my heart. I’m not sure if it was because of David or because I am an empathetic person. I liked how it made you stop and think about what was going on so you could digest it properly before moving on.
5.) What about the series didn’t you like or felt was difficult to watch?
Hannah’s death scene was certainly the hardest to watch for me. The two rape scenes made me immensely uncomfortable and I had to look away for most of it, but the death scene made me have a full body reaction. I was in physical and mental pain watching it because I looked at Hannah, but saw David. I was so emotionally distraught from it that I watched about ten seconds of that scene and skipped it. I am glad there was a content warning for it at the beginning of the episode because I did go into it somewhat prepared, but once I faced it head on I couldn’t do it. I remember crying to the point where I got myself so sick that I went to the bathroom to throw up. Although Hannah and David died in different ways it was too much for me.
6.) Do you think they reflected the material accurately?
To my knowledge, I think that they have.
7.) Do you feel like anything was missing or could have been added to the series?
I do feel as though the trigger warnings could have been more specific in terms of exact times the events occurred and what exactly happens. They didn’t have to say something like Bryce rapes Jessica at this time stamp, but they can specifically say “a rape scene occurs at this time” because I think a person’s triggers and being comfortable are worth more than the element of surprise in an entertainment sense.
8.) How did you feel after finishing the series?
It has been a month or so since I’ve finished the series. At first it was rough. I missed David a lot and I was struggling again with being guilty about not reaching out to him. Like I said before I don’t want to be one of his tapes. I don’t want to be anyone’s tapes. It made me more mindful about how I speak to people because you never know what someone is going through at that moment. It made me think about how it is so easy to send some a quick message if you see them crying out for help. It so easy to be on Twitter and ignore people’s cries for help but finishing the series made me more likely to reach out to people even if I don’t know them that well.
9.) Do you feel like mental health and sexual assault education should be just as important as other aspects of health/sex education?
Absolutely. When I was in high school I don’t remember talking about it. As freshmen, we were all required to take this class called “freshmen studies” where we would talk about sex education (briefly) but I don’t remember there being anything on mental health or sexual assault. I feel like I only learned the warning signs concerning suicide after David had already passed because I looked for the information on my own. I’ll never know if David had the tools to get the help he needed. This is a tough subject to talk about and I struggled a little with sharing this story because I don’t think it is entirely mine to share, but if someone reads this and resonates with it I’ll be glad I did.
10.) What would you tell someone suffering from a mental illness if they were considering watching the show?
I would tell them to take their time. It is a lot to handle and you do not need to watch it if it is going to be triggering for you or if you don’t feel as though you can handle the content. Take breaks. You do not need to binge watch it just to keep up with the crowd. Take as long as you need with it because you are worth more than finishing a new trendy show just to keep up with the memes and current social media conversation.
Be sure to catch the last two interviews on Wednesday and Friday.
You can read the previous articles in the links below: