**This is an anonymous guest post. It contains material that some will find distressing.**
If you haven’t yet heard about 13 Reasons Why, it’s a show on Netflix that has the world talking. In 13 episodes, we discover the reasons that led 17-year-old Hannah Baker to commit suicide. It talks about so many important issues that, in my experience, many adults trivialised.
At 31, watching 13 Reasons Why has been too close for comfort. It brought back all those memories and feelings I had as a teenager trying to navigate through life while horrible things kept happening to me.
Social media back then isn’t what it is today; we had MySpace, MSN Messenger and Bebo to name a few. Facebook and Twitter were only being introduced as I was finishing my last year of school. I am glad I am not the teenage girl I was then, trying to navigate the online world today. I struggled a lot with the bullying at school, the bullying at home and then the bullying online. It was so consuming; there wasn’t a safe corner of my life where I was free from abuse.
I know what it is to feel alone in a crowded classroom or hallway. I remember standing there in tears, surrounded, yet totally alone and unnoticed.
It angers me that girls can be quickly labelled easy and that reputation lingers around for years and you feel like you cannot escape it. You are called a slut despite being a virgin. You are told this so much that every time you look in the mirror you can’t help but feel disgusted at the person staring back at you. If you get told you are something enough times, you start to believe it yourself. You start to question every part of yourself and being so critical that you believe you deserve to be alone.
I still struggle with my identity and self worth a decade later.
My home life wasn’t great; when my dad left and I was told it was all my fault. Dad was embarrassed by me and I was so pathetic that he couldn’t stand to be around me. I was constantly called a slut, a whore.
I was 12.
I was told I was too fat despite being anorexic. I was told that I was too ugly, I was taught that my self worth depended on what boys thought of me. When I should have been building my self-esteem, it was being torn to shreds by the one person I should have been able to trust to guide me into womanhood. When your own mother is hurling all these damaging words at you, you believe her. She’s your mum.
I still get told that unless I wear makeup that I am not attractive, or because I am fat that I am pathetic, while our relationship has changed her words sometimes have no effect on me because I have spent over 10 years in therapy to deal with coping mechanisms to deal with the narcissistic, sociopathic behaviour.
So understanding the home life I had when I was only 12, you could appreciate how a night out at a friend’s place could seem like a well-deserved break. But then you soon realise your “friends” really don’t have your back and are just setting you up for ridicule.
Being shy and a bit nerdy, I was so excited to be invited to hang with the cool kids. I headed out with the two girls who were the most popular in my grade, their parents let them do whatever they wanted- so cool compared with my strict parents!
We went to the beach close to where one of the girls lived. I didn’t know they were planning on meeting up with their (much older) boyfriends and they left me sitting alone, not knowing anyone. The only other guy there was a 17 year old surfer, who was extremely tall and had a muscular build. He seemed so nice and interested in talking with me. I wanted to go looking for my friends and he offered to walk with me to keep me safe, but instead he took me into the bushes and raped me. When he was finished with me, he left me there, in the bushes. I was crying; shattered. When I told my new friends, they called me a liar and a slut.
I couldn’t tell my mum, she already thought I was a slut and I didn’t want to somehow prove her right. Rumours spread around my school and to other local kids. When I tried to defend myself and tell what had really happened, other girls threatened to bash me.
I stopped leaving the house, except for school. I cried myself to sleep.
My attacker told everyone I was “easy”. Other guys at school took his cue and groped me as they passed by. Some cornered me and assaulted me. The school dress offered no protection. They said that if I made a sound or told anyone that they would bash or kill me. I hated going to school, I hated home, I felt like there was no one I could trust or turn to…. I felt so alone that I tried to end my life.
I tried to wear winter pants or sports shorts every day to protect myself. Instead, it landed me in trouble with the principal and because I wasn’t respecting the school uniform. My parents hadn’t paid my fees and with the trouble over the uniform, I was asked to leave.
New School, New Torment.
I had to start again at a new school, but it wasn’t a fresh start. Instead, I attended the same school as the boy that raped me. My unearned reputation preceded me and every time I saw him, I felt sick. Text messages were sent about me and I was bullied online. Things went from bad to worse over the next couple of years. I got a boyfriend at 14 who tried to pressure me into sex. Fear and pain prevented me from going all the way and the next day, he spread the word that I was “frigid” and pathetic. He spread intimate details about my body and I was teased mercilessly.
I didn’t want to return to school, I was mortified. I persevered, but the bullying continued. I used to open my locker to find messages of hate, magazine cutouts on “how to apply makeup and look pretty”. Sometimes there were packets of razor blades left in my locker with a notes saying things like “do us all a favour”.
I was lucky to eventually find a couple of friends I could really trust and who had my back, but they struggled to understand my depression and how bad things were for me. I was lucky to have a good school counsellor; she saw me daily from year 9 onward. With her help, I was medicated for my depression and learned techniques to help me to cope with the darker times. I have since been diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder and that, coupled with my experiences, means I know what it is to feel hopeless and numb. Dead on the inside.
I was able to push through, with the support of friends and my counsellor, and the happiest day of my life was when I graduated high school. Leaving that world behind me was a relief; I knew I never needed to see those people who tortured me again.
13 Reasons Why.
I have been hearing people say how messed up the show 13 Reasons Why is, or how it exaggerates the problems young people face. Even that it glamourises suicide. But I am living proof that life as a young person can be that bad. Not everyone survives it. Suicide sometimes feels like the only option. This is where the value in 13 Reasons Why lies: We need reminding that young people need to be listened to. Their feelings are important and valid. If they are struggling or trying to seek help, we as adults need to listen and act.
I didn’t give up and tried to find help but not everyone is able to do that. Asking for help is seen as weakness by some but I know how much courage it really takes. Now, I just try to get through each day. When I’m struggling, I try to look for 5 positive things that happened that day. It’s one strategy I use to cope.
When I was younger, there weren’t as many services or ways to get help as there are now. I’m grateful for that positive change and the gradual lessening of stigma around mental illness. I know now that there are always other options.
Lifeline – 13 11 14 www.lifeline.org.au/Get-Help/Online-Services/crisis-chat
Suicide Call Back Service – 1300 659 467 www.suicidecallbackservice.org.au/
Kids Helpline – 1800 55 1800 www.kidshelp.com.au
MensLine Australia – 1300 78 99 78 www.mensline.org.au
Beyondblue – 1300 22 4636 www.beyondblue.org.au
e-headspace – 1800 650 890; www.eheadspace.org.au/