13 reasons why

I’m not a big TV watcher. It’s hard for me to find the time and energy to dedicate to a series. I’ll get into one for a little while, and inevitably drop off. In general, I don’t even keep up with what shows are current on TV or streaming services. It took me a few weeks to catch on to 13 Reasons Why and the debate surrounding it, but when I read a little bit about the subject matter, I knew I had to check it out. For those of you who don’t know the premise, here it is:

17-year-old Hannah Baker commits suicide. Two weeks after her death, her friend Clay finds a shoe box on his front porch. Inside the box are tape recordings made by Hannah, in which she explains the 13 reasons why she chose to commit suicide.

Even without watching, I’m sure you can probably guess the controversy: A show aimed at a teen audience, critics feel that the subject matter glorifies and encourages suicide. Which is why I had to watch. As a teen suicide survivor, I wanted to know what the fuss was about.

I will start with this: Every person who has suffered from suicidal thoughts or who has attempted suicide has a different experience. My perspective is different than any other individual who has been through this hell; therefore, no one person’s opinion on how accurate a portrayal is of teen depression and suicide is “right.” However, I found the portrayal in 13 Reasons Why to be fairly accurate, at least as it relates to my own life.

There are a number of triggers in this show: bullying, objectification of women, sexual harassment, and sexual assault, just to name a few. All were heavy reminders of my downward spiral with depression during my junior and senior years of high school. Magnify that with today’s technology and use of social media, and you truly see how terrible the high school experience can be for those who aren’t part of their school’s “inner circle.”

Many took issue with the suicide scene. They said it would encourage people who already felt suicidal to perhaps act on their thoughts. I thought it was brilliantly done. Most imagine suicide being this sure, peaceful way to die. This scene showed the reality. It showed Hannah’s obvious fear and internal struggle with her choice. It showed the excruciating pain involved with slitting ones wrists. It showed the aftermath, and her parents’ discovery. It was violent and horrifying, and nothing about it was glamorous.

Some felt Hannah was too dramatic, too vindictive. But not me. Maybe because I was Hannah. I spent my later teen years in particular struggling with feelings I didn’t understand, acting out in ways I shouldn’t have, and making choices I felt would help fix the way I was feeling (or the way people felt about me), inevitably making situations worse, to the point where I felt like everything was on me. Everything was my fault. People would be better off without me. And there was nothing more I could do.

Others felt like the tapes and the planning were too unrealistic. Suicide is impulsive, they said. And I would agree: it’s impulsive . . . for some people. But not for others. I know many people who suffer from mental illness or who’ve had suicidal thoughts. Most of us have thought deeply about “how we’d do it.” In fact, the subject of suicide came up at lunch with a group of friends last year. Someone asked, how would you do it? Every single one of us had an answer. A detailed answer. Not just the method, but where we would leave notes, who we would ensure could find us, etc.

It sounds morbid, I know. (For reassurance, we also discusses what’s the one thing that would always stop us from doing it.) But this is REAL. It’s painful and it’s hard to comprehend, but this is what mental illness is like. Even with medication. Even with therapy. It’s a constant battle between good and evil, between suicide and what is stopping you.

Unfortunately, not everyone has someone or something to stop them.

This was another hang-up for 13 Reasons Why watchers: The implication that any of the 13 people involved could have stopped Hannah from killing herself.

My feelings on this aspect are a little more complex. Yes and no. Yes, I do believe that outsiders can have a strong influence on whether a person can bring him or herself back up from the bottom of the pit. No, I ultimately don’t feel as if this is the case for every situation. That’s not to say it’s the responsibility of the person suffering from suicidal thoughts to seek help, either. Because at the end of the day, mental illness is just that. It’s an illness, for which none of us have any true control over.

Yet, we can try. We have the obligation to try. And that’s the root of the message in this show. Every one of the 13 people involved could have tried harder. They could have made better choices. Bottom line is that they could have, and should have, been kinder. Even the tiniest action or word could have a massive impact on someone’s life. It’s a moral that all of us, especially our younger generations, need to do a better job of understanding.

And it’s our responsibility to help them. Is this show too graphic for teens to watch alone? Maybe. It depends on the teenager, his or her emotional maturity and mental stability. Should teens watch this alone? No. Watch it first by yourself. Then, watch it with your kid(s). Talk to them about it, honestly. Struggling with what to say? There are plenty of guides online (I liked this blog, myself). Don’t shy away from this conversation, because it’s an important one. A very fucking important one. Talking to our kids about the realities of suicide is the strongest way we can work to prevent it going forward.

And it’s the only way we can continue to destigmatize mental illness as a whole.

why i march

Originally posted on Facebook.

I’ve seen plenty of back and forth over the last 24 hours about the rallies and marches that took place around the world yesterday. I feel privileged that I had the chance to take part in the rally here in Orlando, and I have a number of friends and loved ones who were part of other marches in different cities around the country. It gives me hope to see many of us come together in peace, love, and unity.

I’ve also seen the other side of this story. The side that throws “feminist” around as if it’s a dirty word. The side that feels yesterday was nothing more than a giant “temper tantrum” from those who did not get their way on November 8. Those that feel we (the protesters) should be thankful for how good we have it.

Let me make something very clear, in case it isn’t already: I consider myself a feminist. I didn’t for quite a long time, because for much of my life, things were very easy for me. I’ll own it: I was extremely privileged. And then, something happened: I had a mental health breakdown before college, and I had to become my own advocate for the treatment of major depression and anxiety after my suicide attempt.

Five years later, I was forced to become an advocate yet again, this time for my reproductive health after I was diagnosed with infertility at age 23 and no insurance provider would cover my medical expenses. To them, me being infertile was “elective” – as if I had chosen for my body to be broken. Soon after, my breast health took center stage, and I spent my time fighting for mammograms, despite having insurance coverage and physician approval.

All of these are lifelong medical conditions, meaning I still fight for my body on a daily basis. Recently, it took me a month to have my new depression medication approved by insurance. I have to wrangle with them every fall when I need new scans or testing, too, despite being under the care of one of the best breast cancer specialists in the state. It’s a never-ending battle.

And then came Kennedy. My sweet girl, born 5 weeks early, under some of the most difficult medical circumstances you could ever imagine. Not only did I find myself advocating for her medical rights (I still do), but I suddenly found myself having to stand for her human rights.

Have you ever been to breakfast with your child and had someone at the next table over stare at her the entire time? Give you dirty, disgusted looks? I have. Have you ever had someone comment negatively about how “ethnic” your child looks? Or her hair, specifically? I have. Have you ever been asked what your child is “mixed” with? Have you ever been asked if you are your child’s nanny? I have.

I am a feminist for myself, but also for her. I don’t protest because I “lost” on November 8. I protest because, as much as I have battled for myself and for my daughter, with that loss will come even greater struggle under an administration that has stated on multiple occasions it will enact policies that will harm 1) both of us, as women, and 2) my daughter, as a woman of color.

I protest not because I am ungrateful for how good I have it, but because I refuse to lose the progress we have made. I refuse to spend the next four years 1) moving backward, or 2) at a standstill.

I protest because the man we have put in power continuously makes statements and surrounds himself with individuals who do not respect me, my child, and numerous other minority or disenfranchised groups – whether it’s POC, the LGBTQ community, Muslim Americans, disabled, and many others.

I protest not to throw a temper tantrum, but to start a conversation – a dialogue about equality that has been absent in our society for far too long. If you’re privileged, it’s easy to dismiss this dialogue as unnecessary. I get it. When you’re sitting on that side of the fence, equality can sometimes sound like oppression. But I promise, it’s not. No one is trying to take anything from you. No one is trying to minimize your voice.

All we want is for our voices to carry the same weight and importance, not only in society but in our government. Because all of our rights are human rights.

I don’t know if there will ever be a day in my lifetime when I don’t have to worry about fighting for appropriate healthcare. I don’t know if I will ever be paid equally to my male counterparts. I don’t know if Kennedy will ever see a day when she isn’t judged by or questioned on how she looks or where she came from. But dammit, I’m proud to be a feminist fighting for the hope that these days WILL come – and I won’t stop until it happens or I’m buried six feet under.

planned parenthood

Originally posted on Facebook.

I want to begin this post by stating that I am not, nor have I ever been, a financial donor to or volunteer with Planned Parenthood. That said, I’ve seen a lot of misinformation about PP and abortion over the last few weeks. I’d urge you to take a moment and educate yourselves:

This week, legislators are set to vote to end federal aid to Planned Parenthood after the release of controversial videos suggesting that the organization sold fetal organs. The reality is that women who have abortions at Planned Parenthood are given an option to provide fetal tissue for medical and scientific research. Regardless of individual feelings and opinions on abortion, it is important to note that this is only done when requested by the patient.

It concerns me that Planned Parenthood may be stripped of millions of dollars in federal funding this week, under the guise of ending this practice — or worse, under the guise of decreasing the number of abortions PP performs.

ZERO federal dollars go toward funding abortion. Zero. Doing so would be in direct violation of the Hyde Amendment.

PP provides medical services for approximately 3 million individuals each year, most of whom are low-income teens and young women who would otherwise have no access to adequate health care. Approximately 3% of the services they perform are abortions. Stripping PP of federal funds would not stop abortions, nor would it stop women who are undergoing abortions from choosing to provide the fetal tissue to a third-party for research.

Eliminating federal funding would, however, decrease the number of reproductive services that the organization could provide to its patients. This includes cancer screening, HIV and STD screening, and — ironically — contraception.

If you are a woman, if you care about the women in your life, if you are a parent to a daughter, please consider contacting your U.S. legislators about the dangers of taking millions of dollars away from PP. Let them know you support millions of individuals, located in some of our country’s most impoverished neighborhoods, in their quest to receive adequate and affordable health care services.

Thanks. *steps off soap box*

third

I didn’t give you life. Life gave me you.

Life gave me your humor. Your infectious laughter when I tickle your neck, chase you down the hall, or play peekaboo. The way you blame farts on the dog and how hilarious you find the Mickey cartoon shorts, despite watching them hundreds of times.

Life gave me your stubbornness and sass. The way you love to tell me no. Your insistence of “I no do that again,” even though you will. Your quick ability to tell me when you don’t like something or you think I’m doing/saying something that’s incorrect.

Life gave me your curiosity. The way you already ask “Why?” about everything. Your fearless nature and how you tackle every new adventure the exact same way you jump into a pool: no hesitation and at full force. 

Life gave me your compassion. Your hugs and kisses when you can tell that someone is hurt or feeling blue. Your snuggles and reassurance when another person sheds tears. The way you say I love you, especially when it’s unprompted.

I didn’t give you life. Life gave me you. And I am forever grateful.

Happy third birthday, little one.