I’m sorry, Hannah Baker.

by | Mar 1, 2023 | Non Fiction, Stories | 2 comments

Content warning! There will be mention of self-harm and suicide in this article. Both topics are sensitive and can be harmful or traumatizing to some readers. 

Some unnecessary background information

In the spring of 2017, I watched a trailer for a new series on Netflix. I was on the tram on my way home, with only two stops left before I reached Sandelingsplein. I liked to listen to music or watch videos whenever I used public transportation. Back then, there was a lot of buzz surrounding the series 13 Reasons Why. I heard a few teenagers talk about it on the tram. My sister also told me about it. So I went on YouTube to watch the trailer. At first, I didn’t know what to think of the trailer. Was this some murder mystery teen drama? I didn’t even know it was based on a book. A few weeks later, the series came out. I saw all thirteen episodes in one sitting. Watching a whole season of a series in one night was something I used to do back then. Now I can’t even watch three episodes of twenty minutes without shutting my eyes. 

Self-Injury Awareness Day (SIAD)

I wrote most parts of this story about a year ago. Today is Self-Injury Awareness Day (SIAD). Those who know me are aware that I’m not a fan of observance days however, they can be useful to bring awareness on certain topics, and I thought it was the perfect time to publish this piece. If you don’t know what self-injury is I will explain it shortly and provide links if you want to read more. Self-injury refers to self-harming behaviors such as cutting and other intentional forms of self-harm, for example burning, pinching, scratching, or the ingestion of chemicals, etc. Self-injury is a call, more like a scream, for help. Sadly the (early) signs can sometimes go unnoticed.

Furthermore, stigma and shame on the topic aren’t doing any favors to people who self-harm or/ and struggle with mental health problems. Signs of self-harm include: isolation, wearing baggy clothes to hide scars or bruises, and spending long periods locked in the bathroom or bedroom. Self-injury and suicide are associated with each other, but when someone self-harms, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they are suicidal, and being suicidal doesn’t automatically mean that the person self-harms.

What am I sorry for?

Okay, back to Hannah Baker. Because I’m sure you are wondering why I’m apologizing to a fictional character. After finishing the last episode, I told my boyfriend how stupid the plot was and that it was a total waste of my time. Back then, my boyfriend was experimenting with creating websites. He created a platform for gamers called Loco Gamer. It was more of a blog. He was having a lot of fun with it. I don’t remember how or why, but I decided to write an article about the series. The article was still untitled when I finished it. It didn’t take long before I came out with the perfect title: FML For Watching 13 Reasons Why. Only those of you who have seen the series will get that reference. My boyfriend published the article on his website. 

We tried to share it on social platforms. On Facebook, it got more likes than I expected. I even got compliments from fellow students who enjoyed the article (I was still studying in Rotterdam in 2017). After a few years, my boyfriend stopped using the website and deleted it. My article got deleted in the process. 

When the second season came out in 2018, I wasn’t planning on watching it. I was also confused because I thought the series got concluded in the first season. Around the time that the second season came out, I started working at a foundation that works primarily on the prevention of child abuse. I read a lot on the topic. I still do. My job changed the way I see things and gave me another set of glasses. I started seeing things through a trauma-informed lens (which made me more aware, but also more angsty and paranoid). And with all the backstories of the second season, I confirmed how wrong and mistaken I’ve been. I was ashamed of my arrogance and disappointed by the perspective that I had the year before. A lot can change in a year, I guess. 

The plot of the first season

Now, for those of you who aren’t familiar with 13 Reasons Why, I’m going to describe the plot of the first season in a nutshell. Hannah Baker was a 17-year-old high school student. She had an awful high school experience, a shitty school counselor, and in the end, no friends. Hannah was sexually assaulted one night by a fellow student. When she felt the need to tell a trusted adult about what happened, she got dismissed. She wasn’t heard, and she didn’t get the help that she needed. That was the last straw for Hannah, who died by suicide shortly after. Before the sexual assault, Hannah was already being (sexually) harassed and bullied at school. She had no one. She must have felt so alone.

Don’t look back in anger

It’s been almost five years since I first saw that series. People hardly talk about it anymore, but the series caused a lot of commotion in its time. People were making mean memes, calling Hannah a snowflake, and mental health professionals also got in on it, calling the show harmful for romanticizing suicide. Schools were worried that teenagers may start recreating what they saw in the series. Eventually, the bathroom scene where everything happened was edited out of the show. Adults will always have this need and impulse to protect the young ones, but this wasn’t the first, nor the last show to depict graphic scenes of suicide. 

I realize that nobody is perfect and that we’re all susceptive to change, well, not everybody, but you know what I mean. So here it goes, my apology to Hannah and to those who are not with us anymore. Not because they gave up but because they couldn’t take it anymore, and the pain got unbearable. Your pain cannot always be comforted, and words may not always be powerful enough to embrace your pain. But this, what you are feeling, at this moment, is a part of you, but it’s not YOU! 

What makes it worse is that I was about to obtain a Bachelor’s degree in Social Work the following year. That is one of the main reasons why I was ashamed, but being a social worker doesn’t exactly mean that all social workers are empathic angels who understand and listen to people without prejudice. People misjudge people with depression all the time. She’s too pretty to have depression. He’s too talented to be depressed. They are so rich, how can they be depressed? People think a depressed person is someone wearing a black hoody who sleeps in a dark corner of a cold room in a fetal position all day. And the signs of distress that Hannah disclosed in the series were obvious.

What’s disappointing is that the only good thing that I had to say about the show was that their choice of music was great. I can’t be mad at the fact that I changed my perspective after getting more information on the topic, and hey, maybe the article wasn’t as bad as I make it sound. I even mentioned the three, now four, types of trauma responses. The fact that I was once able to blame someone who has experienced sexual abuse, that’s what troubled me. Being aware of our blind spots is very important to stay critical in these types of situations (or at least try).

Mental health on a sunny island

In the last couple of years, there have been different types of initiatives on the topic of mental health on the island of Aruba. For some reason, I still feel that we are on the tip of the iceberg. I’m not talking about the people walking around with (undiagnosed) mental health problems. I’m talking about the organizations that are supposed to offer help. The topic of mental health itself is dynamic and constantly changing. The common belief about depression has been debunked last year. A chemical imbalance in the brain may not be the cause of depression after all. Furthermore, mental healthcare professionals and advocates for mental health may agree that mental issues can often quickly be pathologized by people, without having a complete overview of someone’s circumstances.

People with trauma, or people who happen to be under chronic stress, may just be naturally responding to a stressful and unhealthy environment and are simply coping the best way they know how. But they quickly get labeled with some sort of disorder such as OCD, ADHD, bipolar disorder, or anxiety disorder. Anyway, my point is that we are constantly learning about mental health. I feel, and this is my personal opinion, that we sometimes lack correct information on the topic or that we see things too black and white here in Aruba. No, sometimes we see it too “rooskleurig” as we like to say in Dutch.

Positive quotes and prayers may not always help people to deal with mental health issues. Sometimes people need help now. Not in a few months, now! Sadly the reality still is that sometimes there is a waiting list for people to get help. I guess I’m saying that not everybody, not even people who call themselves professionals on the topic, always knows what they are talking about. We slap around the importance of lifelong learning, but let’s be honest, not all professionals practice it. If you are someone who got psychosocial or psychological support in Aruba, do share your experience. Okay, back to the apology because this article is getting too long.

Dear Hannah,

I’m sorry for writing that article.

I’m sorry that I dismissed what you were going through.

I’m sorry for mocking you.

I’m sorry for shaming you.

I’m sorry for judging you.

I’m sorry for my lack of empathy.

I’m sorry I was a b*itch to you (I should have known better).

I’m sorry to all the Hannahs. 

2 Comments

  1. Karla

    You make me curious about that article you wrote 🤭 either way it doesn’t make you a bad person for it. We all judge and shame people atleast once in our lifetime, but it’s nice to read that you see through people’s struggles and that you are sorry for it ❤️ nice post.

    • jammita

      Thanks for the sweet and kind message, Karla.

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