It’s ok to talk 

So if you’ve been on social media during the past few weeks you might have noticed a lot of posts and chatter about a Netflix series called 13 Reasons Why. You may also have noticed that there’s been a pretty mixed reaction to it. I watched the whole series a couple of weeks ago and had quite a few thoughts/opinions about it, so thought I’d write them down. Side note – there will probably be a bunch of spoilers about it in this post. So if you haven’t watched it but intend to and don’t want anything given away, don’t read on 🙂 

So 13 Reasons Why is a series based on a novel (which I must admit I haven’t read – although it’s now on my ‘to read’ list) about a girl called Hannah Baker. Hannah is a 17 year old girl who (and this isn’t a big spoiler – it’s revealed almost immediately, and in the description of the show!) has committed suicide, but who recorded 13 cassette tapes before she took her life, explaining what led her to this decision. Each tape is based on a particular person (friend, or teacher) and explains what they did, or didn’t do, or say, which when accumulated led her to the decision to take her life. 

First of all, it’s not an easy watch. It’s an addictive show in its nature – each episode is another side of a tape, so instinctively you want to keep watching to find out who did what, and to find out what tipped Hannah over that horrendous edge. But much of it is not a comfortable watch. The ‘reasons’ (and I’m trying not to give away every spoiler here) include both seemingly small, insignificant acts from Hannah’s friends – typical teenage dramas some might describe it as – to more obvious incidents such as sexual assault. But they all impact each other, and when added up, became too much for her to cope with. 

The show has received praise and criticism in abundance. It is praised for shining a light on suicide, and the ugly reality of it. It’s praised for creating conversation about mental health, which it undoubtedly does. It is also praised for making people – and I’d guess teenagers and adolescents in particular, though not only that age group – realise just how HUGE an impact everything you say and do could potentially have. It highlights the fact that you never, ever know what is really going on in someone’s head. You never know what someone’s mental health might be like, how their state of mind is, or what they might be battling or dealing with, long term or even just on that particular day. Therefore, any comment you make, seemingly innocent or otherwise, could be enough to tip someone over the edge. 

And I love the fact the show has drawn attention to this. I wrote about it in another post recently, where I mentioned a segment I’d watched on This Morning where two mothers talked about their teenage children who had committed suicide because of cyber bullying. You really never know how one little not-so-nice comment, look, or even lack of comment or acknowledgement could make someone feel. Particularly with social media and texting where you’re so remote from any reaction, its easy to forget there’s a person at the other end of the phone/social media account, and that what you say or do has consequences. Instead of saying something sarcastic and mean, or ignoring someone in the corridor you used to be friends with, ask them how they are. Even remember to ask your friends how they are, or how things are going. You don’t know how much difference that could make. It’s important that this is highlighted and stressed, and I’ve seen loads of conversation about this aspect of the show from teens on FB, so hopefully it will have a positive impact. #bekind

There were elements of the show though that I wasn’t so convinced on. They showed the graphic way Hannah ended her life, and I understand that this was to highlight that it’s not pretty, or easy, and it shouldn’t be considered as either. And I think it achieved that (I had to fast forward it because I couldn’t watch the entire scene). It does make me nervous though that anyone feeling vulnerable and in a similar place to Hannah could be ‘spurred on’ by watching it rather than deterred, and mental health charities and anti-suicide campaigns have raised similar concerns, as it could be a potential trigger. I think they hope though that the gruesomeness of it, along with the fact Hannah has a clear support network around her, even if she couldn’t see it, will show that it is not an option, never mind the only one. 

That however is the other thing I’m just not convinced on. I don’t think that they show just how many other options Hannah had. I’ve seen people comment that the show highlights just how many people she had around her who cared about her, but I’m not entirely sure it does. I think it shows she has people, but that not one of them was there for her when she needed it most. Granted she couldn’t manage to directly ask the majority of them for help, but when it came down to it and she did ask for help in the best way she could manage, the counsellor, though meaning well, tells her to ‘move on’. Now Hannah’s mental state was clearly not positive or stable, and she had been through a lot, which meant she saw this as him refusing her help. But I don’t think it’s a great message for anyone feeling like she does: ‘even if you’re brave enough to ask for help, you won’t get any anyway’ is how I read that. Maybe I’m being over critical here or missing the point, but if anyone who can relate to Hannah’s feelings and situations reads it the same way I did, there could be really negative outcomes. 

Anyway, aside from that, I think the show is really well produced and has a clear, VERY important message: it is ok to not be ok. It’s ok to not be perfect, and it’s more than ok to ask for help. It WILL get better. Things won’t always be that bad – something teenage brains (which work differently to adult brains!) often struggle to remember or comprehend. Just talk to someone. Friend, family member, teacher, colleague, stranger on the other end of a helpline. Anyone. The more you talk, the easier and better it will become. Which leads me into my next topic…

Tonight I watched the second episode of ‘Mind over Marathon’, a BBC documentary about a group of 10 individuals with mental health problems who had signed up to run the London marathon. Linked to the ‘Heads Together’ campaign, which is spearheaded by the future king, Prine William, along the Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry, the group committed to 6 months of training, both physical and mental, before running the 26.2 miles. The diverse group all suffered from depression, as well as other mental health disorders such as OCD, anxiety and PTSD. Seeing the courage and determination of the individuals was truly inspiring. I mean, anyone who can run that distance has my admiration, but managing to do it with/after suffering from depression, which leaves you struggling to get out of bed, was really quite admirable. They all said they benefitted from the running (exercise released endorphins, and endorphins lift your mood…), as well as the community and purpose it gave them. One lady, Rhian, had lost her infant son suddenly to pneumonia, then 5 days later her husband took his own life. She has subsequently suffered from crippling anxiety and depression, and carried a lot of self blame. Her ‘story’ was discussed a lot throughout the documentary, and watching her cross the finish line after 26.2 miles had me absolutely sobbing. 

The main thing that I loved about the programme was the constant encouragement to talk about mental health.  This year’s London marathon was dubbed the ‘mental health marathon’, because of the royals’ Heads Together campaign, the main aim of which was to normalise conversation about mental health. It’s so important – it shouldn’t be any different from conversation about physical health, and yet it brings with it stigma and shame and embarrassment. But it shouldn’t. 

Everyone has mental health, just as they have physical health. 1 in 4 people suffer from a mental health problem. That’s a huge fraction of the population. I’m sure some people are more predisposed to mental health problems than others, and there have in fact been times I’ve had a glimpse at what people with depression or anxiety disorders must experience day in day out. I know people who do have to deal with those conditions every day, and this isn’t surprising given the 1 in 4 statistic…I’m sure you do too. People just need to know it’s okay to talk about it, and it’s okay to get help. 

I’ve realised recently how passionate I am about this, and I really really really(!!!) hope I can use my psychology degree (1 month to go!!!) to some good use in this field. 💗

Trust and pray 

So I’ve been taking part in a ‘lent series’, that our divisional youth specialist promoted on Facebook. Each day you get a notification with a bible verse or a few verses, then at different points in the day you get up to maybe three other notifications. These either include points to reflect on, or react to. 

I initially signed up to it because I’d been looking for some sort of devotional thing, and the notifications seemed like as good a chance as any that I might stick to it. The idea behind it is to help you introduce some daily rhythm into your life and create intentional moments of focusing on God throughout the day, and thus getting to know God and Jesus more by the end of the series. Or that’s what I’m taking it as anyway. 

Since I’ve been using my bullet journal to plan out my weeks, record gratitude and purposefully pray for people, I thought it might be helpful to write down the daily bible verses and thought points every day in the journal. I always take things in more if I write them down so I hoped it would help me connect deeper to the scripture and the points for reflection. 

And it has. I was determined not to do what I usually do with things like this and last a few days, forget about it and move on. I’ve managed to write out every day’s reading and reflections so far, even if I had fallen a week or so behind and had to write out a lot yesterday! I’ve included pictures of the pages in my journal throughout this post, although have blurred out a few bits where I’ve responded and it’s more personal than I’d like to share on here. 

When I was catching up last night, I got to one that was based on Jonah 2:5-7, when basically Jonah is drowning and then he looks to God for help. (Clearly that’s the shortened, edited version) The messages along with the verse first asked if you’ve ever felt overwhelmed (yes!!), then secondly told you to react by telling someone how you honestly feel right now – be it good or bad – and ask them to pray with you/for you. I haven’t done many of the ‘react’ tasks, however as soon as I read this I knew I wanted to do it. I wasn’t really sure who to do it with, but I picked two people I trusted and went from there. 

I don’t like asking people to pray for me. I find it really odd, and find that it feels even more vulnerable than asking for ‘normal’ help. I’m not really sure why this is – maybe it’s because I’m not good about talking about my faith in God in general, or because I don’t fully understand how the whole praying thing really works, or because I’m not used to doing it, or possibly just because I don’t like admitting when I need help. I have however just finished another month of consciously choosing somebody specific every day to pray for, and I figured that if I can manage to pray for people, then I could be brave enough to ask someone to do the same for me. 

Anyway, once I got over the initial cringing of asking someone to pray for me, I cringed some more by admitting how I honestly feel at the minute. It sounds really straightforward, but in order to make the process worthwhile I wanted to be brutally honest, and that’s not always so easy or so pretty. Anyway, I wrote out a paragraph about how I feel about life at the minute (and rewrote it about 10 times, no exaggeration), and moved on. 

The next notification for that day was another instruction, which was to check in on your friends, ask how they are doing, really listen, and pray for them too. Another thing I don’t find easy to do, but that I was keen to do . Partly because it provided a way of having proper chat – it’s not always easy to have conversations like these with friends about how things are or how either of you are really getting on or feeling. Often we’re ‘too busy’ to get together to catch up, or we see each other briefly, or it can be awkward to bring up, particularly in relationships where you don’t see each other often and communication is mostly done by text. The two friends I (initially..I kind of intend to do it with more) sent the message to are close friends of mine, but ones that I have quite different relationships with. One i tend to go to for help a lot, and the other often comes to me. With the friend I turn to a lot, I’m often concerned that I don’t get the chance to be there for her or reciprocate the support. And with the other, I was conscious to show that I trust her just as she does me. So I was keen in both cases to try and strengthen the relationship and make it stronger in both directions. 

Anyway, after rewriting the entire message at least a dozen times, I finally sent it and went to sleep, nervous in anticipation to see how they would respond to my randomness. (I did apologise twice in the message – once for the length of it, and also for if it seemed odd or random…. why so much fear of being judged?!) 

And I’m really glad I sent them. I’ve had some good, real conversations today as a result – something I hugely value. I’ve been prayed for twice (there’s a double sided comfort in that – knowing you’re supported by friends, and by God), and I’ve heard what is going on in my friends’ lives and prayed for them in return. 

I preached in devotions at youth band recently about how we often talk to our friends about all kinds of stuff, but rarely about God, and that it shouldn’t be that way. Only, until yesterday I hadn’t really taken my own advice. I cringed at having conversations about praying for each other, yet there was a huge comfort and also a closeness that came from doing so. (For me, at least. Maybe those friends are reading this now thinking I’m a nutter!) I’ve always raised my eyebrows (surprise surprise) when it gets preached that relationships need to be built around God, but maybe I’m beginning to see how much stronger they can be when that is actually the case. 

So, I’d preach the same thing as I did at youth band – “It’s important that we talk to each other about our faith and how we’re doing spiritually, just as we would have a conversation about how we’re feeling physically. I know it can feel awkward, but it really shouldn’t.” It can feel awkward and i was even afraid of being judged for being ‘too holy’, despite knowing that both of the friends I text are just as invested (and inquisitive!) about their faith as I am. My advice – go for it. Talk to God, (I still struggle with this concept, but if you do too, bear with me!) and talk to your friends about talking to God. 

I might share some more posts about what else has come up in the lent series, but that’s all for now. (Thank goodness I hear you say!) I’m really glad I signed up to it, because between that, the conscious effort to pray, and writing down 3 things I’m grateful for every day, I’m noticing a positive difference in my outlook on things, and that can’t be a bad thing!!