PTSD and Awareness

Thirteen Reasons Why Discussion #4

**Trigger Warning — This post covers a broad spectrum of potentially triggering topics, such as abuse, bullying, sexual assault, and suicide. Please read with caution. If you need to find help for any reason, go to 13ReasonsWhy.info.**

What Was Done Right: Part One

**Spoilers Ahead — proceed with caution.**

I’m back with another discussion post about the controversial TV show, Thirteen Reasons Why. If you haven’t already, feel free to read the introduction, The Problems: Parts OneTwo, and Three.

From the moment the show begins, up until that last moment before the final credits roll in episode thirteen, the writers and showrunners did many things right. These things, probably more than the problems combined, are what has stirred up so much controversy and conversation.

Many of these details are things you probably didn’t notice or fully understand unless you’ve watched this show from start to finish more than once or you’ve experienced something similar. And like any good story, very little was left to chance in the final editing and production.

What really sets this show apart from most others was that there was so much more going on under the surface. Things like symbolism, hints and clues, even in the most heartbreaking of moments: the accuracy.

Today, I’m talking about the little details.

To save you the trouble, I’m going to break them down for you. If you have watched this show and choose to revisit it to recognize these for yourself, you’ll at least know where to look.

The first, and arguably the biggest of these was the differentiation between the “current” and the “past” — more specifically, when Hannah Baker was still alive. While watching, you may not have noticed the underlying theme in these time shifts. You see, it wasn’t just an indication of time. It’s a subtle reminder, but of what?

Think about it. Whenever Clay is listening or going about his post-Hannah reality, we see that not only are the days shorter and colder, but so are the colors. Did you notice that the leaves aren’t fiery reds, oranges, and browns, but more muted? Did you notice how everything is tinged with blue?

Compare that with the flashbacks of Hannah, narrating each moment that led her to take her life, the moments Clay remembered as she did so, do you see it?

Everything is more vivid, colors are alive, and the warmth is evident, especially when time shifts. You can visibly see the change. This wasn’t done by chance. And though it is helpful to differentiate time, it also shows people that the world is darker and colder without Hannah in it.

You may have also noticed that Jeff wasn’t present in any of the post-Hannah scenes, except when Clay was dreaming or hallucinating. My first time watching, I didn’t make the connection that Jeff was the other student who was lost, shortly before Hannah’s death, until tape number ten.

How about the significance of the songs that played throughout the show? Did you like the way they sounded, or did you actually listen to the lyrics? Take the very first song in episode one as we see Clay at his locker. “More Than Gravity” by Colin and Caroline is playing. Here’s a line you can hear, “I can’t love you, I’m too scared to.” Significant? You bet. Heartbreaking too, if you know the rest of the story already.

What about the throwback songs (or covers) to the era of the cassette tapes? Did you happen to notice that many of them committed suicide or they were significantly tied to people that did? Take Chromatics’ “Into The Black,” which was originally written by Neil Young. “It’s better to burn out than to fade away,” was quoted in Kurt Cobain’s suicide note.

How about “The Night We Met” by Lord Huron? “Haunted by the ghost of you” not only refers to Clay’s current state of mind as he listens to the tapes, but those moments they danced together.

Take some time and give the songs a listen and maybe look them up for their significance. You might be surprised at what you find.

Did you notice the entirety of Hannah’s published poem? As Clay reads the second half of the poem to Hannah in the Crestmont Theater, it’s clear that the poem takes a much darker turn. Try going back to episode eight and listening to the words.

How about the semicolon tattoo on Tony’s arm? Did you miss that? What about the glances and questions surrounding Jessica’s “encounter” the night of her party? Did you notice them?

In the next post, I’m going to delve a little deeper into what happens with Jessica, and how one incident can change a person forever. So stay tuned for that.

© Sarah Doughty

PTSD and Awareness

Thirteen Reasons Why Discussion #3

**Trigger Warning — This post covers a broad spectrum of potentially triggering topics, such as abuse, bullying, sexual assault, and suicide. Please read with caution. If you need to find help for any reason, go to 13ReasonsWhy.info.**

The Problems: Part Three

**Spoilers Ahead — proceed with caution.**

I’m back with another discussion post about the controversial TV show, Thirteen Reasons Why. If you haven’t already, feel free to read the introduction, The Problems: Parts One and Two.

In this discussion I’m going to talk about the tapes. However, this is a two-sided discussion, because there was definitely a problem, but there was something the writers and showrunners did right. I’ll discuss the latter in a later post. This one is going to center around the “revenge plot” the world is up in arms about.
In Thirteen Reasons Why, Hannah Baker goes through a series of devastating events that build up over time and eventually take away her sense of self. In reason number ten, Hannah’s thoughts start to take a turn from lonely, objectified, and dejected, to something much darker.

After that (mostly) disastrous night at Jessica’s party, Sheri offers to take a drunken Hannah home. While distracted, Sheri ends up knocking down a stop sign and then abandons Hannah when she insists on calling the police. Within the minutes it takes her to reach the Blu Spot Liquor Store, a fatal accident occurs at the same intersection.

When Hannah realizes the location of the accident, she confronts Sheri, who then warns Hannah, “Keep your mouth shut,” and informs her that they shouldn’t be seen together going forward.

Being the kind of person Hannah is (continuing to be a friend to people that continuously turn their backs on her) she stays silent about fellow classmate, Jeff’s death. But, at the same time, she begins thinking, “It was becoming more than I could live with.” And from there, with increasing conviction, she believes that all she manages to do is make lives for everyone else worse, and that the world would be a better place without her.

Reason number twelve, arguably the worst of all the other reasons leading up to her decision to make the tapes, solidified her resolve. So, Hannah begins to write down a list of names and works out all the things that happened and who was responsible for them. As she finishes mapping everything out and the puzzle becomes clear, she makes the determination, “No one would ever hurt me again.”

Having heard of countless other people talk about their thoughts after experiencing similar events at school, I can understand Hannah’s last effort to stand up for herself. The problem is that she lacks the ability to see what kind of an effect her tapes would have on other people.

The thing people have a problem understanding is that Hannah has had everything stripped from her and she feels that the people responsible need to know what they’ve done to ruin her life. But why does she think that?

Many adults seem to forget what it was like being a teenager, and how everything seemed infinite. Permanent. That’s because the frontal lobe of a teenage brain hasn’t fully formed yet. Hannah was in the same situation. She couldn’t fathom any other option. And unfortunately for her, she didn’t have anyone to tell her otherwise.

The decision to include Clay in the tapes was arguably the worst part. Leading up to not-so-reason-number-eleven, he was tortured. Even awaiting reasons twelve and thirteen, Clay faced the reality of Hannah’s proverbial final nails in her coffin. All the while, Tony continuously tells him to listen to the tapes, because,  “It’s what Hannah wanted.” But, as a result, he felt constant fear and anxiety.

Even Hannah admits that Clay did nothing wrong, but she wanted him to know her reasons. Perhaps the most tragic thing she says to Clay in order to justify pushing him away is, “I would have ruined you.”

I know from my own past that if I was alone when the worst of my memories resurfaced, I don’t know how I would have survived. But more importantly, as I continue to try to push through my reality of complex PTSD, those very same thoughts pass through my head on a daily basis. I constantly question if my husband would be happier without me, because it feels as though my problems shouldn’t be his to bear as well.

As probably the only person that could have been there to change Hannah’s mind about suicide, Clay was ultimately clueless about what she was dealing with. She may not have realized how much damage she was doing to Clay, and her “revenge” on the others was her last, and she believed, only way to fight back after her death.

Right or wrong, making those tapes gave Clay — and, to a lesser extent, Tony — the chance to find some justice for her, when she couldn’t get it for herself. In a later post, I’ll discuss the other, positive side of her tapes.

© Sarah Doughty

PTSD and Awareness

Thirteen Reasons Why Discussion #2

**Trigger Warning — This post covers a broad spectrum of potentially triggering topics, such as abuse, bullying, cutting, sexual assault, and suicide. Please read with caution. If you need to find help for any reason, go to 13ReasonsWhy.info.**

The Problems: Part Two

**Spoilers Ahead — proceed with caution.**

I’m back with another discussion post about the controversial TV show, Thirteen Reasons Why. If you haven’t already, feel free to read the introduction here and the first discussion here.

There’s been lots of speculation over the show’s decision with Skye, Clay’s old friend — someone he hasn’t connected with in some time. As we see Skye throughout the show, we can tell she’s carrying some baggage of her own. Her tattoos, makeup, clothing, and accessories are indicative enough of her individuality. Now, we don’t know her past, but we do know that she’s been through something. Or, at least, her appearance gives us that impression.

Clay and Skye’s relationship is on unstable grounds, and he isn’t sure whether he can trust her, let alone consider her a friend.

When Clay is anxious about hearing his tape in episode eleven, Skye offers to help him with a Tarot reading. Intrigued by what she could offer him, he agrees. But as she starts to read the cards, Clay takes the offensive, which leads to an argument. Her analysis is too close for him to handle, and he thinks she is intentionally trying to provoke him.

But Skye’s appearance — those tattoos, her makeup and hair, even her accessories, clothes, and her use of Tarot cards isn’t what’s stirring up discussion and controversy. It’s what happens when Clay strikes back at her.

As Skye deals the cards, Clay notices scars. Tiny cuts, in various stages of healing along her inner wrist and forearm. A clear sign that she is what many refer to as a cutter. As he lashes out in the middle of her reading, she asks, “Why would I be jealous of a dead girl? What she did was stupid.”

In defense, Clay mentions that she didn’t know anything about Hannah.

“I know she didn’t go through anything different than any of us. We all get through it.”

Clay grabs Skye’s arm, gesturing at the cuts on her wrist, and asks, “Then what’s that?”

“It’s what you do instead of killing yourself.”

Simple answer, right? Not really.

Now, before you jump on my back and attack what I’m saying, hear me out. Since I haven’t read the book, I don’t know if Skye is in it, or if she is, if this is even a part of her storyline, but what I do know is that this show is just like fiction. Imagine if you were reading a book, would you think anything other than, “This is just one girl’s opinion.”

But that’s exactly what it is. A character is someone with his or her own thoughts, beliefs, and choices. This is Skye’s method of coping.

What has the world up in arms is the argument that the show is subtly telling teens they should cut instead of slit their wrists. Perhaps some might feel that cutting is a viable answer. It isn’t the right answer, but at least it isn’t suicide.

One (fictional) girl’s opinion doesn’t mean that the show wants anyone contemplating suicide to cut instead, though some may argue that point. But is it really that unrealistic to see one girl in high school dealing her pain in the way Skye does?

I don’t think so.

Why?

If you’re dealing with as much insecurity and ridicule as Hannah and Skye (or any other girl in high school, or victim of abuse, or sexual assualt, etc.) there’s bound to be some damaged ones dealing any way they can. Especially with people who deal with extreme levels of anxiety or fears — the kinds of emotions most cutters feel the most when they experience that urge to feel physical pain instead of emotional — it doesn’t seem that unlikely.

You see, when someone diagnosed with Non-Suicidal Self-Injury, or NSSI, feels physical pain, scans revealed a decrease in activity in the emotional centers of the brain. Feeling physical pain helps them feel better emotionally. (Source) Does this behavior mean that it’s safe to be an NSSI? Not at all.

I don’t think Netflix or the writers were wrong about Skye and her answer to Clay, but I do think it’s worth mentioning. Yes, it is a cause for concern — not for the show, and Skye’s explanation in particular, but for anyone that causes physical harm to themselves. NSSIs are statistically at an increased risk of suicide, either on purpose or by accident, and it should be stressed that individuals that harm themselves need to seek out help.

A warning at the end of this episode informing people that self-harm shouldn’t be considered a viable option and that anyone suffering from it needs to find help would suffice.

© Sarah Doughty

PTSD and Awareness

Thirteen Reasons Why Discussion #1

**Trigger Warning — This post covers a broad spectrum of potentially triggering topics, such as abuse, bullying, sexual assault, and suicide. Please read with caution. If you need to find help for any reason, go to 13ReasonsWhy.info.**

After introducing this series, this will serve as the first of insightful discussion posts surrounding the controversial show, Thirteen Reasons Why.

The Problems: Part One

To begin, one of my biggest issues with Thirteen Reasons Why was the lack of proper warnings. When the show was first released to Netflix, I saw the preview. It was the first thing that started to play when I opened it. And of course, it caught my attention right away. I didn’t know it was a bestselling mystery, (except that the trailer mentioned it was) nor did I know what that book was about.

It portrayed a tale about a girl that killed herself, and a question: Why would a dead girl lie? Small segments of the show played, which portrayed Hannah’s various stages of decline, but nothing about what happens to her.

“Don’t believe everything you hear,” one girl says.

Then, in what appears to be a heated conversation, a boy rushes, “She was just a crazy drama queen who killed herself for attention.”

The preview goes on to indicate that they (the ones alive) are afraid of the truth. And that they should be.

When the trailer ended, I was intrigued enough to add it to my list, but I didn’t start watching right away. I was left with a sense that maybe this girl witnessed some kind of murder and her secrets were what ultimately killed her. Though my assumption wasn’t entirely wrong, I was unaware of just how much of an emotional train ride I was about to take.

After a few days, I decided it was time to start watching. From the start, we know a girl is dead as a result of suicide. This brings me to my next two issues.

From the beginning of episode one, they should have included a small warning about suicide and any other triggering issues that might arise in that particular episode, including a resource for people who might need help if the content stirred up too much emotion in them. As of my last viewing, this was not addressed, despite Netflix’s statement promising that they would do so.

The resource page listed above for people who need help was only mentioned in “Beyond The Reason” which was a short documentary that came after the show’s season finale (which includes spoilers). Three episodes included warnings at the beginning. Three. Granted, these were the hardest episodes to watch, but something should have been included in other episodes as well.

Why do I think these three things are a problem? Because people are going to start watching this show, not realizing what they’re getting into before it’s too late. By the time I started piecing together where the story was headed, I was invested in the characters. What happened? Who did what? And ultimately, what was so bad that this girl saw no other way out?

I knew it would be an emotional journey, and my past experiences of abuse had little to do with Hannah Baker’s. But there were situations I related to. There were certain aspects of Hannah’s pain that resembles mine (both then and now) in a way that I felt like I knew exactly how she felt and what was going on in certain situations. I grieved for her, not just because I could relate to how she felt, but because there are so many other girls that have experienced the same thing, or will in the future. Without a lifeline, I don’t know where I would have ended up. I could only imagine how difficult it would be for someone dealing with similar issues as Hannah in school right now, or if they’ve experienced something similar in the past.

If someone already struggling begins watching this show, they could end up in a spiral of emotions, triggers, and a sleuth of other things that comes naturally with victims and sufferers of PTSD. This is why I can’t blindly recommend that everyone should watch this show. To say so would be irresponsible and potentially dangerous.

So, yes, Netflix and the showrunners could have done a better job preparing people for what was coming. I think there’s enough buzz going around that people are more aware than I was about the show’s content, but I think those things should still be addressed.

© Sarah Doughty

PTSD and Awareness

Mental Health Series: 13 Reasons Why

This will be the first of, hopefully, a series of insightful discussion posts.

For those of you that have seen or read Thirteen Reasons Why, Stratosphere I and II might sound a little familiar. That’s because it is. There were so many parallels of what happened in Hannah and Clay’s life that remind me of what I’ve experienced with my husband. Though Hannah’s situation was different, her thoughts were, and in many ways, still are, very similar to mine.

Since May is Mental Awareness Month, I’m going to be sharing a series of posts about the show, specifically. The faults, the things they did right, those little details that most people probably missed. But the most important part: it’s getting people talking.

I’m going to start each post with a trigger warning, because, let’s face it, this entire show can be triggering to people, and even more so as it progresses. I’ll also include a link to a landing page for people who may need to find some help if they feel like they need it for whatever reason.

My purpose here is not to take sides over the controversy. It’s not to trigger people or otherwise cause harm. I’ve learned a lot over my years, after the abuse I faced as a child, and now as an adult, trying to work through that complex PTSD.

I’m offering  insight from my perspective, and letting people know how important this story is, but also making one point very clear: this is not something I can recommend to everyone.

One way or another, most people will relate to something that happens in this story, and not everyone is in the right place to deal with the onslaught of emotions that could come from it.

But, suicide is a very real and very dangerous problem. It’s important that people notice the signs that were missed time and time again over the course of this show and understand that as human beings, we are all flawed.

Maybe, just maybe, if we are more aware of others, we will see these signs and take a moment to help someone who needs it.

© Sarah Doughty

PTSD and Awareness

Suffocate

When you can’t breathe and feel your heart pumping through every vein and artery in your body. When those lungs feel like they’re on fire, and the steam is rising into your head as the pressure builds. In those moments when your muscles tense and you fight with every last ounce of energy you can muster and still know it won’t be enough to pull in that delicious air. Feel that, and you’ll have a small taste of what if feels like to be me. All the time.

© Sarah Doughty

PTSD and Awareness

Memories Of The Past

As a young child, I suffered some of the worst abuse imaginable from a man that should have been my protector. I remembered some of it.

I remembered the drunken steps coming up the stairs, the erratic footsteps coming toward my room. I remembered his words and what he said to me.

And I remembered my punishments.

But they ended there. For the longest time I thought either he eventually knocked me out, or I feel asleep.

But that wasn’t the case.

I dissociated. Though I was still me at the time, my memories of it were gone.

Until after the birth of my son.

For those of you that don’t know what this is like, remembering these types of disassociated memories, this is what it was like for me.

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They started small. Some thoughts usually. Something completely random would pop into my head. Maybe it was something he said, or some kind of motion he made.

It was a flicker of a moment I didn’t recall, a thought about being caged beneath his body. And how it felt.

I didn’t understand why I was thinking those thoughts, and they disturbed the hell out of me. Why, after all that time, would my mind start to do something like that.

At first, I thought it was exhaustion, perhaps my imagination went into overdrive. And no matter how hard I tried, they kept coming.

Just like when it started, the briefest of glimpses, or a flutter of a thought, but they started changing, evolving.

Those memories started to become clearer, more vivid. Really vivid. That was when I knew I wasn’t crazy.

That was the moment I realized I was remembering all my mind chose to put behind a wall for safe keeping.

© Sarah Doughty

PTSD and Awareness

After Everything You Took

Sometimes it feels like my bones are all that remains of me. Taking away the constant suffering and pain that comes with PTSD and that’s about all that would be left.

My mind is affected, the way I think, my emotional response is different, my physical responses are different. I think the only thing he didn’t break was my bones. And I’m surprised he didn’t.

Though he made me watch as he broke the ribs of my only friend at the time, a dog. Made me watch as that dog died a horrific death. A punishment, he said.

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Everything about me is tainted by what he did.

It’s not easy, being like this. It’s a struggle every day. Many people don’t understand what it’s like to constantly be afraid, to always feel on edge, like something is going to jump out of the darkness and eat you alive.

That’s exactly what it’s like. All. The. Time. Having a reprieve — any reprieve — is better than nothing.

Even though he is dead and cannot
come after me, I think, deep down,
I will always be afraid.

I’m far from healed, I’m far from being able to function in society. But I keep trying.

If you’re suffering from PTSD like me, you’re not alone. You’re never alone. Don’t forget that.

© Sarah Doughty

PTSD and Awareness, Random Thoughts

Forest of Shadows

In those darkest of moments, I hold on to all that remains with blood on my hands and scars in my heart. In this infinite forest of shadows and forgotten light, I’ve made my home.

All this time I’ve been trying to find my way through the thicket and bramble, catching my flesh on the thorns and craggy branches that wish to keep me confined.

I rip and tear, and tirelessly fight against those prickly restraints, trying to find the way out. The way to you.

It seems, the more I struggle, the more I lose. There are days I feel close, like maybe I’ll finally reach my destination if I can just push through the last of the ridges ahead. But every time I reach their peaks, I’m met with an infinite number more to follow.

I’m running blind, scared, and alone, but I’m still searching for signs that says, THIS WAY.

For the first time in a long time, I found a clue.

One tiny, little breadcrumb that whispered, “Over here.” I heard it. And it reverberated through my soul like the cries of a carrion bird.

I cried back into the nothingness that surrounded me, “I’m here.” Nothing but the vastness of the forest responded.

But maybe, just maybe, they can hear me. And if I can’t find them, maybe they’ll find me. And together, we can make that dark and dingy place a home.

After all, being together is far better than being alone.

Written in response to my husband’s article.

© Sarah Doughty

PTSD and Awareness

A Trigger Response

PTSD is no cakewalk. Far from it. I’ve dealt with it for most of my life, but it wasn’t until after my son was born that it worsened.

It wasn’t overnight.

Slowly, I would hear the voice of my abuser saying things I never heard before in my mind. I’d see events in my head I didn’t remember.

Because I didn’t remember.

My memories came back.
And they were the worst
memories imaginable.

I dealt with them as best I could, but it came to a point that they became to much, especially after I almost died.

It was like the floodgates opened and the worst of the worst were suddenly there. Front and center.

By the time I was forced out of work for good, I was crumbling, drowning, and lost.

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That was because I was in a constant state of a combination of high alert, anxiety overload, and panic. But it didn’t end there.

Depression took hold, which wasn’t surprising. And I was angry at myself. My younger self. For many reasons.

I learned, in intimate detail
what it felt like to shatter.

Everyone is different, in how they feel when they’re overwhelmed by their own demons, but I thought it would be pertinent to share, physiologically and mentally how it feels.

How it happens when I’m falling into a flashback, panic, and anxiety attack.

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Cold washes over my entire body like a flash freeze. It starts in my neck and travels down my spine.

My lungs forget how to operate because I stop breathing for a time as the blood drains from my face as I begin to feel me ears catch fire. That’s when the cold shifts into heat and I break out into a cold sweat.

It feels like craggy fingers
crawling up the back of my neck.

My heart rate triples and my lungs start working again, but with a sensation that no air is actually entering them.

That’s when time stands still. Everything around me disappears and I’m no longer me.
I’m that little girl, cowering in the corner at two in the morning as I hear the sound of his stomping footsteps coming up the stairs.

Footsteps coming for me.

That’s when I’m utterly and completely terrified. And at the same time, I’m lost and can’t find my way back for a time.

Take a minute and think about that.

© Sarah Doughty