For those of you who have been living under a rock, last spring 2017 Netflix released their smash hit series 13 Reasons Why which told the story of Hannah Baker and the series of events that eventually led up to her suicide. The series was graphic, inflammatory, and, perhaps most importantly, gripping to millions of viewers. Aimed at a young demographic, based off of Jay Asher's YA book, it brought about the chance to instigate a conversation about mental health between teens and adults.
I'd be lying though if I said that watching the series was comforting as someone who has survived mental illness. The violent scenes in which Hannah slits her own wrists -- well, I watched it through my fingers with bated breath. Which made my anticipation for season 2 hesitant at best: for what could truly be said now that the act was done?
I also had my own distrust of the way that Hannah's story was portrayed. To me, it represented the ultimate revenge fantasy. At times, 13 Reasons Why seemed to say, "Hey! Kill yourself and you'll ruin the lives of so many who have wronged you." And while it's true that the choice to inflict harm on yourself is just as critical in the lives of others close to you as if you had harmed them instead, it seemed that Hannah's intention was to hurt others rather than to escape her world.
Enter Skye Miller. In the first seasons, she was auxiliary, talking about mental health in another capacity: self-harm. Her argument was that it's what you do to not kill yourself. While I have never personally self-harmed in explicit fashions such as cutting, there are things that happen when you become mentally ill that do have "self-harm" implications. Picking at your skin until you bleed. Pulling at your hair incessantly. Starvation. Binge-eating. Binge-drinking. I would even consider little things like not being able to dress yourself anymore as a form of self-neglect. Skye Miller was the embodiment of these behaviors in the first season in her ambiguity.
Season 2 picks up with a new development: Skye is the girlfriend of main character Clay Jensen. And they immediately launch into her own mental health when he discovers cuts on her lower half during an intimate moment. Upon the two of them getting into a fight, Clay follows her home only to arrive just as an ambulance is pulling away with an unconscious Skye. The implication is obvious: this is our next Hannah Baker. But why? And what about this story is going to be different?
As it turns out, a lot. Clay manages to visit Skye in the hospital and Skye becomes the mental health hero that we've all been looking for. I had to pull out my phone and rewind the tape in order to take a digital note of her first truth bomb: "It's like I have all of these feelings and I can't control them, like I'm a visitor in my own mind, and if I don't catch my own breath I'll burn up and I'll go away." Because this is what my own mental health felt like at the uncontrollable moments, like the time I asked my dad for his car keys so I could scream-cry in his truck. There's a certain detachment that occurs in these moments, where you're just facilitating and assuaging the demon inside of you.
I was so empowered by having someone actually represent mental illness as a lifelong implication rather than the results of some cruelty. And then Skye did what should have been addressed in the first series: she gets hospitalized in an in-patient program.
Time lapses in the series and it's several episodes until Clay gets a call that Skye can finally see him. And they have what may be the most critical conversation that happens in the entire series. "Everyone's brain chemistry is different so it might take them one or two times before they find the right combination of meds," Skye says during a park walk with Clay. To which he asks the quite frankly insensitive but well-intended question, "But won't that change you?" And let me say this one more time for the people in the back, God bless Skye because she responds, "I hope it does." She isn't fearful of medication, as many are. She embraces the fact that you need to have help and sometimes that means medication.
So next time you're talking about 13 Reasons Why, as I know most people are, please consider the fact that Skye represented what mindful and compassionate self-care looked like for someone with mental illness. The answer is not to go down Hannah's path. You won't come back as a ghost for Season 2. But follow Skye. Own your pain. Own your strength. Own your weaknesses. Own your solutions. And know that it is never too late to press the reset button.