Many colleagues and friends in my line of work have been talking about this Netflix series, which focuses around the story of a teenage girl, who takes her own life. I avoided watching it for quite some time. Part of my avoidance was that rebellious streak of not wanting to follow the mainstream, not be drawn in to hype or any of the moral outrage that I was reading about.
However, one quiet Saturday I got under my blanket and watched all 13 episodes in one go. Whether or not binge-watching a TV series is a mentally healthy thing to do, is probably another blog post. I've read a lot of comments about this series - outrage at a graphic suicide scene, claims of glamourising or encouraging suicide, dangers of putting the topic of suicide out there so openly.
Maybe talking about this subject for the past 14 years has given me a very different view. I'm not sure that no go areas are very helpful when it comes to things like this, although I completely acknowledge that when it comes to the teenage brain, some different things are happening. The teenage brain has had less opportunity to experience adversity and to recover from it, to know that we have the capacity to endure, to recreate ourselves, to grow from tragedy. It feels like whatever you are going through is going to last forever. So of course, even more so suicide will be considered an option to end unbearable pain. Even more reason for this not to be a no go area.
I did not find the suicide scene shocking, even though it was graphic. What I did find deeply disturbing was the cruelty with which human beings can attack each other, the torture we can inflict on each other. It is not shocking. It is what I already know to be true. It just deeply saddens me.
"But things as fragile as a thought, a dream, a legend, they can go on and on. If you can change the way people think. The way they see themselves. The way they see the world. You can change the way people live their lives. That’s the only lasting thing you can create.”
~Chuck Palahniuk, Choke
What I found squirmingly cringeworthy was the inability for anyone around a clearly struggling young person to have an open and honest conversation about suicide. The most painful thing for me to watch was the conversation with the school counsellor. He couldn't talk about rape, he couldn't talk about suicide, he couldn't talk about pain - without dodging or avoiding, he was not able to sit with the pain.
I'm not here to judge - and it is a TV show after all - these are not easy conversations to have. Some people might talk about training issues, but I think it's really about courage. Talking to someone about suicide is scary. It's as scary as a surgeon holding a scalpel over someone's brain. It is life or death. You feel like every word you say matters, that you could easily say the wrong thing and make everything worse. So yes, it takes courage.
It also takes courage to choose to live - when pain is overwhelming, when life feels unbearable, when you are drowning and can't breathe.
What I saw in that final conversation was someone desperately saying - I want to live, but I don't know how any more. I want to live, but I need a reason why. I just need one. I need to know that it makes a difference if I live or die and that my life can make more of a difference than my death can. How can we turn away from this, how can we not see it?
I think this TV show showed courage. Yes, it has stirred up some controversy. Yes it's uncomfortable. Yes, some of it is difficult to watch. Yes, we wish that certain environments didn't bring out the worst in people, but they can and ignoring it won't stop any of that. Ignoring that some young people want to end their lives is not going to stop suicides, but talking about it might.
Have courage my friends.