Since watching the graphic final episode of Netflix’s, “13 Reasons Why” it’s been rolling around my mind. The TV adaptation of Jay Asher’s novel is the heart-breaking and difficult to watch story of 17-year-old Hannah Baker, who takes her own life leaving behind thirteen tapes, each containing a different reason why she did it.
It’s affected me deeply. One, because I have a teenager living under my roof. And two, because the rise in mental health issues among young-people is well-documented. I want my cherished step-son (and the world) to know: there is hope.
Here are thirteen reasons of my own. The battles I faced during high school - in so many ways similar to those faced by the fictional Hannah Baker - and the things that helped me cope.
These are The 13 Reasons Why I survived high school.
1. My family kept it real
It can be so easy to take these people for granted, but through high school I slowly began to see myself in them. They’d faced many of the same struggles, and if they could make it through, so could I.
2. My bullies gave me resilience
Surprising, but true. A girl in my year once wrote a note to my best friend – detailing all the things that were wrong with me. My best friend didn’t stand up for me and I was forced to deal with the hurt and move on. I learnt the lesson early: it was them, not me.
3. My body became my friend
I hated it during most of my high school life. I thought I was too fat, slow on the running track, and as one girl pointed out, “my thighs trembled” when I jumped in shorts. That changed. I soon learned I could take control of my health and my body without shaming myself for the way I looked. Today I see my body as a well-cared-for vehicle that’s taken me on countless adventures, right around the world!
4. Losing was learning
I was no good at sport and I learnt pretty quickly what losing is! Sure there were moments of utter hurt and devastation. I remember ugly-crying in front of the entire year 8 group when I was mocked for running so slowly. But dealing with embarrassment on the field helped me get more comfortable with failure in general. It helped to fine-tune my practice and work ethic. A failure is a learning, and learning is education.
5. Poor grades kept me humble
While sport wasn’t my thing, I found class work easy, coasting through with high scores and little effort. I did some bullying of my own in these years, sighing loudly as the sporty boys struggled when asked to read out loud during English. I saw it as payback for my humiliation on the running track: but it was equally cruel. Then as classmates surpassed me academically, I learned the age-old truth: hard work beats talent when talent fails to work hard.
6. Singing kept me sane
I wasn’t the best at it, but I invested in the hobby because it made me feel great. Just the physical benefits; breathing deeply and holding the notes helped me meditate through tough times, like when my friends turned against me. I took a deep breath and looked elsewhere.
7. I kept the drama on stage
I joined a theatre group and found my new friends. Live performance built a new confidence that saw me through upper school and university. The ability to speak in front of groups, give a presentation and eventually make myself vulnerable on a radio show all came from those years on the stage.
8. I became my own friend
I remember feeling a little different to the other kids in drama class. I started to treat my uniqueness as an asset and once I learned to share my real self, I began to make the friends who valued that.
9. I filtered the feedback
Sharing who you really are with others is like laying yourself at their mercy. It comes with both positive and negative responses. Not everyone will like who you are, what you say or how you do it. High school taught me to filter the feedback, use the stuff that made sense to improve, and learn to ignore anything that’s not useful. A skill I use every day as a broadcaster.
10. I was just determined
Some kids developed grit on the sporting field, others in the exam rooms but for me, it was the doubters who pushed me to succeed. I’m an adult now and I still have doubters! Once, an agent told me I would need to lower my voice to work on radio. Determined, I pressed on with my voice as it is. I soon noticed the best in the business don’t focus on the quality of their voice, but the quality of what they have to say.
11. Simple things kept me happy
Depleted often, I found natural, healthy ways to restore my happiness when needed. Learning to cook a decent meal. A hot yoga class. Loudly singing along to my favourite music theatre soundtracks (don’t knock it ‘til you’ve tried it). Those little things helped.
12. I had a dream
I remember a friend from drama class telling me she could see me wearing a red power suit and reading the news. I’d never seen that for myself, but it can powerful to know how other people see you. Ten years later I was the one reading the news each hour on the radio. Perhaps the red power suit is still in my future.
13. Hope gave me perspective
I had hope then and I have it now. High school was hard, but I always believed there was something good beyond the pain of exams and the cruelty of bullies. And there is – there is life.
My thirteen reasons won’t help the likes of Hannah Baker now, but perhaps they’ll help you.