This piece was originally published on Thrive Global…because when I originally submitted it, that is what Arianna Huffington told me to do.
Yup. Mhmmm. You read that, correctly. Arianna Huffington wrote back to my email inquiry to her, just one day after I’d sent the message with my pitch, and she told me that while she no longer manages HuffPost (as she has deliberately dedicated her life to achieving more balance and fostering that in other writers/humans), she thinks that this story would be a good fit for her new site. So I followed the protocol, signed up on Medium and got an email from one of the Thrive Global staff members saying that I had been added as a writer/contributor. I do not want to make the latter part of that story sound like some incredible unicorn-like-feat. That was more about my following the detailed instructions that Ms. Huffington sent to me. But, the Ms. Huffington part? That was pretty incredible. At first I thought that it was a trick or a stock email by a staffer. But in her note she wrote personal details about me and what I had written, so I am going to take it for what it was. And rejoice!
Because what I am about to share next is not as happy.
It is so “not happy” that I had never originally intended to share it on here. On this site; my precious baby. The article below is too raw and gritty and unflattering and scary. And yes, I write about hard truths here, but they are different hard truths. They are deeper explorations of the vulnerabilities that I have already shared. This article is not.
This has some new stuff.
But I am going to be brave, because that is what I am asking those who read this article to do. I am going to hit publish. And while you may read Tape 1/Side A of my story and start to judge…
well, then I’ve made my point.
Warning: spoilers ahead, so if you have not yet watched “Thirteen Reasons Why” I would hold off on reading this piece. Because in writing this very difficult article I did so with a lot of careful consideration for the series. And for the order of the tapes. Each of my “reasons” is an explanation, in said order, as to why each of Hannah’s tapes resonates with me so personally and profoundly; why each of the themes is a theme in my own existence. We may seem like an unlikely pair, but Hannah and I are so similar that it hurts. So if you were to compare my reasons and hers side by side, contemporaneously, they are about the very same topics, just through slightly different lenses.
And now, I present to you: I Am a 32-year-old Mom & Here are the Thirteen Reasons Why I Can Relate to Hannah Baker
I am a 32-year-old suburban wife & mom of two. I spend my days writing from home (I have a mommy-blog that landed me a book deal), having chai dates with my friends & driving carpool or to Whole Foods or through the drive-through at Wendy’s for a Frosty. And, I can completely relate to Hannah Baker.
I, like the millions of other people who have pressed “play” on Hannah’s first tape in Netflix’s controversial yet wildly popular show “Thirteen Reasons Why”, could not tear myself away from this beautiful, poignant, scary, horrific, brutal, brilliant show. In fact, once I finished watching the series, I immediately started to watch it again from the beginning. Perhaps it was because I was not yet ready to say goodbye to Hannah or Clay; perhaps I wanted to look at things more deeply without the suspense of how the season would shake out; perhaps I wanted to find some closure where I would never be able to. Or, more likely, I wanted to watch the show again because I had found a home in it. There was a place for me in the pain. I wanted to simultaneously shout from the rooftops and curl up into a ball in my bed, but I could not do either, and so I watched.
My high-school years are long behind me. I have stable relationships, a rewarding job, amazing kids and no suicidal ideations, but I found myself being able to relate to Hannah Baker so profoundly (notice that I cannot write “her character” because, for me, she is too real) and here are the thirteen reasons why:
Reason 1: I know what it feels like to be misunderstood and — even worse — mischaracterized. Judged. While I did not face scrutiny and scorn while actually in High School (I was happily ensconced in the group of popular but nice girls that was actually called “The Squad”), I have had to live this as an adult. Reputations are hard to shake, and as a mom with school-aged children, every place feels like a small town. Sometimes, the reputation is for being the mom who gives her kids ice-cream for breakfast; other times it is for wearing pajamas to drop-off; too often it is for much worse things, and, unfortunately as a warm person with an open heart, I have experienced this. Rumors fly, stories are spread, and good intentions are misinterpreted. So while I did not have an unflattering photo taken of me while scooting down a playground slide, I may has well have. But, I’ll get back to that.
Reason 2: Friendship is complicated. While I am supremely lucky to have the amazing friends, I have had to learn the hard way that not everyone is a forever friend. I have been betrayed, dismissed and disappointed by friends whom I once considered to be my family. I may not have had hot chocolate rituals at the local coffee shop, but I have definitely had FML heart-to-hearts which were later used against me. Social media does not help, as it breeds competition and jealousy. Friendship. It’s complicated. Even when you’re an adult.
Reason 3: Remember when I said that I would get back to the whole rumors and reputation thing? Well, here is the hard truth: The Justin Foleys of the world grow up. And many of them become suburban dads leading “lives of quiet desperation”. This “Tape” of mine is too personal to explore further on here, but I get it, Hannah. I get it. Though, for the record, I was never voted “Best Ass”.
Reason 4: I realize that I have chosen to live a lot of my life in public. I write about my family’s deepest, darkest secrets and I share Instagram photos of dance-parties and kale smoothies every day. But it also means that, quite often, people know where I am and what I am doing. I get criticized for things like not having included someone in my plans. My GROWN UP plans. I get judged for my choices (appearance/apparel/snacks). And, unfortunately, I know what it is like to feel like I have to look over my shoulder. I know how terrifying it feels to have no true safe-haven in which to escape. It is a horrible, horrible feeling.
Reason 5: I can absolutely relate to Hannah’s “Courtney Tape”. I have been thrown under the bus several times (see Reasons 1–4). But, so that this is not one giant sob story — because Thirteen Reasons Why is not, either — I am going to say that on my Tape 3 Side A, I can relate to Hannah because I once slow-danced to Lord Huron’s “The Night We Met” with the guy I really like, and it was magical. I’m very lucky to call him my husband.
Reason 6: Being taken advantage of by men? On Valentine’s Day? On a random Tuesday? Check. I wrote about my history of sexual harassment (and more) back in November and that piece explains it much better than I can do here. But I get it and I am happy to tell you more over a milkshake, sometime.
Reason 7: I know what it is like to feel supremely, abjectly lonely, even when in a crowded room. When I had severe postpartum depression, I felt like the pariah; the only one who was feeling sad in the sea of happy, enchanted moms around me. I was supposed to be glowing, and yet I was not. That is a terrible feeling.
Reason 8: I write. I have written blog posts. Poems. Songs. A book. And these have both brought me joy and also caused me pain. I have allowed myself to be vulnerable with song lyrics or a particularly sensitive blog post & while I believe that vulnerability is beautiful, it can also lead to hurt. Like, when I wrote a freelance article about my children getting glasses and was reamed out by angry readers who claimed that I had “no idea what REAL problems are!”
Reason 9: Justin Foleys of the world? Yes, you get a second tape here, too. I have been hurt by men in some serious ways, both physically and emotionally. And yet I have been paralyzed. Like Hannah frozen in the closet, I have been frozen out of fear for my family & safety (see Reason 1). Have I wanted to speak out? Take legal action? Come out of the proverbial closet? Every single day. But I am too scared. Like Hannah watching Jessica’s assault, I have been too scared, as the repercussions seem even more horrifying than the acts. I would be branded for life, so instead, I sit, silently, and I cry.
Reason 10: I have made mistakes. I have taken the wrong ride home.
Reason 11: The Clay Tape. I have fallen deeply in love. I am deeply in love. AND I have suffered from PTSD. This has impacted my relationships. But, like Hannah when she was finally connecting with Clay, my past traumas have cycled through my brain like a horrible, unyielding montage, forcing me to push that love away. But, you guys. The Clay Tape. Clay is one of the good guys. There are not many so if you find one, hold onto him. Do not let him go. And now that we are adults, even if you tell him to, hopefully he will not listen.
Reason 12: This is almost too painful to type. I can relate to Hannah and when I watched the pain in her eyes shift to an eerie nothingness, I felt for her. I have been there. I hope that no woman ever has to feel how that powerless abyss of nothingness feels. My poor, sweet Hannah. This has been the hardest episode for me to re-watch. I have to close my eyes. But I feel her.
Reason 13: I have cried out for help. There have been times, especially at the height of my postpartum depression, when life seemed so bleak and I had lost the will to go on. Thank goodness I had a dedicated network of family members, friends and a treatment team to support me. It is because of this group — my tribe — that I am here today. Do I know what it feels like to want the excruciating pain of life to end? Yes. Is that hard to type? Of course it is. But that is my truth.
Hannah Baker was a beautiful girl with a promising future ahead of her. She was talented, witty, cool and so many things that other girls would love to be, but she could not see it for herself. By taking her life she did NOT get revenge on the people who had harmed her. Rather, she hurt the people she loved most. I am not here to judge her or anyone who loses their battle to mental illness. However, I do want to say that while I can relate to Hannah’s despair, I can also say that now, on the other side of so much pain, I see light. I see hope. I understand Hannah’s choice, but I wish that it had ended differently for her. I wish that she had asked Clay to stay and that he had listened and that they had walked down the school hallway, in their fancy dance clothing, the other students flanking them in awe.
And that is where we are different. I am one of the lucky ones. So while my daily life can seem chaotic or charmed, crazy or comical, chai-filled and, at times, crushing, I know that I am so lucky to be able to live it. It is not that the thirteen reasons I named do not matter. They do and they impact me every single day, just like they did for Hannah. But, for me, I know to ask for help.
So, I implore you to do the same. No matter how bad it seems. No matter how lonely you feel. No matter how much you think that you are alone and no one could possibly ever feel like you do, I am here to tell you that you are NOT alone and that I DO feel like you do. I am a mom and a wife and an advocate and a dance-partier and a sufferer. And if I can do this, so can you. Keep on fighting. I promise, it will be worth it.