Being Stuck in This World

I’m stuck. Stuck hard and fast to this world that I never asked to be a part of. I don’t want any of this, but I have no choice but to be in it or deal because there’s nowhere else to go. Nothing I can do.

I’m helpless.

I don’t want to live in a world where money matters more than anything. Where money matters more than happiness. I don’t want to have to look forward to a future of sacrificing my time, thought, and life for something that, really, I don’t give a fuck about but that I need in order to do anything, from see the world to merely survive.

I don’t want to live in a world where money matters more than people. I don’t want to live in a world with no hope for change, where people are so goddamn stuck in their ways that they don’t care if others are literally dying just because they aren’t considered profitable. They’re just mentally ill, addicted to drugs, living in poverty; it’s not like they really matter.

I don’t want to live in a world where I can’t stop anything from happening. The people around me keep getting hurt, and the bullies around me keep hurting people, and it never stops, because there is no way to fix it, no way to avoid it. There’s nothing I can do.

Honestly, I just don’t particularly want this life anymore. I wasn’t born to thrive in this world. I was born to break in it.

Thirteen Reasons Why Review

As the entire internet has been talking about Thirteen Reasons Why, I found myself curious to watch it, despite my reservations based off the fact that I knew the book existed growing up and never really had an interest in reading it. I had always sort of figured that it would read like a teacher’s lecture about why bullying is bad and suicide is never the answer. And while I still haven’t read the book, so I can’t say if that’s the case for Jay Asher’s work, that is not what I found in the Netflix television show.

The television show discusses in close and sometimes graphic detail issues such as suicide, bullying, rape, depression, and women’s issues, and I have to admit, I really admire the show for the directions that it sometimes chose to take. I should say, right off the bat, that I really enjoyed this show and could not stop watching it – but more on that later. First, I’m going to list off the parts of the show that I really enjoyed, and the reasons why I would recommend it to others.

The show represents bullying in a very mature and realistic way. The kids who bully Hannah (for the most part) are not one-dimensional bullies who are completely irredeemable: they are either incredibly hurt people who are too busy dealing with their own problems to notice the pain they are simultaneously causing, or they are realistically dumb kids who just don’t think that this is something that can hurt someone. And the way that the show represented either end impressed me hugely: I liked that I cared about many of the bullies, but at the same time understood why they deserved the retaliation that they received. They were neither good nor evil people, they were just people. To a certain extent, even the show’s hero, Clay, is depicted as an imperfect person, as Clay contributes to some of the bullying that goes on at school, and it’s hard to say how much of the extent to which he blames the bullies for Hannah’s death is rational. And on the other spectrum, I enjoyed the way in which simple dumb kids were depicted. There are several scenes throughout the show where characters (particularly male characters) give Hannah very back-handed compliments and genuinely don’t understand when she gets offended, and this feels very realistic to me. This is something that people (women in particular) experience all the time is a society run on a limited definition of beauty, and it was nice to see this expressed in a very realistic way and to have it explained why, exactly, this isn’t okay.

And although the show has received some criticism about the fact that, while showing characters with symptoms of depression, mental illness is never explicitly discussed, I didn’t really mind the way it was portrayed. As someone who has suffered from depression in the past (and who has a tendency to go back to depressive thoughts from time to time), I found that the symptoms of depression were clear enough that I knew what they were trying to convey. And, more than that, it really reminded me of how it felt to have depression but to not realize that you do, and to not have your mental illness recognized by people around you – which, admittedly, mostly happened to me when I was a teenager. And the majority of the characters are teenagers. Teenagers who, repeatedly, have their emotions and issues belittled unintentionally by the adults around them, and the show does a very realistic job of portraying this as well.

These facts about the show has earned it a very special place in my heart, and when I was watching it, I found that I could not look away – both because I was so engrossed in what was watching and because, at some points, I just couldn’t look away. It was like stumbling upon a car crash – you just want to keep watching until you find out what the body count is and how gory they died. There are three scenes in particular that I found to be incredibly graphic – two rape scenes and a depiction of suicide. Thus far, I’ve been praising the show for how realistic their depictions have been, but these three scenes are where I wonder if a line needs to be drawn. Upon completing the show, I found myself feeling emotionally drained and very low, and these three scenes in particular are responsible for that. They are just so graphic, so intimate, and as much as I can see the benefit of that, I can also see the harm for a specific audience.

And more on that, the way that the show treated Hannah’s decision to kill herself was sometimes questionable. Clay, the show’s protagonist and the perspective through which we see most things, believes that Hannah was justifiably driven to suicide through the actions of those around her. They let her down, they are responsible – not her. We do see other perspectives from time to time, including a school councilor who assures Clay that Hannah’s suicide wasn’t his fault and a fellow student who claims that everyone deals with pain and that “suicide is for the weak,” but Clay’s perspective is the one that is given the most weight, and it’s a perspective that I don’t agree with. When someone kills themselves, it is natural to feel like you could have done something more to avoid that outcome, but it is not your fault. It is not your fault. It is not your fault. Everyone deals with pain, and everyone deals with it differently. If someone makes the choice to end their life, it is because they are dealing with overwhelming mental illness. And more than that, it is a choice that they made. It is not your fault. And the fact that they keep working under the assumption that Hannah’s suicide was the fault of anyone else but Hannah seems a little bit unfair. Yes, those who bullied and assaulted her should be held accountable, but her choice to take her own life is a separate action.

Despite my problems with the show, however, I have to say that I really loved it in the end. I loved how fleshed out and realistic the characters were, I love that they took on such important issues, and I loved that they were willing to take risks and be dark when they needed to be. I don’t know if I would recommend this show to everyone, just because of how dark and how graphic it is, but if you think that you can handle it, I would definitely say that it’s worth the watch.

What I Want

I want to be okay. That’s all. I want to be healthy, happy, unconcerned. I want to wake up in the morning and be excited to get out of bed.

I want friends. I want people who like me and understand me. Not a lot of them, maybe – just one or two would be nice. One or two who stay. One or two who don’t move away or find other people or just stop talking to me all of a sudden. I want to sit in a group of people and not feel like the outsider for once. I want to be with them and not feel like I have to keep trying for them to like me.

I want to fall in love. I want to meet someone who is attracted to me and who I am attracted to as well. I want a relationship that goes beyond an exchange of phone numbers and maybe an awkward kiss or handshake. I want someone who understands me.

I want a job that I enjoy. I want to spend the majority of my day doing something that makes the time go by, and yet I still make money nonetheless, at least enough money to survive. I want a stress-free place to stay in and depend on. I want the opportunity to feel free, like I can grow and change and become who I was meant to be. I want to be in the light and the earth, growing tall and new and green like a vine, rather than stunted and ugly like a weed.

I want a mind that remains calm in the storm. I want to face difficulty with a carefree smile and a shrug, rather than the question of whether or not this is it, the thing that breaks me for good. I want confidence in my ability to weather the hurricane, rather than the fear that I will be drowned in it. I want arms that are clear and soft and free of cuts or claw marks. I want hope and thrill and contentedness.

I want little, I think. I just want to be the way people say I should be – a happy, beautiful, well-adjusted young woman with my whole life ahead of me. That’s what I want. That’s all.

Four Years

Four years ago, I showed up at this massive, foreign campus with the understanding that this was to be my home for the next long while. It didn’t look anything like I expected, with its blocky, grey buildings occasionally covered in bad graffiti and the endless multitude of posters discussing the possibility of rape. It looked like something from a dystopian novel – big, looming, threatening, empty at the time, and I didn’t think that I was going to make it. I thought, for sure, something was going happen before I graduated.

A few of my friends from high school dropped out along the way, and I figured it was just a matter of time before I did. I couldn’t do this. I wasn’t ready for this. This was too daunting, too much, and staying here would kill me. Oddly enough, the only thing that pushed out all thought of dropping out was an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer that I watched around the same time, wherein Buffy struggles to adapt to post-secondary life in much the same way I did. I saw myself in her then, and I decided that if Buffy could stick to it (later seasons notwithstanding) then I could too.

The next four years were strange and difficult, to say the least.

After my first year, I realized that I had both anxiety and depression. My first year was characterized by emptiness, nothingness, simply getting from day to day and passing all my classes but not really doing much else.

After my second year, I hesitantly began to hope that things might get a bit better. I still hadn’t made any friends at university, but I hung out with a few of my friends from high school from time to time, and though they didn’t know it, they taught me a few things about myself. They taught me that I spend a lot of time trying to please other people. They taught me that I’ve been maintaining this ideal of what my life should be – that I should be partying, sleeping around, getting drunk, behaving (the way I saw it) like a normal twenty year old. But none of that was ever me. It made me feel uncomfortable, unhappy. It was a role that I was trying to force myself into, and I just couldn’t do it. I needed to start putting my happiness above that image.

After my third year, I came to the conclusion that I needed to put my past behind me and start focusing on my future. I’ve always prided myself on my ambition, but it’s hard to climb upward when you have all of these insecurities, doubts, anger, and fear from yesterday weighing you down. So I decided that what I needed to do was cast that off. I needed to be a little bit selfish, I needed to focus on myself. I needed to actually start making my life better.

And now here I am, almost finished my fourth year. Almost at that graduation that I never saw in my future, and I only made it here by being so preoccupied by what I needed to learn that I didn’t even really see how far I’ve come.

In the four years since I’ve been here, I’ve learned that there is no ‘normal’. I’ve learned that just because society says that I need to do something, like, say, drink and party, that doesn’t actually mean I need to do it. Normal is a pointless standard, especially when the alternative choice is happiness.

In the four years since I’ve been here, I’ve learned that life is occasionally going to be terrible and difficult to get through, but that doesn’t mean that you just stop trudging through it. Even when you’re just getting by, just doing the little that you need to in order to survive, someday that’ll change, and you’ll start doing things because you actually enjoy them again. It just takes time.

Hell, in the four years since I’ve been here, I’ve even learned to love it here. I love my classes. I love the reading and the lectures and my peers who usually have some pretty insightful things to say. I love these blocky, grey buildings with their bad graffiti because, for one reason or another, I’ve always been drawn to broken things. I love those posters warning against rape because now they’re less of a threat and more of a call to action, an attempt to make people realize how prevalent rape is in university campuses and how we all need to do our part to make that stop.

In the four years since I’ve been here, I’ve started to identify loudly and proudly as a feminist, not caring what anyone has to say against that. In the four years since I’ve been here, I’ve gained an appreciation for Victorian literature and medieval Arthuriana, while still maintaining my old love for comic books and bad movies. In the four years since I’ve been here, I’ve learned that just because someone is older than you and paid to know more, that doesn’t actually mean that they do. I’ve learned to question, to think, to empathize. I’ve learned a lot, and as much as I never thought that I’d say this when I first showed up on this dystopian campus four years ago, I’m really going to miss this place.

But even so, I still have so much to learn. I’m not a perfect person, not even after four years of post-secondary. There are lessons I’m trying to teach myself even now, and lessons that I’m sure I’ll stumble upon in the next, unknown chapter of my life. And I can’t wait to find out what those are.

The Beast’s Depression in Beauty and the Beast

So I pretty much think of Disney’s 1991 Beauty and the Beast as a pretty perfect movie. It’s got a remarkably strong and proactive heroine who I, as a lover of books and stories, always saw myself in very strongly. It’s got some of Disney’s best animation of all time. It’s got a loveable and diverse cast of characters. And it seems like every time I watch it, I can find something new to be in awe of in the film.

Like the last time that I watched it, when I was struck by just how much the Beast suffers from depression throughout the entire film.

I think I always knew this was true to some extent, but I didn’t realize how strongly it was until my most recent viewing, when some of the Beast’s behaviour began to tie together in ways that it hadn’t before. And, I know, I know, some of you are going to be rolling your eyes and telling me that “it’s just a kid’s movie, there’s no way that they put something like that in there intentionally” – but think about it. It’s too consistent for it not to be intentional.

Think about how willing the Beast is, in multiple scenes, to just let himself give up or die. From the moment that he meets Belle, he assumes that the situation is hopeless, that she’ll never love him enough to break the spell. It’s his servants who have to talk him into actually trying. And when Gaston shows up at his castle with the clear intention of killing the Beast, he doesn’t even raise a hand to defend himself until Belle shows up and gives him reason to. He doesn’t personally care if he lives, dies, or stays a Beast forever – he only cares if other people are involved, and then he cares for them.

Think about how low the Beast’s self-esteem is. I mean, yes, I assume that low self-esteem would be common side effect of being cursed by a sorceress with the express intention of making it difficult for people to like you, but the Beast constantly refers to himself as a monster throughout the film. He doesn’t even try to be likeable for Belle at first, because he just assumes she wouldn’t like him anyway.

And I know that we’re getting into metaphor territory here, but think about the way that the characters talk about their years spent cursed. They’re described as doing nothing, as just staying in this dark and secluded castle without any hope for years at a time. On my last viewing of the film, I couldn’t help but think, “wow, what a shame that is, to lose years of your life like that”, and it was then that I realized how much it reflected the way that I tend to think about the years I spent depressed. Those years that I lost doing nothing, feeling unmotivated and disconnected from people. Those years that I spent feeling like I was an unlikable monster.

The more that I thought about it, the more that I realized just how significant the Beast’s depression is for his character. And the interesting thing about it is, I don’t think that any real resolution is reached for it.

I mean, yes, Belle confesses her love for the Beast, and he transforms into a prince and everyone lives happily ever after, but at the same time, the last time that we get any substantial dialogue from the Beast, just a few seconds before his transformation, he implies that it might be better for everyone if he did just die. “Maybe it’s better this way,” he groans through the knife wound in his back, and that makes me think that, as much as the story promises a happily ever after shortly after those words are uttered, maybe the Beast’s depression didn’t just go away with his claws and fur. I’m sure that not being a beast anymore and falling in love certainly helped, and I like to think that the happy ending promises that he’s at least on the road to recovery, but years spent in such a low mental state doesn’t just go away. It’s not as easy as all that.

And maybe I’m over-thinking it. Maybe his depression was magically cured along with his curse and his knife wound, but I sort of like the idea that it wasn’t. I like to think that the movie ends with the Beast, not completely cured, but certainly improving. I like to think that the happily-ever-after wasn’t meant for right now, right this minute, but it’ll come, and he’ll be happy and everything will turn out the way that it’s supposed to. I like to think that there are still obstacles on his path toward that happiness, but he’ll get through them, because despite what he might think, he deserves to. And if he ever forgets that, he has people by his side to remind him.

I like to think of that as the ending, because it states that there is no easy or magical cure for depression, but all the same, happiness is still possible, even for those who cannot currently imagine it.