13 Reasons Why this Life Thing Still Matters

13 reasons why

Hi. My name is “Sucker for Netflix.”

Sure, I can admit that. Why fork over $10 per month and never use the subscription, right? I get my money’s worth. And like most Millennials, I have binge-watching down to a science.

My evening workouts rarely occur without a Friends marathon streaming in the background. My hubs and I finished Stranger Things over the course of just one weekend. And my little heart did somersaults when the Gilmore Girls reunion dropped a few months ago.

Yeah…I know. Said almost everyone in my generation ever.

But there’s one Netflix series I can’t bring myself to get behind. And unless you’ve been hiding under a rock for the past several weeks, I think you can piece together where this diatribe is headed.

Three words.

13 Reasons Why.

The show that launched a thousand controversies—and even more opinions. The latest buzzword trending on social media, dominating water-cooler debates, and sparking Facebook rant after Facebook rant after Facebook rant. 13 Reasons Why has everyone talking. But it’s the people watching who I’m concerned about.

Because I watched it too. The entire season. Binged all 13 episodes in under a week. And that’s a decision I regret.

First, lemme preface that I’m not persuading you to agree. Nor will I condemn you for grabbing the remote and hitting “play.” I’m just adding my voice to an important conversation because people are going to watch—and their reactions could be visceral, painful, irrational, even detrimental.

Bottom line: these triggers are no joke. And they’re igniting aftershocks of despair in a world that struggles to find the hope.

This plot is fiction. The characters exist on-screen. But their episodic drama is the inescapable truth for actual names and faces. Human beings who’s experiences, narratives or traumas are being slashed open and torn apart by “fabricated” events with fatal implications.

It’s not just a show. It’s the current of our culture. It’s reality. But it’s not prompting change. It’s breeding conflict and cynicism.

And pain. So. Much. Pain.

I recognize what the producers were aiming to accomplish, and I maintain their intentions were positive. 13 Reasons Why does cast a fierce, urgent limelight on rampant social issues which often don’t get the emphasis or attention they deserve.

Rumors. Bullying. Self-Harm. Depression. Sexual Assault. Drug Abuse. Suicide. Real adversities with tragic endings. These need to be addressed—but where’s the redemption, the endurance, the courage to survive, the intensity to overcome?

The show’s theme of retribution turns death into a mode for seeking vengeance. For wounding those who caused your wounds in the first place. A corrupted form of justice without the vindication.

Life’s fragility. Death’s finality.

The heart breaks. The spirit crumbles. You oust yourself. It’s over. The end.

But…wait. No. There should be more to a story than just one chapter interrupted mid-sentence. What about the resolution—the conquest, the triumph—on the last page? That’s our motivation to keep reading. Persisting. Living.

Because we all can pinpoint 13 reasons to quit now and peace out from the wreckage of this world. But we have a million reasons to press forward, to confront the mess with a wink and a smirk, to focus on what’s good. 

So I propose a different message. 13 reasons you’re needed on this earth. Whoever you are. Whatever you’ve been through.

1. You’re a unique, multifaceted, extraordinary individual.

2. Your words and actions convey a poignant message.

3. Your influence or significance could never be replaced.

4. You’re creative, imaginative and brimming with talent.

5. Your idiosyncrasies fascinate and attract other people.

6. Your spirit of compassion enriches deep connections. 

7. You’re light and love in a dark, jaded, cruel society.

8. Your resilience today becomes redemption tomorrow.  

9. Your merit isn’t based on size 0 jeans or 100 Instagram likes.

10. You’re here to fulfill a purpose designed for nobody else.

11. Your temporary struggles make you permanently stronger.

12. Your story will empower and encourage other broken hearts. 

13. You’re not a victim who succumbed but a victor who continued.

Life is our platform. Our testimony.

Ours.

And what’s ours is worth fighting for.

13 reasons why 2

What Is “Normal” Anyway?

I was 19. Just one month into my first semester of college. With ombre hipster highlights and this oversized t-shirt with Greek sorority letters embroidered across the front.

I looked every inch the part.

But I wasn’t roaming a campus, textbooks nestled in the crook of my elbow, flaunting a Starbucks nonfat mocha like the stereotype I’d once hustled so hard to become.

Nope. I wasn’t exhilarated by the “newness” surrounding me. I was an entire world removed from it all.

As most of my peers doodled on the creases of their notebooks, feigning concentration on some 101 lecture, I perched in a rusted folding chair, knees clutched to my chest. A defensive posture that I figured might help me seem invisible.

The room was sparse. Light was scarce. And I was just one of eight other girls near the same age, seated in a circle and firmly avoiding eye contact. Our therapist had stationed herself in the center, presiding over the sullen group of teens which formed our motley crew.

Based on first impressions, we had nothing in common. And yet…for that singular moment, we had everything in common.

A rigid frame of reference that controlled each perception or opinion we held about ourselves. A shared experience through which we funneled our deepest insecurities and secret shames. We heard the white noise of inadequacy, the siren call of addiction—heard it loud and clear.

And we all had answered.

It brought us together in that austere, clinical room. Sequestered from our lives. Detached from the habitual. The expected. The routine. We didn’t know if “routine” was a place we even belonged anymore. We couldn’t decide what seemed real. So we became a unified “other.”

But as I watched the surreal scene materializing around me, there was a sense of abstract observance. No agency or active participation. And so the words just tumbled out…

I want to be normal.

Translation: I want to feel acceptance, approval, affirmation. But I’m different. I’m weird. I’m uninvited. I’m alone.

What does normal mean though? How did we reach this conclusion? What standard are we comparing against? Should we strive to attain that benchmark? And how can we know if we’ve gotten there? Is anyone normal—or is normal an illusion?

I’ve since realized that I don’t have a working definition of “normal.” It’s such an overused, ambiguous term. I can’t even articulate the draw of normalcy. But it’s there. A cultural fixation. A gauge for social inclusion. A mold we don’t understand but wedge ourselves into regardless.

So that’s how society perceives normal. But how does the dictionary interpret this word?

Conforming to a type, standard or regular pattern. Not deviating from a norm, rule or principle. Characterized by average intelligence or development.

That is…

Mediocre. Forgettable. Ordinary. Same.

Normal fades into the background. Dims around the edges. Blends into its environment. Normal isn’t human.

The scope and depth of normal are never enough to contain all our facets, dimensions or complexities. We’re not shrouded in sameness. We’re saturated in living color and sharpened focus.

If I could re-enter that room and crouch beside the 19-year-old aching for validation, I would urge her: Don’t conform. Don’t you dare. Because you’re not normal. No one is. And that’s our saving grace. We are diverse. We are luminous. We are quirky. We are intense. We are striking. We are fiery. We are original. We are the resident weirdos.

We’re humanity.

And normalcy has nothing on us.

don't be normal

To the Girl Who Didn’t Know then What I Do Know Now

Something I never imagined I would write. Here goes nothing…

This is an open letter to myself.

To the 21-year-old me who lost a piece of her spirit four years ago in a suburban hotel room where she didn’t belong.

It’s to all the women who relate, who’ve been there, who prefer not to remember but can never forget.

And to you. This is a letter to you.

The bedsheets were crisp, white and freshly cleaned—a stark irony considering the events that unfolded just 10 minutes later. That sense of instinctive dread, of violation, of wanting to be anywhere else—it was truer than she realized. I wish she had listened. But I would forgive her for staying. Even with the benefit of hindsight, who can guarantee that she’d react different now if given the chance?

So, I wouldn’t blame her. I wouldn’t demand she bear the weight of a consequence or expectation she was never meant to shoulder. I wouldn’t tattoo her scars with ink stains of guilt. I would expose them to light where she isn’t forced to hide the evidence.

I would grip her fragile hands in mine—strengthened from perspective, weathered from experience—until the trembling subsides. I would tilt her chin and urge those hollow, haunted eyes to meet my older gaze. Then I’d communicate our sameness, our solidarity—a message needing no words. I would silently perch beside her as time becomes irrelevant, and minutes fade to hours. However long it takes.

I would reach her in the stillness that’s often trampled in the chaos. We’d reclaim it together. And those emotions coursing through her—shock, anger, disbelief, regret—I’d whisper: Feel them all. There’s closure and cleansing on the other side.

I would remember she is young, impressionable, naive. She is prone to wander from her own best judgment. Her mistakes will cost us dearly. But we are still human, wired to endure. So, I would extend compassion to drown out the shame and connection to soothe the numbness, penetrate the solitude, nudge her onto higher ground.

And when the earth feels safe, secure, stable again, I would utter four words that she doesn’t want to hear, can’t seem to admit, but needs to understand: It’s not your fault. It never was. I hope she would believe me, that she can finally accept the truth. Because this girl—whether dazed, detached and desensitized in a hotel room, or here in this moment reliving the memories, undressing the wounds—she’s not just a survivor.

She is a warrior. We all are.

…I can promise you that.

 

love yourself

I Want to Feel Effective

Throughout my entire life, one recurring theme has dominated the choices I’ve made, detours I’ve taken and convictions I’ve latched onto—the need for efficacy. I crave that sense of influence, achievement, validation, agency. To feel command over setbacks. Invincibility over hardships. An upper-hand over karma.

Even when the feeling is tenuous or contrived, I want to believe it’s there.

Why this desperation for control? I have a few guesses, but one sticks out—fear that my contributions don’t matter. That my existence lacks purpose. That I’m destined for mediocrity when this heart of mine clamors for passion and inspiration. That I’m just not effective.

Call it a “futility phobia,” but I often wonder if that desire for impact will ever come to fruition. After all, I can’t dictate the course of social justice. I can’t force another person to embrace the potential I know lives inside them. I can’t transform our culture.

True. But I can shift my own attitudes and perceptions.

Instead of being a defeatist who second guesses where my life is headed and what significance it could possibly have, I gotta do some major mental rewiring. Exchange the hesitance for confidence. The cynicism for enthusiasm. The anxiety for vitality.

Perhaps in the future, these words flowing from my spirit won’t get trapped in the obscurity of time and space. They won’t seem like a rambling stream-of-consciousness without focus, intent or direction. Maybe this urge to write—to express, to create meaning—will change the world someday.

Or not. I can’t predict an outcome. Nor can I control it. But to become more effective, I don’t need all the answers. I just need faith.

Faith that adversity forges empowerment.

Faith that mistakes build wisdom and character.

Faith that dedication reaps accomplishment.

Faith that each story—even mine, even yours—is worthwhile.

change-yourself-effectively