Tag Archives: Depression

Th1rteen R3asons Why: Teenagers Contemplating Mortality

I felt this one was appropriate, coming right on the heels of my Inside Out review.

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Unfortunately, like The Babadook, there isn’t a lot I can say about this book without giving it away. It would feel like an unforgivable disservice to divulge such an emotional and fascinating read in excruciating detail, as the mystery is nearly half of what makes the story so interesting.

Unlike The Babadook, however, I feel relatively comfortable giving you the premise at least. The narrator is a high school senior named Clay Jensen, a shy, relatively good kid who had a crush on Hannah. Two weeks after her suicide, he receives a package with no return address on his doorstep, filled with old cassette tapes marked with numbers. When he finds a way to play them, he is startled to hear Hannah’s voice in the recordings:

“I hope you’re ready, because I’m about to tell you the story of my life. More specifically, why my life ended. And if you’re listening to these tapes, you’re one of the reasons why.” (Chapter 3, Cassette 1 Side A)

The only rules for package receivers are that they must listen, then pass the tapes on to the next person on the list. If they don’t, a second set of tapes will be made available publicly, promising embarrassment for certain individuals mentioned throughout. In addition, each person gets a map marked with several red stars, pinpointing locations that Hannah references in her story.

In a pretty unusual case ( judging by the books I have read previously), Hannah acts as a secondary narrator and the true protagonist. Without her, there would be no story.

I will also say this: at the start, the book seems to be about blame; whether Clay or the other characters are at fault, in their own eyes and the reader’s eyes, or Hannah herself is entirely responsible. But over the course of the story, you come to realize that the “who done it” doesn’t really matter. Hannah died, and life goes on, as it always will.

Th1rteen R3asons Why is both passive and yet gripping and immediate. We listen to the tapes as Clay does, so even though the end result of Hannah’s story has already played out, it feels as though we are right in the moments with her. As though, maybe, something we learn could help us stop the inevitable, rather than just understand how it came to be.

But we are and always shall be powerless on this journey. Just as stuck and helpless as Clay, though not in the same quasi-captive audience sort of way.

The book also shines by not making Clay the first person on the tapes. We don’t know what he’s done, so we judge him as a normal person and empathize with him, as he rides this macabre rollercoaster through a dead girl’s psyche.

But characters that you like at first may change or, at the very least, you will come to see them in different lights. Everyone is to blame and no one is to blame, perhaps even Hannah herself.

I finished this book today and chose it to follow Inside Out because it relates once again to depression, this time from the outside looking in. It may not be possible to completely 100% relate to or understand the mind of a depressed or suicidal person, but that is not the book’s main goal anyway. No, the goal is to talk about how we communicate and relate to others, and how a small, seemingly harmless thing can work to chip away at a person’s sense of happiness, safety, worldview, or even overall sense of self. How mistakes, though at times well-intentioned or comfortable in that moment, are irreversible, and their consequences may go forever untended.

If John Donne is right in saying that “no man is an island,” then it could be argued that no decision he makes can be completely divorced from the actions and inputs of those around him. But on the other hand, Eleanor Roosevelt claims that “no one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”

Both ideas have validity, I think, but the questions remain: Are feelings all in a person’s head, under their direct command? If we need other people to survive and thrive, as an emotionally compelled species, how much weight should we give outside opinions, comforts, or criticism? How much is any individual to blame, if at all, when all control and joy in life seems lost and something drastic seems to be the only answer?

How much can you tote or denounce, say, a chemical imbalance in the brain?

Th1rteen R3asons Why is not as fun or funny as Inside Out, but it is very mysterious, compelling, and wonderfully-written all the same. It made me wonder, and spoke to me on a very personal level. Even if you have never experienced depression, I recommend this read with all of my heart. Despite being a work of fiction, it does what only a select few stories can successfully accomplish.

It feels almost unbearably real. Human.

One particular line stands out to me, as Hannah explains to her listener why she ultimately lost interest in writing poetry:

“I stopped writing when I stopped wanting to know myself anymore…If you hear a song that makes you cry and you don’t want to cry anymore, you don’t listen to that song anymore. But you can’t get away from yourself. You can’t decide not to see yourself anymore. You can’t decide to turn off the noise in your head.” (Chapter 10, Cassette 4 Side B)

Everything in life is relative. Good, evil, happy, funny, sad. Control is relative too, and all too often, it can feel like just an illusion. And yet so many people will tell you to just smile, as if the slightest twitch of muscles in your cheeks can evaporate all of those pesky feelings right out through your skin, gone forever. I’m not saying that you can’t control anything, just that you can’t control everything.

What you take away from this is your business; it may be a thrilling mystery, an intense high school soap opera, or a cautionary tale to the unobservant. All I ask of you is to simply listen.

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10/10

*All pictures belong to their respective owners. None of the images belong to me. The book was written by Jay Asher, published in 2007 by RazorBill.

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Inside Out: Depression for the Uninitiated

Alright! So it’s officially been one year since I started this blog! Cake and schnapps for everybody!

Looking back on this year, I’ve noticed that I have a bit too much of a tendency to harp on the negative. Most of the time, I do it in the interest of a fair critique, but there are plenty of times when it comes from good old vitriol or frustration. Sometimes, for whatever reason, you watch something that is utterly terrible and insulting.

What I want to talk about today is not such a film, but it does deal with a very real and polarizing topic.

Depression. How does it work? How does it relate to apathy? How do we relate to it, those of us on the inside of those of us on the outside?

See what I did there?

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Pixar’s latest film Inside Out is definitely one of their better works. I wouldn’t call it the best, but especially considering that its only other contenders within the studio are the Cars and Planes series (I cringe just acknowledging that), it is a shining beacon of hope in an otherwise dark time.

And I’ll save that rant for another day.

Warning: Spoilers below

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The movie’s main characters are physical embodiments of a young girl’s emotions. Over the course of the story, they attempt to steer her in the right direction. All of them are well-intentioned, even Anger and Sadness, but occasionally misguided. Interestingly, none is more misguided than Joy, who functions as the head emotion and tried to always have fun and look on the bright side of things.

The emotions all treat Sadness with as polite a disdain that they can manage, believing that she essentially ruins everything she touches. This seems to prove true at first; when Sadness touches a memory that is colored by another emotion, it is overtaken by her color, becomes sad, and won’t change back. For some reason, she seems compelled to try and touch the emotions, which leads to an accident that deposits herself and Joy outside of “headquarters”. From there, the two of them have to make their way back, all while the other emotions try and fail to keep Riley, the eleven year-old girl who has just moved to a new state, her usual, relatively upbeat self.

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Memories are portrayed as orbs, and personality traits are islands that are connected to headquarters essentially by a thread and the “train of thought” that circles the whole head/brain area. It’s all very creative, and as Riley begins to mess up and withdraw from friends and family, her islands begin to crumble, and eventually, she can’t feel anything.

Of course the day is saved (it’s a family movie), but the emotions all learn the importance of Sadness, and that memories can be composed of multiple emotions. As Riley matures, so do they.

The humor is so on-the-mark. I know that humor is pretty subjective, even if you can boil comedy down to basic, tried-and-true formulas, but the humor in Inside Out is hilarious. You will love it.

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Kids will find it pretty funny too, but like many Pixar films, Inside Out is clearly reaching out to adults with its humor and message. That’s the beauty of mature animation.

The music is pretty nice. Not the most memorable, but fitting.

Overall, the package is clever and, as I said, creative. I applaud Pixar for tackling a subject that a lot of perfectly intelligent adults can’t grasp, let alone kids. To me, it almost perfectly explained how people see sadness in general: a nuisance at best, and a disease at worst. The film seeks to appreciate sadness as another part of life, an important one that we all need and take for granted on some level. Because how can you know true joy until you’ve experienced sadness, or anger?

But as someone who faces depression and anxiety, I found that the film also raised a lot of questions, some of which I don’t think were intentional.

I’ll let you be the judge:

Is depression part of sadness? Riley seemed depressed, and yet the movie itself claims that she “can’t feel anything” anymore. And she can’t feel sadness if Sadness is not at headquarters (unless Sadness touching all of those memory orbs in storage counts)

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Personally, I have felt hollow before, but it was always tinted with sadness, at best because I wish I didn’t have to feel that way anymore.

And I don’t think I’m stretching there. I’ve heard numerous people, online and in person, raving about how this film has helped them to understand depression better. Has it really? (And I don’t ask that sarcastically here. I’m genuinely curious) Can we ever narrow down exactly what depression is, or does it vary greatly in how it affects people?

Is depression a sign of growing up, or an essential factor? What does that mean for people who have never experienced depression before, or not to that extent?

Was depression ultimately a good thing? Because Riley and the emotions powered through, finally realized that Sadness was just as important as the rest of them, and new personality islands emerged where her old ones had crumbled away.

Why isn’t Anger treated the same as, or similarly to, Sadness, at least inside headquarters? Fear and Disgust are shown to have pretty good purposes (if a bit silly and sometimes superficial), but I don’t remember a good reason being given for Anger. Sure, he’s funny, but some of his contributions to the team are among the worst overall (like the running away idea).

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Don’t get me wrong; I am not taking points off for these things. Inside Out was a great start, and it’s definitely joining my DVD collection after it hits stores. And if it gets people to rethink depression, sadness, and the general social faux pas that come with publicly expressing your emotions, then it was more than worth the price of admission alone.

I do wish the movie could have explained more, delved deeper into the subject, or at least felt like it was raising some of these questions on purpose, rather than as a “how does that work?” afterthought. But hey, what’s my favorite motto?

Nothing is perfect.

That is especially true of metaphors, because the very process of crafting a metaphor is simplifying one thing so you can relate it to something else. You cannot compare, say, hibernation and death without hitting some snags where the two complex concepts don’t meet.

I am practically indebted to Pixar, though, for telling people pretty clearly a) you can’t just make yourself feel happy all of the time (which, by the way, if you tell someone that, it’s essentially like asking an alcoholic, “Well, why don’t you just quit drinking?”), and b) even too much happiness in control can be a negative thing.

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Adults and kids who are going through hard times are not trying to be selfish, get attention or sympathy, or to “bring you down”, and being sad in front of people once in a while is not something to be ashamed of. There are relative simplicities involved, but overall, depression, anxiety, bipolar disorders are complex.

Hopefully soon, thanks to movies and media like this, we as a society can have more open, honest discussions about mental health. Because it’s not made up, it’s not someone being overly dramatic, and it’s not always “just a phase”.

But life would be so much cooler if we had little people in our heads telling us what to do…

…Does this mean everyone is insane?

8/10

*All pictures, video clips, and other media belong to their respective owners, particularly Pixar and Disney. None of the images or sounds belong to me.