When I picked up the The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath last week, I wasn’t sure if reading it was going to be a good idea for me right now… but I couldn’t really put it down. For me, reading Sylvia’s book has been theraputic in the surprisingly same way as reading other women’s post-partum depression (ppd) blogs. The message is the same.
These articulate and beautiful women who are able to write about their own suffering are sometimes the only mirror that I can see when it is too dark to see into myself.
Like Sylvia’s book, these blogs and stories may mean one thing to most people…like “being a woman is tough”, but to me… they are a lifeline. To those who have sat at the bottom of the dark closet and cried their eyes out too many times, it is incredibly validating to read these words. They speak to our most basic human need and tell us… ‘you are not alone.’
In the book, when she shows the psychiatrist some pieces of a letter that she tore up and thinks that he will understand the significance that she is showing him that she can’t even hold her hand steady to write in a straight line. I get that. It’s like the voices in your head are so so loud that you imagine others can hear them too.
Maybe most readers just skim over the significance of that part but I get it. I get how you can be so messed up in your head that you can only assume that the craziness is so visible to the world.
Also, I get the frustration that she felt being unable to control her body and mind enough to write a simple letter in her own handwriting. That happens to me.
When I googled reviews of this book (lest I just trust my own interpretation…), everything I read praised it as a feminist novel about the plight of women in the fifties…how sylvia couldn’t accept the role of wife and mother… yadda yadda… They are all missing the point…
It’s about madness. It’s a portrait of what it feels like to be depressed. Of what it feels like to lose control of yourself. Sylvia Plath allows us inside her head to witness her decline into madness.
What may seem to the outsider like a simple event: “sylvia goes to the bus station, buys a ticket, and takes a bus home.” is really the product of an involved and agonizing inner dialogue where Sylvia is affected by her own paranoia, suicidal thoughts and a pattern of thoughts that perhaps only someone who has been there can truly understand. What she doesn’t say, or maybe she does, is that this inner dialogue happens again and again all day long for someone who is suffering.
Even when my thoughts are clear and my mood is good, the fear of returning to this dark prison is something that I will always carry with me. Sylvia writes, “How did I know that someday–at college, in Europe, somewhere, anywhere–the bell jar, with it’s stifling distortions, wouldn’t descend again?”