How The Bell Jar Really Stuck with Me
Alright, that image is a bit deceiving, I listened to the audiobook courtesy of the Seattle Public Library. What also deceived me, was the idea that The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath would be a book that I would read to become more "cultured" and gain a better understanding of popular and influential works. I think about this book nearly every day.
I listened to it on my way to work for about a week or two, and listened as Esther Greenwood's life slowly unraveled, as my own did in September 2017. She went from a successful student to a woman battling her own internal demons. But I'd like to take a look, similar to the way Plath does, into the idea of "internal demons" and what it really means to live with mental illness.
Mental illness does not define you. It is a daily struggle to reach an equilibrium that seems like a fantasy.
Esther Greenwood grapples with this idea, to find her own equilibrium through intensive therapies, particularly shock therapy, and she's able to learn more about herself through it. But my favorite part about The Bell Jar is how it gets inside the head of a person living with depression. Notice how I didn't write, "depressed person"? Person-first language is the difference between alienating a group and addressing a group. Unless you've lived with mental illness, there is no way to know the intricacies of how a day goes. Yes, there are the signs and symptoms that we've heard of that are warning signs that you or a loved one might need help, but there isn't nearly a way to understand what it's like day to day. The Bell Jar accomplishes this. My own experience can't be compared to that of someone else's, but through listening to this book I learned so much more about a first-person account of depression than I could have expected. I learned more past the struggle to eat and bathe, I learned more past the feeling of nothingness, and I learned more past the idea that what other people do is silly.
The concept that the things other people do are silly spoke to me. Why did they dwell on the ideas they thought about? Why did they do what they do? I've asked myself "what's the point?" too many times than I care to admit. But I recently learned of a new mentality that's inspired me. Rather than saying, "I'm not going to make it", say, "fuck it". "Fuck it" implies that there's a chance of failure, but you're willing to move beyond that. For the past few years, the idea that people follow routines seemed silly to me. Why get stuck in monotony? Variety is the spice of life. I stopped doing my schoolwork this summer because I didn't want to end up in a routine (amongst other reasons), and now I'm failing the class. But at the point of which I've missed, I've decided "fuck it". I'm going to give this class what I've got. Put in the work that I can. We'll see what happens. I don't have high expectations, but perhaps it'll work out. "Fuck it" freed me.
This concept of silliness, or as I may say, tomfoolery, has been a concept that I've been thinking about since finishing this book. Does the silliness that accompanies everyday life help or hinder our state of mind and quality of life? There is a fine line of silliness. There is the literal play, and there is the view from an altered state of mind that looks through people's actions with a fine-toothed comb.
That altered state of mind, the mind of someone living with mental illness is understood by some that research it, some that experience it. The exhausting daily battle with simple tasks is excruciating. One of the daily tasks including having energy to complete what you need to do, and socialize. Those two aspects always hold me back. There are these simple demons, such as a lack of energy, and there are the fierce demons that blaze a trail of fire throughout your mind and lead you to be impulsive. We have all battled these demons.
The Bell Jar will stick with me for many years to come. It is one of the greatest examples of internal struggle that I've seen in literature I've read. I'm glad that I found this story at the time in my life at which I did. In a time where this story could be reflectory, (that is ready for reflection) and informative. It is one of the best books I've read, and I'm looking forward to reading more influential literature.
Catherine Langmack lives in Seattle, WA with her love. She's passionate about tending to her backyard crops, writing, and researching.