“I have the choice of being constantly active and happy or introspectively passive and sad. Or I can go mad by ricocheting in between.”   ―     Sylvia PlathThe Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath

I recently became interested  – obsessed, really –  with Sylvia Plath’s story. Sylvia Plath was a (bipolar) poet and novelist born in Boston in the 1930s and best known for The Colossus and Other Poems and Ariel. She was awarded a Pulitzer prize almost twenty years after her death.

Plath struggled for much of her life with suicidal depression, and she wrote about it extensively. Confessional poetry was new  in the 1950s and 60s, and she was an incredibly brave contributor to this very personal genre.

“The loneliness of the soul in its appalling self-consciousness is horrible and overpowering.”
―     Sylvia Plath

I read her semi-autobiographical novel, The Bell Jar, a few years back. Not the easiest or cheeriest read but I couldn’t not finish it. Family and friends with less mercurial moods than me might not understand why I’d want to read a novel with a prevailing theme of absolute despair, describing in detail a near successful suicide attempt.

“The silence depressed me. It wasn’t the silence of silence. It was my own silence.”
―     Sylvia Plath,     The Bell Jar

I did not know until recently many details of Sylvia Plath’s life and death:

At eight years old, her father died. She lost her faith in God as a result. At only ten, she tried to slit her throat. An extremely bright and talented young woman, in her early twenties, she attempted suicide again with a bottle of sleeping pills. In return she spent six months at a mental hospital and received electroshock therapy. She recovered, returned to and finished college. She married the poet, Ted Hughes, who she loved very much. She would later give birth to a healthy girl. Her next pregnancy resulted in a miscarriage. Her third pregnancy presented her with a healthy boy. In July of 1962, when her children were still very young, Hughes left Plath for another woman. Although terribly distraught, the period that followed is considered to be her most creative and prolific. In February of 1963, during one of the coldest and snowiest London winters on record, Sylvia Plath, then only thirty years old, woke up in the early morning hours and prepared meals for her two young sleeping children. She closed the kitchen doors, sealed them off with towels, and turned on her gas oven. She took a bottle of sleeping pills and put her head in the oven and asphyxiated at 4:30AM.

My God…

My husband, John, tells me that I should not read stories like these.

He is mostly right.

The night I read about Sylvia Plath’s death, I felt a real shift inside.

“Is there no way out of the mind?”
―     Sylvia Plath

I didn’t sleep at all that night. The shadows in my house were darker than usual. I felt scared. Scared of the darkness of the human soul. Of the darkness that drove Sylvia Plath to kill herself with her children in the next room.

I will never claim that my life or struggles have even remotely resembled those of Sylvia Plath’s, but I nearly ended my own life in 2007 when my daughter was only an infant.

I don’t think that reading Sylvia Plath’s story was a mistake, after all. Yes, the details of her death deeply disturbed me, but in the following days, I experienced a second shift…

Without judging Plath’s choices, I fiercely made up my mind.

I will never

ever

ever

ever

do

what

she

did.

“Remember, remember, this is now, and now, and now. Live it, feel it, cling to it. I want to become acutely aware of all I’ve taken for granted.”
―     Sylvia Plath

 

6 thoughts on “what i learned from sylvia plath

  1. Hi Nikki, your stories are so full of raw emotion that I cried as if I know you. But then I do kinda, at least I knew you once. I have a friend whose dealing with his own manic depression right now and it’s hard to stand by and watch. It’s hard not understanding and feeling useless. Please continue to write. Your ability to share from the other side has opened my eyes ever so slightly as to what it may be like. Know that your words are not just thoughts but tools to help others heal. Thank you
    Sherri (WBHS 1994)

    • Thank you so much, Sherri, for the sweet sweet words. I’m so glad my post was meaningful, but I didn’t mean to make you cry! I hate to hear that your friend is struggling right now. I’m fortunate that my mania never alienated my family or ruined my marriage or caused me to lose custody of my little girl (that was a big fear!). It’s a wonder that my major depressive episode didn’t do me in. So many bipolar sufferers aren’t so lucky, and I can’t imagine the terrible loneliness they must feel. My hope is that your friend has good doctors and supportive family members and friends.

      Sending love and hopeful thoughts to you and your friend!

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