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Words and Image by Christine Skelly
“I felt very still and very empty, the way the eye of a tornado must feel, moving dully along in the middle of the surrounding hullabaloo.”
The calmest way Sylvia Plath described her life was with one of the most destructive forces of nature. An unstoppable storm which cannot be controlled, and one can only wait until it has finally passed through. I’ve had my own storms. Racing thoughts, emotions, feeling, and urges that my body conjured without my consent. I have felt more like a bird trapped in a tornado, flying and fighting to barely keep up with the maelstrom for a moment. And through the years of fighting my own body, feeling a lack of control over what my mind dictated, all I could take solace in was art.
I imagine Sylvia feeling the same.
Her drawings are carefully crafted, giving away no hint of her turmoil. Such is often the case. Warning signs and cries for help are too frequently ignored. Only when a celebrity commits suicide does the world mourn and say, “but they were always so cheerful.” But when a housewife, separated from her husband, locks her children in another room so she may fill the kitchen with gas, what is said then?
Her productive writing habits seemed to be the port in her storm; at least the pen was something she could control while the wind howled. The time when she needed professional help fell amongst the late 50's, when mentioning a visit to a psychiatrist brought whispers to the lips of neighbors. Electroshock therapy? She must have been the talk of the town. The details of her treatment in The Bell Jar feel like walking through a fog—nothing is solid, everything has transient, blurred edges.
The helplessness that mental illness brings—that is the bell jar. “To the person in the bell jar, black and stopped as a dead baby, the world itself is a bad dream,” as described in the book. The stifling pressures of the mundane, further burdened by an age of conservative expectation to give up writing and a career for the joys of a nuclear family, surely drove her to control all that was left—her life. When artists and writers feel the storm descend, they turn to the page. But when told to relinquish the page, the only solace left, what is there?
Creative coping mechanisms are only now becoming formal, accepted means of treatment, such as art therapy, while diagnoses and mental illness are becoming more commonplace and gradually more accepted.
While I can relate to Sylvia’s storm, I am pained that she had to endure so much of it in isolation. Through the pages I can feel her ache against the throes of her superficial magazine job, the weight of expectation to become a mother and a wife; the struggle of being married to another writer, who should have been able to understand her pursuits. And amongst it all, being shamed when trying to seek treatment for her struggles by a culture afraid of discomfort. There is no higher compliment I can hope to give than to say: I understand, and I’m sorry you had to endure it all alone.
#Real #SylviaPlath #PlathDrawings #TheBellJar #WishSheDidn'tGoThroughItAlone #Isolation
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