Part 1: Beautiful Shadows

18 February 2014

I read a book my junior year of college, which was a rare occurrence because my face was so glued to textbooks.  I rarely recall other thoughts existing in the world besides those having to do with business.

This book came to my knowledge when one of my very best friends did a book report on an author in high school - Sylvia Plath.  The thought of her always associates me to the book Ethan Frome, written by Edith Wharton, because that was what I picked for my own book report.  I think I read four sentences and threw up.  And then I probably paid my friend in popcorn to write the book report for me.  Because that really happened on multiple occurrences.

But Sylvia Plath was an author who heavily struggled with depression, ultimately taking her own life after writing The Bell Jar.  The book is all about the protagonist's descent into mental illness, paralleling Plath's and my friend's own experiences.  So I picked it up.

And no, I didn't pick it up because I was on my own descent.  Though I wouldn't completely argue against a case of mental insanity, because school was very grueling that year.  Mostly, this book seemed as good as any to get me away from the hum-drum of late night brawls with my calculator.  And also, I was curious to understand my friend just a bit more.

So I read it all, sitting upright Indian style on my bed.  It wasn't seat-gripping thrilling by any means.  Parts of it were actually super boring.  But, I'd crown it as the book of Emotional Majesty.  Here's why-

Reading about a woman's case of bipolar disorder from inside her own mind was eerily cogent.  One would think that a book of such a topic would make you cry out your sympathies, feeling all sad and mopey and surrounded by crumpled Kleenex.  But it didn't.  Because that isn't depression.  This book threads through the character becoming increasingly apathetic and aloof and completely unfeeling.  And as I walked with her literallily (I just made that word up - clever, if I say so myself), I was unaware of her deepening depression.  Rather, I was nodding along because her thoughts made sense to me!  Not in the sense that I related to it - I've never struggled with depression - but I was nodding because I completely understood her, to the point that her world was NORMAL to me.  It was so rational and lucid and explicable.  It was real. 

Then I closed the back cover, ran off to class, and as I thought back, in the presence of reality, I realized just how many steps away the character's thoughts were from being emotionally healthy.  But while reading that book, there was no gap; her reality was as extant as anyone else's.  And therein lies the genius of the book - only a handful of people can even grasp such emotion, let alone write a novel to take you inside of it.  So for a book to fully immerse you in another's Bell Jar, I cannot think of a greater literary persuasion.  Except maybe Everybody Poops, because up until one reads that book, you just never know.

Well, the memory of this book came to me because recently, I've had many friends come to me trapped in Bell Jars of their own.  Encased in an isolating space of intoxicating and irreconcilable emotions.  Feeling the weight and intensity of mortal harshness that others cannot see.  And I've been crawling inside of the individual Bell Jars, one at a time.  Listening, understanding, resting together under the burden. And each person says the same thing -  fear of others misunderstanding, insensitive attempts of others to force them out, feeling even more alone.

That saddens me.  This world should be a safer place.  We should be far more compassionate than we are.   Far more emotionally aware than we are.  Do we only see merit in skills that can be developed professionally or technically certified?  And since no training of empathy is offered, we see no value in it?

I want to spur a wake of people to stop fearing Bell Jars.  To admire others' Bell Jars and embrace their own.  I shall call this undertaking-

Beautiful Shadows

I don't claim myself to be any sort of leading emotional health expert, says the girl who full-on cried to her friend last night about how DEAF PEOPLE CAN'T HEAR, EVER!  Also, those who claim much of anything above their own heads leave a pompous, icky taste in my mouth.  So I won't be titling this 27 Ways To Be A Human, as the post fads are going, because that's like standing outside someone's Bell Jar and pressing a to-do list up against the glass.

Let's learn to see ---
to accustom the eye to calmness
to patience
to allow others to come up to us
to defer judgment
to acquire the habit of grasping an individual from all sides.
This is the first preparatory schooling of intellectuality.  

Said Friedrich Nietzsche.  Nietzsche is Peachy, my English teacher always rhymed.  The same teacher that made me read pukey Ethan Frome.

Hug someone today.  Our journey begins tomorrow.

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  1. Thank you. I have depression and this post was beautifully written.

  2. Love you so much Chantel. So beautiful. You're a light to me. I am so grateful I can just come to you and you get it, and you allow me to hurt and tell me it's ok to cry when I need to. It's ok to feel the pain. You give me courage to reach out to others when I'm feeling so low and my life is full of blackness. I do wish more people would learn how to be empathetic. I don't know if it doesn't come natural or what. Dealing with depression and addiction definitely helps me to be more empathetic of the struggles others are going through.