A Talented Young Woman Who Descends into Madness
2006-09-14/2:35 p.m.

The Bell Jar
I read this book for the first time during my last year of college. I loved it. It was clever and interesting and I found myself agreeing with the protaganist over and over again. Then she gets shock therapy and takes an entire bottle of sleeping pills, and I thought "Whoa, hang on." I guess I find it easy to relate to, but then not as extreme as she does. Like I feel the same way about certain things but it never bugged me to the extent that it bugged her.

I started reading it again this week on my train rides and am pretty much finishing it up now. I still find myself relating to it, even though I am older now, and not in the same frame of mind. She does write about slipping away in a very understandble and matter of fact way, and if I ever did just slip away one day I imagine it would be very much like this book describes.

This quote pretty much sums up how I felt the summer after I graduated from college:
"After nineteen years of running after good marks and prizes and grants of one sort and another, I was letting up, slowing down, dropping clean out of the race."

That was pretty hard to wrap my brain around. I had to restart with a whole new race and goals and everything, but for a few months it was scary. And her whole issue was writer's block, which I can say I've had my fair share of.

And everything she says about marrying her annoying Yalie boyfriend... ugh. I laugh out loud when she's talking about how he can't wait to marry her and she's disgusted by the thought. Can't most girls relate to that at some point in their life? Not necessarily the marrying part, but just the guy who the very thought of disgusts you? And really, for most of my life the idea of marriage in general was a big turn off for me.

"So I began to think maybe it was true that when you were married and had children it was like being brainwashed, and afterward you went about as numb as a slave in a totalitarian state."

And I really think that the following applies to anyone who has experienced a quarter life crisis:
"...I saw my life branching out before me like the green fig tree in the story.
From the tip of every branch, like a fat purple fig, a wonderful future beckoned and winked. One fig was a husband and a happy home and children, and another fig was a famous poet and another fig was a brilliant professor, and another fig was Ee Gee, the amazing editor, and another fig was Europe and Africa and South America, and another fig was Constantin and Socrates and Attila and a pack of other lovers with queer names and offbeat professions, and another fig was an Olympic lady crew champion, and beyond and above these figs were many more figs I couldn't quite make out.
I saw myself sitting in the crotch of this fig tree, starving to death, just because I couldn't make up my mind which of the figs I would choose. I wanted each and every one of them, but choosing one meant losing all the rest, and, as I sat there, unable to decide, the figs began to wrinkle and go black, and, one by one, they plopped to the ground at my feet."

And that just got hip a few years ago. So maybe she was just 50 years ahead of her time. I am hedging in on 30 and I still am scared to pick just one thing. I still hold out hope that I can juggle a few things, but eventually won't that be tiring? I mean, shouldn't I just pick one thing and really excel at it? My dad always called me a "jack of all trades" and I always took it as a compliment, while he was meaning it as a criticism.

What her boyfriend's mom always says:
“What a man wants is is an arrow into the future and what a woman is is the place the arrow shoots off from.”

What she wants:
The last thing I wanted was infinite security and to be the place an arrow shoots off from. I wanted change and excitement and to shoot off in all directions myself, like the colored arrows from a Fourth of July rocket.”
I'd like stability and excitment. See, I ask for too much! She only wanted excitment and she was asking for too much.


"And then I wondered if as soon as he came to like me he would sink into ordinariness, and if as soon as he came to love me I would find fault after fault, they way I did with Buddy Willard and the boys before him."
Well, this pretty much sums up how I felt about boys for the first 20 years of my life. I was always just waiting for the few who liked me (like, liked me) to realize that I wasn't so great, and then I would pick apart the boys I liked (in my mind) until they were annoying and I hated them.

I still have a bit of a problem with this. I mean, I can be a bit demanding with my expectations for guys. And that has probably been unfair to Mike at times, but at the same time, why settle for less than what you're looking for? The last thing I want is a guy like my mom would marry (shudder at the thought), so I feel like I need some (read: a long list of) criteria to guard myself.

When I was 23 I had the roughest year of my life. I had been laid off, had a million other emotional things happen, had my identity stolen, was a breath away from being homeless and I had no idea what to do. I'd wake up and send out tons of resumes and it was no use. No one was hiring. The economy was crap. I had several panic attacks a day. Mike had no idea how to be helpful so he would recommend things that were pretty ridiculous and would just hurt my feelings. I got tired of spending most of my time alone. (I never took a bottle of sleeping pills, or even got close to it) I can handle an incredible amount, but this was the only time in my life when it was just too much and drowned under the pressure. Since then I worry a lot about it happening again.

“How did I know that someday—at college, in Europe, somewhere, anywhere—the bell jar, with its stifling distortions, wouldn’t descend again?”
And the scary part about her worrying about this, same thing, is that it did descend again for her. Exactly ten years later when she put her head in an oven. Frightening. I don't like the feeling that because I messed up once, I might be broken forever. It is nice though, that she wrote about being broken with such ease, like she wasn't ashamed of it (yes, the bell jar was first published under a fake name but that was because she thought it was a mediocre piece of writing, not because she was embarrassed), but it's too bad that it meant her dying at the age of 30. I would like to write (hilariously, of course) about that horrible year of mine, but I am still very ashamed of it. Just mentioning it briefly was hard for me.

"I can't decieve myself out of the bare stark realization that no matter how enthusiastic you are, no matter how sure that character is fate, nothing is real, past or future. And if you have no past or future, which, after all, is all that the present is made of, why then you may as well dispose of the empty shell of present and commit suicide."

The one thing that I can vividly remember scaring me both times that I read the book were her descriptions of shock therapy. Just hearing a doctor prescribe it makes me want to say "NO! Don't go in there!" like I'm in a rowdy audience at a scary movie. I guess that's easy to say, knowing what we know now about shock therapy, but I still find it astounding that anyone ever thought that was a good idea. It makes me nervous just reading about it. It's really just a very simplistic view of the problem. Brain broken? Zap it back into place! But, holy crap, reading about it makes my jaw clench and my teeth hurt.

Reading it this time was not nearly as depressing as it was the first time I read it. So maybe I have grown up some afterall. And maybe that can be a positive thing (i think i may be less jaded now than i was then)? Now I think more about the little kids she left behind when she put her head in the oven. I guess that's a more grown up concern.








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