How Sylvia Plath Inspired Me to Write About Mental Health

Sylvia Plath understood what we all feel sometimes.

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath is my favorite book. As someone who has experienced anxiety and depression, I’ve found it to be as true to life as I’ve lived it thus far. Plath knows what anxiety and madness feels like. The semi-autobiographical novel (published January 14, 1963) and her subsequent suicide (February 11, 1963) made me want to start talking more openly about mental health.

One part I especially felt like I could relate to is the part of the book where she speaks about opportunity and indecision. She uses figs as an analogy for different paths her life could take:

“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.”

Perhaps her outlook is bleak because each fig drops dead, rotten. But on the other hand, we see her optimism too. I love that she saw each and every opportunity that her life could take flash before her. In retrospect, this is also one of the saddest parts of the book knowing that her character represents her true self. Sylvia Plath struggled with depression and anxiety and it’s heartbreaking to know that she likely saw each path her life could’ve taken, but decided to cut it short.

Indecision is also something I struggle with. The way she writes about indecision and anxiousness is spot on. She wrote what she knew. I want to help others by writing what I know, and hopefully that prevents anyone from taking the same action as Sylvia Plath. What I know is anxiety and depression can be hard to deal with and everyone copes with it differently. Although some parts were sad, The Bell Jar made me feel like I wasn’t alone. I wasn’t the only one sitting at the bottom of a fig tree, feeling “neurotic as hell.” We’re all human and we all feel similar emotions and that’s okay. It’s okay to feel anxious, depressed, lonely, or even crazy. No one is alone in this giant world.

For the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline call 1–800–273–8255.

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