For someone who has only read her biography and never read any of Sylvia Plath’s actual poetry, I spend an awful lot of time thinking about her. That’s because I suffer from chronic depression and anxiety. Sylvia’s poetry to me is what whiskey is to an alcoholic or what heroin is to a drug addict. It is something to be aware of, but avoided at all costs if I am to keep my sanity.
So rather than lean toward the warm, seductive, siren-like pull of identification and immersion with the dead poet and her writing, I try to spend my time reading books that make me feel happy while at the same time not denying that unhappiness exists.
Someone very dear to my heart gave me a book called Good Poems edited by Garrison Keillor. Every so often when I am feeling particularly melancholic, I find myself flicking through and selecting a poem at random; rather like someone who looks toward a passage in the Bible for inspiration. It’s never far off.
My love for literature and writing has led me through the valley of the shadow of death and down the path of salvation, the same way some people find solace from grief through volunteer work, flower arranging, painting, music or just being with their children and family.
Spending time doing what I love doing the most gives me enough time to slowly turn these overwhelming, innate, visceral body-centered feelings of despair and anxiety into hope, mindfulness, peace and goodwill. I need to trust that while my insides may be temporarily heaving and churning and my nerves are piano-wire taut, the rest of my world hasn’t changed; and when I recover it will still be there, with its somewhat normal constancy, reliability and stability.
My crushed spirit can then start to unfold and flutter its diaphanous wings, rising gently toward heaven and I can sit still knowing that once again I’ve won the battle, but not the war of depression – if only for a short time.
In this, Sylvia is my greatest teacher.