.journal 2003.02.11

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Suicidal thoughts and me

Now listening to: Ludvig van Beethoven, “Moonlight Sonata
Now reading: Sylvia Plath, The Collected Poems
Now playing: Final Fantasy X (Playstation 2)

What some people would pin on circumstance, I believe has a more intangible source.

I had to get up early this morning for my counseling appointment, so I went to bed earlier than usual. Normally this doesn’t pose a problem for me (unless I’m not tired at all and I end up flopping around my bed for hours trying to reach REM sleep), but this past night’s sleep was different. At about four in the morning, a nightmare startled me awake. It was something about my parents and I shopping for interior decorations, and the world coming to an end around us. I remember more details than that, nothing too important or that I’d feel comfortable sharing with everyone reading this. But it’s incredibly rare for me to have a nightmare so bad that it forces me awake.

I actually managed to fall asleep after that, which is even stranger, because normally when something like that gets me up, I can’t fall back asleep. I can recall only three thoughts from that brief interval while I was awake: first, that I really needed to get back to sleep because I needed a lot of rest in order to function well at today’s counseling appointment and the classes that followed. Secondly, that it was somewhere around four in the morning. And somehow, in the midst of the nightmare-fears, even with me nowhere near a functioning level, I knew exactly why I had woken up at exactly that time, and that it was no coincidence, but a greater and more mysterious force of the universe working.

It was exactly forty years ago, at that very hour, that Sylvia Plath began to commit suicide.

A full biography of Plath would be well beyond the scope of my piddling little journal, and largely irrelevant to this present discussion. But forty years ago was actually Plath’s second suicide attempt. She first attempted suicide while in college, after she was subjected to electroshock therapy (barbaric in its crudity at the time) following a nervous breakdown; she attempted to take a surplus of sleeping pills, but tried to swallow them one at a time and was unable to down enough in time before falling asleep.

Skipping ahead several years, Plath married the British poet Ted Hughes, with whom she had two children. (Her daughter, Frieda, recently blasted the BBC’s production of a movie based on the lives of her parents, as mentioned in the .blog a few days ago.) The relationship was troubled from the outset, however, and when it emerged that Hughes had taken in with a mistress, the two separated, and Plath took both children with her.

As psychologically scarring as the breakup with Hughes was, it enabled Plath to break through many of the barriers in her own writing. She began writing poems in the “Blue Hour” before sunrise, and these poems are widely considered some of the most outstanding examples of the modern American poetry, if not the entire poetic canon. Plath somehow expressed all the conflicting and unspeakably strong feelings battling inside her, with a chilling conciseness. Most of these poems first saw the light of day in Ariel, although I still urge everyone to pick up The Collected Poems (link at the top of the page) for the sake of completeness.

Finally, though, Plath could not deal with the pain inside of her. She and her children had moved to a flat at 23 Fitzroy Avenue in London, and the winter of 1963 was one of the coldest London had ever experienced. She and her children were sick, she didn’t have central heating, and all the psychological pressures that built up inside her throughout her life finally became too much to deal with. After leaving bread and milk in her children’s bedroom, locking the door and sealing the cracks shut with tape, Plath sealed herself in the kitchen, took a large number of sleeping pills, turned on the gas to her oven, and laid her head on a folded-up washcloth on the open oven door. Her body was found later that morning.

I’d read Plath a bit in high school, but only really “discovered” her about a year and a half ago. I chronicled that process in the .journal a while ago, and strangely enough that entry started with a nightmare as well. (Yes, I will get around to updating those pages to the new site design soon.) Now that I’m finally entering the most advanced of my undergraduate English courses, I realize just how much of an impact Plath has had on my own development as a writer, how I feel a strange kinship with her. Should I ever drift towards English criticism in my academic career, Plath doubtlessly shall be my main focus.

What I feel towards Plath goes beyond the narrow confines of poetry, though. Those of you who keep regular tags on the site know that I’ve had to deal with some very strong negative emotions as of late, and some of this actually led me to suicidal thoughts. I won’t attempt suicide — violence is never the solution to problems (except in the NHL, but that’s a subject for another entry), and that includes violence against one’s own self — but that doesn’t stop me from having thoughts of it. And it scares me when I have those thoughts.

I did actually attempt suicide once, when I was thirteen. There was a rather embarrassing episode at the private school I went into, something I still don’t really talk about even with my closest friends. I guess all you need to know about how that school treated me was that after a teacher found me following the suicide attempt, he just made me go to my next class. And they wonder why I turned into such a rebel in my later years there. (And you wonder how I turned into such a mixed-up, twisted person.)

I’ve mentioned depression and suicide in previous entries here, just because depression is something I’ve had to battle with for most of my life. As always, I’d point all of you towards metanoia.org for a more thorough treatment of those subjects than I could hope to offer. With all of the stuff I’ve fought through in my life, sometimes I feel like I could teach a course in depression, but I’d rather leave that to the professionals.

That’s one of the reasons I have seen counselors in the past, dating back to my first year at the private school when I was ten. I first saw a counselor at UT shortly after 09.11, just because everything that happened with the fire and going back to school and all that just became too much for me to deal with. I had a friend who was giving me some support at the time, but she was too busy dealing with other things to really be there for me. (And just about a year after 09.11 our friendship disintegrated in the blink of an eye.) It was that first UT counselor that convinced me to join Spectrum, and finally having that outlet on campus was what helped me to start getting things in order again.

I don’t really want to get into everything that caused this most recent depression attack. Suffice it to say that my most important friendship being severed so quickly (and I have to admit to my share of fault in that) was what started it. But then things just started going wrong, one after the other. The death of a friend’s girlfriend wound up hitting me harder than I could have expected (I have this strange empathic ability that comes up sometimes), and I haven’t seen that friend since. All my attempts to make new friends backfired to the point of my heart breaking. And there was some other stuff, too.

So I started seeing another counselor this past week, and she’s helping me to try to root out the source of all of this. One of the things that’s become clear right off the bat is that I have this tremendous wall built around me, after all the abuse I went through in my old schools and all that. When the shit started hitting the fan last year, I retreated behind that wall further than I’d ever done before, to the point where I couldn’t talk with anyone save Maria from Spectrum. Even at that, I didn’t want to bother Maria too much because she’s dealing with some very serious problems of her own as well. (I haven’t even seen her for nearly three weeks.) No one at UT, no one in Spectrum, not even my own family could get me out from behind that wall.

To a large extent, I’m still behind that wall. The wall isn’t a bad thing; quite the contrary, people need a wall like that to get through certain things. Some of the stuff I’m going through right now, I need to stay behind that wall for. But I had just gotten to the point where any little thing could make me neurotic, and the only way I knew how to deal with things was to retreat behind that wall. I can’t keep doing that, though, and after the first meeting with my counselor last week, and a rather distressing situation I was thrust into on Thursday, I finally started doing what I could to remedy the situation.

This isn’t going to be easy. In addition to the work I’ll be doing with my counselor to help overcome all my inner obstacles, I’m also having to deal as directly as possible with the sources of a lot of my current anxieties and troubles, and that’s never easy. (It’s the kind of task that EVIL, VINDICTIVE BITCH Sean is meant to handle.) But I don’t give up so easily. I don’t know if I can find true happiness where I’m at right now (in all honesty I’ve been exploring grad school options recently in hopes of finding something pleasing there), but I deserve a lot better than the hand I’ve been dealt recently. Now to find the courage to ask for something better.

I’m pretty sure if Sylvia Plath were still alive today, she’d dismiss these ramblings as infantile and unrefined. Hey, I am infantile and unrefined. But I’m going to get better, somehow. I swear it.

Everyone take care and be well. I’ll see you around.

— Sean

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