BY THALIA TAVARES ONLINE CONTRIBUTOR
Today is Sylvia Plath’s birthday, and if she were alive, she’d be turning 85.
I discovered Plath when I was 19 and was reading The Bell Jar for the first time. I had just taken some time off university, and I was struggling with my own mental health when I read her semi-autobiographical novel and was introduced to Esther Greenwood. In Esther, I found a character who understood everything I was going through, who described her own depression with the words I could not find within myself. In The Bell Jar Esther wins a prestigious internship that allows her to live in New York City and write for a women’s magazine. Although she is in a privileged position that many women would be jealous of, she does not experience the gratitude and happiness that she thinks she should. She acknowledges that something is missing, and can’t understand what it is, until she gets home and her symptoms manifest physically. This idea of being unhappy and scared when everything in your life is fine changed my entire perception of myself. If Esther Greenwood, who had everything, was depressed, then it wasn’t so far out of reach that I could be too. Reading this book changed my views on mental health, and thus began my relationship with Sylvia Plath.
After Sylvia Plath’s death, her letters and journals were published. In her journals, Plath explored some of her darker thoughts on life and revealed her critical opinions of herself. She revealed the disconnect she felt, that the person on the outside did not match who she really was. She wanted to be a great poet, she did not want to be married and have to look after a man all day. She wanted the freedom that men have always been granted: the ability to date, to have sex, to work, and not be judged for it. Among other things, this is what makes her so relatable years later, as women continue to struggle with double standards. The fact that she kept a lot of this hidden, revealed only in her journals illustrates how she dealt with these problems as a woman, trying to smile on the outside while quietly suffering on the inside. This is why reading her work is so important to me, we no longer have to suffer in silence.
After reading her work I realized I was no longer alone. Sylvia was alone in her depression, with no one really understanding how she felt and what she was going through. Her life ended tragically, and far too soon, at a time where her best work was being created. Who knows what else she could have written? Reading Sylvia Plath and her descriptions of her mental illness, creates an opportunity to talk about depression. Learning about her death creates an opportunity to talk about treatment, medication, and other resources. Reading Sylvia Plath gave me the chance to look for help, so that I could be happy in life. Her work will continue to inspire people in the years to come- so, happiest of birthdays to you, Sylvia.