Everyone is talking but I have no intention of listening. Words merge into other sounds and fade into the background. There is music. I lounge contentedly in the smell of cupcakes and the warmth of a happy, lazy Sunday.
I like the quiet.
The conversation turns to poetry and Sylvia Plath and subsequently to her depression. That gets my attention. Somewhere deep inside of me, there is this little person that perks up at any mention of mental health and says ‘Hey, I understand. I know’. It is a sense of camaraderie and concern, and a morbid sort of curiosity. In these times of relative wellness, it is still there. Saying ‘Hang in there, it’ll get better’ or ‘Oh yeah, me too’.
I sit up a little straighter in anticipation of joining the conversation —
“Did you read her book? She was a looney, man! No wonder she stuck her head in an oven.”
— and suck in one sharp breath.
The Bell Jar. Not a literary marvel but certainly a dark, unrestrained account of despair. My heart thuds. I related to a lot of what Plath wrote in that book. Memories come tumbling out. Pain, fear, hurt. The helplessness, the slough of despondency. I try to tell myself it is over but my chest tightens and it gets difﬁcult to breathe. I sit there frozen. Can they hear me breathing? Do they know what I’m thinking? Are they looking at me? I am outside my house today and sitting at a coffee shop. I am not going to stick my head in an oven. It seems terribly unfair for such generic statements to be made. My stomach drops as familiar feelings resurface. What do they know?
Should I say something? I want to. I want to explain how there is so much more to a person. I want to jump to the defence of another and I want to explain that I am completely normal. I want to convey that sometimes good people suffer and it can’t all be blamed on them. But I suddenly feel old and tired, far too tired to hold my own against being branded a looney. I want to be back home and under the bed and give in to the terrible weight on my head.
So I force a smile instead, and sip some water. Maybe some other day.