My sister and I are on our way to Santa Barbara, Cali. We’re meeting our father there since he has some sort of a conference down there. While I brought my own stuff to do in the airplane, I picked up my sister’s copy of this month’s Marie Claire, mostly so I could find some picture to draw. While flipping through the pages I came upon an article entitled, "50 reasons we love America." The article lists a lot of random things like labradoodles, but then there is was, in #25, The Bell Jar (they even included the cover pic). The Bell Jar? As much as I love that book, have I ever considered that book to be one of the reasons why I love America? I’d really like to know why it is that we would love this country because of this particular novel. I mean, I owe a great deal to Sylvia Plath for inspiring me to keep such a confessional log of events, but would I say that the book, and by extension, Plath, is one of the very reasons that make America so great? Maybe I’ll think on it during the next plane ride before I give my concrete answer.
My interest in Sylvia Plath started when I had to read “Mirror” in middle school. Over the years, I’ve read more about her life, The Bell Jar, and her many poems. In one of my depressed moments, I went by myself to the movie theater at night to catch the movie, “Sylvia.” I hate that I am so intrigued by her, sometimes having reached an unhealthy point, but I am. Today I saw the headline: Nicholas Hughes, Sylvia Plath’s son commits suicide. I never knew much about Nicholas Hughes until I started reading his obituary and other articles, but it was just so sad to read that he came to share the same fate as his mother’s.
Mr. Hughes, a prominent fisheries scientist, and his death did bring back to my mind something I’ve thought about: is suicide hereditary? This question was so deftly addressed by The Guardian’s Ian Sample’s article: Death in the Family. In this article, Sample points out the following:
One of the most stark insights into depression and suicide comes from scientists studying bipolar disorder, formerly known as manic depression. People with the condition experience periods of intense mania, and will often feel themselves compelled to attempt grandiose tasks and projects, but fall into a deep depression once they are completed. The condition is thought to be strongly linked to specific genes.
“If you look at a population of people diagnosed with bipolar disorder, a fifth of them will attempt or succeed in committing suicide,” said David Porteous, professor of human molecular genetics at Edinburgh University. “Also, if you look at families where someone has committed suicide, the chances are that you will find another case in the not-too distant family,” he added.(from The Guardian, 24 March 2009, by Ian Sample)
I personally don’t know of any completed suicides in my family tree. But I do know of some suicide attempts that have happened in the family-tree branches not so high above me, with undiagnosed mental-health illnesses scattered about. Understandably, just because the ‘suicide gene’ might be in my veins, it does not bring much, if any comfort, to parents who had to hear from their daughter about her attempt (the plural can’t be used here because I never told them about the other hospital visits I made since that time. Saying something about one is enough; and the ECT thing makes it more than enough).
I do like looking up facts, stats and studies. And on a minor level, reading about the genetics of mental illnesses do give me some comfort-if one could call it that-about this element of myself. But those numbers reflect something much more grim in real life, and when I become depressed, start believing that I’m going to be Maureen Dowd the next day, or decide that I need to kill myself, it doesn’t matter that there might be some hereditary cause for it. Those numbers won’t save me.
After I came out of the psych hospital the time I was told I had bipolar disorder, one of the first things my psychiatrist said was that I should notify my sister of this diagnosis because this disorder has a very good chance of running in the family – including to any children that she might have.
What a thing to have to inherit from your big sister. A mental illness for the kids!
I happened to have read books that contained info on ECT long before I thought I’d be in that room. Instead of just staring at the Dolphins/Ravens game, I thought I might just flip through a couple of books with some ECT cites. I read Martha Mannings’ memoir, Undercurrents, that chronicles her days leading up to and out of ECT. Then there’s The Bell Jar. (I’ve always been intrigued by Plath’s and Sexton’s works, but it’s so hard to look up to them when they both die the same way) They were very good reads, but I have to say that at my point in this game, their insights only that: insights. If anything, everything that might happen during and after ECT can be put into words but what it feels can never really be captured. I guess I will know what it feels like to be through ECT in less than two weeks, but I realized that I can’t grasp these effects. I get that I will experience confusion and some potential loss of memory, but I don’t know what that really feels like. I read these words on the pages of Manning’s book about how she forgot that her sister had come to see her the day before, or the time she nearly gets lost in the hospital corridors, or the increasing sense of anxiety that comes as she is about to begin yet another session. These recounts sound bad, but just how bad do these episodes feel when one’s actually experiencing them? Reading parts of their works again made me feel a little (but not too) hesitant when thinking about ECT.
Oh, so when the media does countdown to Obama’s inauguration, the numbers almost coincide with the start of my ECT.