Living Beyond the Bell Jar

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“I felt myself melting into the shadows like the negative of a person I’d never seen before in my life” Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar


Yes, the Bell Jar… I know what it is like to live inside it. There seems to be two groups of people in the world. Those that have an ongoing struggle with a mental health condition and those that do not. If you belong to the first group I imagine that you wish you didn’t. I am guessing that you have battled being held captive inside your mind, maybe adjusting to meds, going off meds, feeling as if you are drowning inside your own head and therefore needing to medicate yourself again. Having a general feeling that you do not know how to cope in this utterly confusing world we live in.


And we are ashamed. What is wrong with me? We say to ourselves. We feel crazy. And with the shame comes the belief that if anyone knew the truth about you they would reject you. We try to de-pathologise and normalise mental illness now more than ever. Actors, Athletes, Musicians, Politicians all come forward now in the media to speak out about their “private battles.” However, in day to day life but I don’t know many people that are completely open with their private battles. Why would they be? It has the ability to impact and undermine our employment options and our relationships. There is still so much stigma attached to the label of mental illness, whether that be an addiction, an eating disorder, a mood disorder or a personality disorder. So many disorders. No wonder I hate labels.


So you are fighting two battles- the inherent societal stigma and then there is the battle inside your own head.


Feeling numb. No highs, no lows. You are here and everyone else is somewhere else. Sometimes it feels nice to be numb and sometimes you just want to feel again. And then you feel and you remember that your feelings make you overwhelmed and so you choose numbness again. Around and around the cycle goes.


You are in what one of my favourite writers Sylvia Plath referred to as the Bell Jar.


What I hear over and over in my sessions with my clients is the sheer frustration and isolation that we feel when we are in The Bell Jar. Life is happening outside it and you can see it all but you can’t be part of it. You cannot participate in it because you are trapped inside your head. I agree that unless you have experienced it for yourself one can never truly understand what it feels like. Maybe that’s what gravitated me towards becoming a therapist. Because I know what it’s like to live in solitary confinement so well.


There have been times in my life when everything seemed pointless or too painful or too hard or I was just too tired. And this is the point where you are thinking that I tell you that I fought it and everything turned out wonderfully.


Not exactly.


There is an old recovery saying that says you have to live life on life’s terms. Life’s terms are not fair or easy. But choosing life means you have to take away giving up as a viable option. And know that whatever you are feeling right now it will pass. And the beauty in that is that there are so many feelings you will feel at times besides pain.


I hold onto knowing that it won’t always feel like this. Sometimes it will be really really hard but it won’t always stay like that. And every time you tell yourself I will not survive this you will.


If you are struggling to get out of bed or to get through the day please hold on.


I came up with a bit of a list of the best ways to hold on and move yourself into recovery. Hopefully something from this list will appeal to you….


  • Talk to someone that you trust.
  • Book in with your local GP. I have done this myself and it felt good to just let someone in and have her write down a few things for me to do each day on a scrap of paper. It got me through that day. See your GP to also rule out anything physical that may be contributing to how you feel mentally.
  • Try to stick to a basic daily routine, that involves showering, getting dressed and leaving the house. Huge achievements when you are acutely depressed.
  • Exercise and I know that when you feel terrible it’s the last thing you will want to do but I promise you it helps.
  • Go somewhere beautiful, the water, a park, being close to nature is incredibly helpful because it helps you see that we are always part of something bigger.
  • Ask yourself what would have to change in order not to feel like this? It doesn’t matter how ridiculous or unachievable it sounds. It is a starting point and it tells you that there is a possible solution to this.
  • Eliminate as much stress as you can from your daily life. If cutting down on work or study is an option seriously consider it. Also if there is an ongoing source of stress in your life that keeps cropping up you need to address whatever this is.
  • Consider therapy. Choose someone that above all you feel you click with and can talk freely to. Oh and make sure they have done their own therapy this is crucial!
  • Stick at therapy. Many of us use it when we feel “bad” and the moment those bad feelings are alleviated we drop out of therapy. Therapy is a long-term process, it is most effective when it transcends beyond how you feel week to week.
  • Consider medication/medication review. Meds are there to help stabilise you when times are really hard and exercise and sunshine are not enough. There are no magic/cure all pills but I have seen it make an enormous difference.
  • Get involved in a local group- choir, walking group, craft, 12 step fellowship doesn’t matter. It just helps to be part of something bigger than yourself and to make connections.
  • Educate yourself as much as possible. Understand that what you are feeling is valid and above all it’s not hopeless and there is nothing wrong with you if you need help. It is ok to struggle but you need to let someone in.
  • Do not isolate. I know I’ve said that before but I’m going to repeat this one.



Remember this…Our thoughts change, our feelings change. Both are unreliable. All we can rely on consistently is our behaviour. We need to ask ourselves every single day: What have I done for myself today? Is my behaviour supporting my mental health or undermining it? Because our behaviour will always tell us. And there are things we can do that support our recovery and things that move us away from our recovery. Which direction are you travelling in?


Something that always makes me feel stronger is what Plath writes towards the end of the Bell Jar…


“I took a deep breath and listened to the old brag of my heart: I am, I am, I am.”


For me it’s like a mantra, so I don’t forget that I am alive, I exist, I am me and that means something.

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