You know what? I don’t know the answer. But neither do the authors who have made a cash business out of saying that Hughes drove Plath to suicide.
As I have said elsewhere, suicide is the product of mental illness. When a person self-eliminates, a collection of “authorities” like Job’s friends gather to dispense their theories about why it happened. The loss of Plath’s last diary does leave us without answers. But that has not stopped people from giving them anyways.
The anti-Hughes brigade tells us that Ted was trying to hide a Svengali-like murder. They weakly cite Plath’s earlier diaries. But can we take these as final proof of Hughes’s intentions? I think not.
We know that Hughes did edit the earlier diaries. He excised some portions which he felt might upset his children according to his daughter Frieda. The diaries themselves were left unharmed, waiting for a day when scholars might examine them. This raises the question: if Hughes’s intentions were good (let’s just try this as a thought exercise), what could have moved him to edit the earlier diaries and then destroy the last one? I look to Plath’s illness for an explanation. Some women experience psychoses regarding their children. Their offspring become evil in their eyes or they feel that they have to save them. This is not normal maternal behavior. Suppose Plath had voiced such emotions regarding her children. Suppose she had considered killing them? Or suppose she had considered herself an unfit mother, a sentiment not unknown among those suffering from bipolar disorder. Would you want your children reading that their mother hated them or would you let them preserve more positive images? This is my personal theory regarding the destruction of the last journal, chronicling a period when Plath was severely disturbed. I think it is at least as reasonable — if not more so — than the Hughes killed Plath by betraying her theory. He didn’t cut out sections where she disparaged him after all.
I think it is time to leave Hughes and his family alone. Plath’s son killed himself at age 47, strong evidence that he inherited the Plath Family genetic defect. Perhaps she negatively inspired him. I don’t think Hughes was an evil mastermind or mere brute. But I wonder about those ideologues who bore Plath’s bier and committed an act of suttee by immolating Hughes with their suspicions.
I am not going to declare who I am supporting for president (there are reasons as a Democrat for keeping my silence no matter who I am supporting) but I must speak up to the matter of Bernie Sanders and his use of mental illness as a pejorative against the Republican field. For the record, I have also written a letter to the White House after Obama made a comment about the Republican Congress being crazy — and I like Obama. A necessary quality for presidential candidates is the demonstration of humaneness. No leader should make any group an object of derision directly or indirectly. Bernie slipped up in the middle of the last debate and he slipped up big time:
The zinger tied Sanders’s support for mental health funding to the Republican field: “We are, if [I’m] elected president, going to invest a lot of money into mental health,” Sanders said. “And when you watch these Republican debates, you know why we need to invest in mental health.”
Excuse me, Senator Sanders? I live with bipolar disorder. I am a lifelong Democrat. And I resent being linked in any way to the Republicans. Donald Trump and his pals are crazy as a fox. The Tea Party/Randenoid ideology that drives them calls for total noncooperation with the president. While I appreciate your call to invest in mental illness care, I am suspicious of your reasons why. Do I detect the old lie that those who commit mass murder are sick in the head, a lie that the NRA has found useful in deflecting comment on gun violence in this country?
What are the real reasons for investing in mental health care? First, many people living with mental illness find themselves in poverty. This makes it difficult for them to become stabilized and remain that way. Improving their standard of living is key to returning them to the workforce. Second, Congress is considering whether to allow insurance companies to set up formularies which can keep patients from obtaining the medications that work best for them and force them to rely on inferior substitutes. Third, we can always rely on more education about what mental illness is all about so that people don’t have a knee-jerk reaction every time they see some bizarre behavior in the news. Fourth, there is a need for better medications with fewer, less loathsome side effects. Fifth, we need to continue to research ways to bypass the blood-brain barrier so that we can deliver medications at lower doses — reducing side effects — and, possibly, implement gene therapy.
These are the reasons why we need to focus on mental health — because mental illness makes the lives of those of us who have it and our families miserable, not because we pose a threat to the rest of society.
Suicide attracts speculation and prurience like flies to rotting food.
— Hadley Freeman in The Guardian
While I was traveling in Britain, I watched a BBC program about Ted Hughes. Hughes had, by the end of his life, attracted quite a following of detractors who blamed him for driving Sylvia Plath mad. The film Sylvia showed him slapping the American poet and yelling at her. Some of the material was drawn from Plath’s fulminations in her diaries and some from the imaginations of the script writers. Hughes’ critics act like Plath had never been mentally ill before she met him, that she was a happy-go-lucky girl who had the misfortune to marry a monster of a man. Of course, this is to completely ignore the history recounted in The Bell Jar and Hughes’ own side of the story.
One person who was interviewed was Sylvia Plath’s daughter, Frieda. When Frieda finally broke her silence on her mother and father’s relationship, she was angry:
I was appalled that something that happened in 1963 could be carried forward.
‘What an easy way out for somebody to think, yes, we’re right, we have got the real story, we know what really happened, and we are going to punish this complete stranger (referring to Ted) for something we weren’t around to witness, we know nothing about, but we’re the ones with the answer.
The paper reported that she said: ‘For outsiders – because that’s what they are, outsiders – to make judgements that affect somebody in their life, for all of their life, is a sort of horrible form of theft. It’s an abuse.’
It’s an old story that gets told about the mentally ill time and time again: people with a mission — like blaming us for mass murders to divert attention from gun violence or invoking the works of anti-psychiatrists knowingly or unknowingly yolked to the Church of Scientology or some feminists out to blame Ted Hughes for Plath’s insanity — hijack our lives. They rewrite our stories to suit themselves. I have often tried to reason with them, to persuade them to let us tell our stories, but the bottom line is that they do not want the families and victims having a say about their own lives. When ideology trumps understanding, it is not good for any of us.
A prisoner works inside the long, glassine tail of a research submarine. The sub is sinking, so he goes to the escape pod where there is only room for two people and there are three. One of them, a guard, leaves the pod and commits suicide. The second is a woman who shuts the door. The pod lurches and the prisoner hits his head. He realizes that the woman is his wife and that he has had his mind erased. The pod arrives in a city where the wife goes to a meeting and sends the prisoner off to a hospital to look for answers. The prisoner searches the entire hospital, but finds no one who can help him. He organizes a press conference and tells people what happened to him. A human rights group brings him to Amnesty International.
In a later dream, my companions tell me that they have heard the plot of the dream before in a TV movie.
There’s a bit of a bandwagon effect trying to tie the Planned Parenthood shootings and the massacre in San Bernardino to mental illness. The first case seems to be a clear case of terrorism egged on by Republican presidential candidate Carley Fiorna who characterizes the shooter as a “protester”. We don’t have enough information on the San Bernardino shootings to characterize it, but it seems that the impetus was going postal rather than terrorism. Nonetheless, the kneejerk is to claim that terrorists are mentally ill.
I have several, disjointed observations to make:
So, no. I do not believe that terrorists are mentally ill anymore than soldiers are mentally ill. The parallels between these two groups is stronger than either has with those of us who live with mental illness.
I wasn’t able to arrange any interviews. The doctors in the Senegalese mental hospitals were defensive, fearful that I would paint a bad picture of conditions, or busy. The assurances of the State Department staff who were helping me didn’t sooth this naive patriotism or persuade them to give me half an hour, but I learned a little. There’s no social security in Senegal, so the mentally ill either rely on the care of their family or begging. I didn’t see many people who struck me as being afflicted on the streets (unlike London and Paris), so I assumed that they had been assimilated into the crowd and received care of sorts from other dwellers of Dakar’s streets.
The luckier among the mentally ill receive support from their families who send them to mental institutions where they receive treatment in the form of psychotropics. These help as long as the money holds out — a familiar story to those of us who remember the dark days before Obamacare. I can’t tell you about the conditions in the hospitals; so, I don’t know if they followed the best standards of care or if they were dank prisons where patients were chained or locked into padded cells.
Mental illness is recognized even in the more remote and traditional areas, which refutes the myth that people in Africa regard people living with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder as holy. Instead, they are ostracized and feared — as they have always been, even when they have found a niche as shamans.
Most of the mentally ill disappear into the mass of people walking the streets of this city. They are ignored and forgotten, their symptoms shrugged off which is not the reverence of the myth makers. There’s rumor of an American in one of the suburbs who is in episode; there is no retrieving him and taking him home, however, because he will not come into the embassy for evaluation.
If I stayed around, I might see more; time is running out, however.
When you are wandering around the city of Dakar, you are faced by people who make less in a month than you spend in a day. Street vendors assail you at the tourist places, handicapped beggars sit in the street. You tip the beggars and fend off the salesmen as best you can, but unless you are the Koch Brothers, you feel that overwhelmed by the poverty and impressed by the resolve of the people to make as good a living for themselves as possible. They probably never taste meat or enjoy soft drinks (that cost twice as much as they earn in a day). If anyone thinks they are lazy, they should follow one of these for a few hours. Begging is hard work and so is selling.
A woman in brightly colored native clothes started talking to us on the boat to Ile de Goree the other day. She was very friendly and, of course, she had an ulterior motive: to get Lynn and I to visit her shop and buy a few things. The boat was filled with Africans of all nations (including a few from the United States) and a few Europeans and white Americans. I do not know how she reached the conclusion that I was Muslim, but she wanted to know which of the women sitting next to me — Lynn and an Australian woman living in Geneva — was my first wife and which was my second wife.
I told her that I thought one wife was enough for me, that I didn’t want the trouble of arbitrating disputes between two or more women.
“I am the second wife,” she told us and smiled broadly.
I could not help but admire her spirit, so when we met her a few hours later, we bought a few things for our niece after fierce bargaining.
I’ve been in three time zones this trip, mere hours apart. Seven hours separate me now from my normal time zone; the heat and the humidity have been more of a problem that disruption of my circadian rhythms here in Senegal. When I feel a little drowsy in the morning, I have tea or Coca Cola. This augments my Vyvance without pushing me into mania.
A tomato on a sandwich proved to be more of a problem. This morning I had nausea so bad that it broke through my Zofran. The technicolor yawn spilled out of my mouth like the larva came out of John Hurt’s chest in Alien. I handed my shirt and pants for processing over by Mami the maid, took a nuclear grade antibiotic that the tropical medicine specialist gave me, and took a long nap.
The plot that my psychiatrist and I hatched is working. I take two Tegretol first thing in the morning and two more later in the day. There are no visits from Tigger or Eeyore, no wild scenes with strangers. i keep calm under pressure from street vendors; “de-de” is very much a part of my vocabulary. (I have yet to say “Jok fe” which is “Go away”.) They are only trying to make a living.
London is an hour ahead of Dakar and Paris is two hours. We’ve already been to the city on the Thames; we’ve been through Paris twice, but our real visit there begins Sunday morning. I am proud of the fact that I have not lost my temper and raged against the cities. Even when I was pickpocketed (I got the wallet back) I accepted what happened and went on with my life. The trip is a success.
I’ve gotten two jobs in London — or it is the same job? The first one seems to be in some kind of gym where speaking French is part of the job. The other is at a clinic or — is it the same place — where I lead a support group for people with bipolar disorder. About a quarter of the patients speak French. I acknowledge them in the few words of French that I know, hoping that no one will find out that I am faking and cause me to lose my job. Everyone lines up. They are all wearing white.
In a few days, we will leave our home and our pets in the hands of a housesitter; then, board a plane for Paris by way of Salt Lake City. The next day, we will take the Chunnel to London where we will spend a week before going to Africa. On our way back, we will stop again in Paris, then return via the same route to our home in Orange County.
I have been feeling the strain of this trip for several weeks. I’ve trained the house sitter in the management of our pets, introduced her to the housekeeper, made sure she was authorized to call for repairmen and get the animals treated if they get sick. We’ve gotten the proper shots and picked up prescriptions for antimalarials and antibiotics. I felt slight fevers after the vaccinations. This means I am done with typhoid, influenza, and yellow fever. We have mosquito repellent and netting to cover our faces. Loc at my pharmacy negotiated with the insurance companies so that I would not run out of medication. My psychiatrist wrote a prescription with an extra dose of mood stabilizers to get me through the disruption of my inner clock. I am bringing Benadryl to help knock me out. Now I am shifting my sleeping and waking times by a few hours each day until I arrive in the same time zone as Paris.
I have developed this perspective over the course of many years. Denial was part of my life for many years. I made my wife’s life hell and I was a thrall to those who knew how to trigger me. It has not been easy. Now that I am on medication, I feel much better and in control of my emotions. Nevertheless, I respect the decision not to take medication by some, but often find that they do not respect mine. This article stakes out my position and makes a stand for what I believe.
I wrote this in June and set it aside to season.
Lynn grows a third eye, not on the forehead where they emerge by tradition, but to the left of her other eyes. It is smaller than the other two. She makes arrangements to have it removed, but something goes wrong with her right eye and she has to have it excised. I suggest that they replace the right eye with the third eye but she tells me that this is impossible. They are going to cut the extra eye in four pieces before they remove it a week later.