The Bell Jar – Sylvia Plath

This book is one of my favourites. I’ve read it repeatedly since first being introduced to it at school. It is beautifully written and Plath’s prose is as poetic as her poems. She has a knack for capturing the essence of anything in just a few lyrical words; from a thought or feeling to a whole situation or personality. It is one of the few books I have read that  portrays someone with serious mental health issues and manages to emphasise the severity of their experience alongside their humanity, or ‘normality’ if you will. Esther Greenwood may be increasingly detached, depressed, delusional and struggling to engage with the world around her, but she is still just a girl who loves a bath.

There must be quite a few things a hot bath won’t cure but I don’t know many of them.

I never feel so much myself as when I’m in a hot bath

And just try to tell me you have never stood somewhere beautiful, looked around and felt this..

I felt my lungs inflate with the onrush of scenery—air, mountains, trees, people. I thought, “This is what it is to be happy.”

Plath shows you someone who is incredibly vulnerable and almost naive about life, but she is also intelligent and has had to make her own deductions about what is going on and what is expected of her. She also shows you other people’s reactions to mental health, and while some of the treatments have moved on since this was written in 1963 not all attitudes have. Continue reading “The Bell Jar – Sylvia Plath”

Mrs Dalloway – Virginia Woolf

This has the appearance of being a day in the life of a wealthy married woman in London after WW1 but Mrs Dalloway is not defined as a mother or wife. This is not a guide to her daily tasks but to her psyche – how she came to be herself, from her experiences and the choices she has made, to how she reacts to the people and world around her. Many books run like plays where a cast of characters act out scenes and the authors deftly supply the details to help us stage the action in our imagination. While Woolf always assembles an intriguing cast, she does not write so much about actions but emotions, impressions Continue reading “Mrs Dalloway – Virginia Woolf”

Tender is the night – F. Scott Fitzgerald 


There is no doubt that Fitzgerald has a wonderful way of laying words on the page. The first few pages of this book are sheer eloquence. This excerpt perfectly captures that delightful happy wriggle of getting into cool water on a hot day:

Rosemary laid her face on the water and swam a choppy little four-beat crawl out to the raft. The water reached up for her, pulled her down tenderly out of the heat, seeped in her hair and ran into the corners of her body. She turned round and round in it, embracing it, wallowing in it.

It’s not that the rest of the book is any less eloquent, only that I find the poetic
summations a bit wearisome after a while. It takes me longer to work out what is actually going on and feels a bit like wading through mud and poking around with a big stick, trying to find the point. I, shockingly, felt the same about ‘The Great Gatsby’. Continue reading “Tender is the night – F. Scott Fitzgerald “

World Suicide Prevention Day

Today there are over one hundred thousand tweets about World Suicide Prevention Day. This is FANTASTIC! Unlike so many other issues, this really is one where you can help just by sharing a link or liking a post – because each click sends the message ‘its ok to talk about this’. Which it is. Always. (You could go even further and ask someone how they are really feeling – like the Australian ‘RUOK’ campaign that encourages people to answer the question ‘how are you?’ with a little more detail than the standard ‘fine’. If everybody you ask is ecstatically happy and goes on for hours about their life being all kittens and rainbows and comfortable shoes – forget nirvana, true happiness is comfy footwear –  you’ve still been a good friend and they know that you are willing to listen should they need to talk)

The phrase ‘suicide prevention’ is so important. When we talk about suicide it is usually as something someone has already done or attempted. What we avoid mentioning is just how many people have been driven to wishing to end their own lives, whether or not they act on it. The only way to combat the stigma and the isolation of people suffering is to talk about suicidal feelings. There are so many role models for those overcoming physical illness, but far fewer for those struggling with mental health (because someone thinking rationally about killing themselves is not mentally healthy however compus mentus you may feel – but that is ok. There is help and support and a lot less judgement than people anticipate. One great aspect of today’s awareness campaign is helping to dispel some of the stigma around suicidal thoughts and mental health).

Once you start talking, this is a really tough topic to talk about, whether you are helping someone or looking for help yourself. Here are two brilliant organisations that offer support:

Mind has centres across the UK that you can phone or visit for support, advice and great information about mental health disorders .  There are also lots of articles written by people with first hand experience – one of the toughest aspects of feeling suicidal is feeling isolated and alone but reading someone else’s experience of the same emotions, however different the circumstances, can really help dispel some of that ‘you against the world’ feeling.

Blurt is an absolute haven. The website is beautifully designed, it feels positive and calming, which is surprisingly important. The podcasts are on just the right topics, the articles are so well written (I defy anyone to read Charlotte’s story and claim she was being selfish, needy or overdramatic – words too often lurking in the background of our silence on suicide. It is frank and honest and straight from the heart), there are great initiatives to get involved with, a peer support group and you can even send someone (or yourself!) a care package. Suicidal thoughts often stem from it feeling too difficult to carry on, but Blurt helps make the whole business of living a bit more bearable.

This probably isn’t the most articulate thing I’ve ever written, but being able to talk about talking about suicide feels like one of the most important. I hope the buzz of today carries on long enough to make some changes to the way we approach such a difficult topic and each other.