Are You Okay, Really?

At the beginning of this whole Covid thing we thought it was going to be like SARS or H1N1, which had the potential of going worldwide but didn’t. As scientists and doctors had warned us for the last hundred years, another pandemic was bound to happen, it was just a matter of time. But like school kids who weren’t fully listening during a science class, we didn’t take this into full consideration. Now look where we fucking are! We have to go out in masks, booster shots are starting and everyone is taking Covid tests everyday like a girl who can’t believe she’s pregnant. You also have people shouting “my body, my choice” in terms of vaccination and believability that the virus exists when “my body, my choice” should only refer to the girl who can’t believe she’s pregnant and what the fuck she’s going to do with her predicament. 

Psychologically The CDC, WHO and the UN predict a huge crisis with a mass of people developing PTSD, Anxiety and Depression after the trauma we have personally and collectively gone through. But eventually, once the terror of sickness and death wanes, life goes back to — for lack of a better word— normal. I myself believe nothing is normal, but that’s another rant for another day… This is my chosen catchphrase because one thing always leads to a tangent referring to another topic. If you know me or meet me in person, you will notice I do this often.  Maybe it’s because I think everything is relative. Or I just connect the dots. Or my mental illness makes it impossible for me to actually stick to one thought and run with it, of course that is  another rant for another day… 

Yes, some things will change: like practices of public cleanliness, health and sanitation, etc. but when all is said and done, trust me when I say things will return to the ordinary world… You don’t believe me? Well, after the black death, the plague of 1665, the smallpox epidemic, the cholera epidemic, and the last pandemic before this one: The Spanish Flu (where you would go to jail if you didn’t wear a mask. That’s something that we should’ve brought back this time around.) Things did eventually get back to “normal” each time. But it was a new “normal” to do with shifts around sanitation, hygiene, and even scientific discoveries; like how people didn’t get ill through Miasma or Acts of God but by different circumstances. We eventually learned things could be passed through animals and insects as with  malaria and mosquitos, through exchange of bodily fluids like in AIDS, or passed down via genetics. This one should be obvious to you, if you have a mental illness--and yes that does include addiction--it’s more than likely someone in your family shares the condition.
Once restrictions are lifted, hook ups and socialization without masks will resume... if they haven’t already. Covid will probably go the way of the annual flu shot. In short, most people will get over the anxiety, depression and stress of dealing with social situations. 

But what happens if things don’t go back to normal; that all this has triggered something in you? You question if you’ve always had anxiety? Or depression? It just took something as catastrophic as this to bring it out of you? Or were you  born into that jar where the stale air surrounds you like a pea-soup fog? Where you live in a permanent state of feeling different, the awkward otherness that separates you from the pack? That you put your hand against the proverbial glass of the bell-jar, wishing that someone would just touch the other side? There is  always going to be a partition between you and them: that’s never going to change. 

You know why: you’re mentally ill. And it’s all right.  

As you can tell by the name of this webzine and hopefully, the support community around it one day, I’m doing…meh, but I’ll always be doing meh. I think Sylvia Plath put It best in her infamous novel The Bell Jar:

‘I would be sitting under the same glass bell jar, stewing in my own sour air.’

And I know, as I said previously, because of the recent pandemic, that it feels like we’ve all been stewing in our own ‘sour air’ for far too long. And I’m not talking about smelling your own  breath, which you have to do now because you have to keep a mask on, and you think ‘ew, is that what my breath actually smells like? Gross, I need some Listerine.’ 

The Bell Jar is an allegory for mental illness, Sylvia’s mental illness to be specific. Hers infamously ended in tragedy, as you well know. She gassed herself to death after writing such beautiful poems and prose, leaving behind three small children. She probably felt that no-one would remember her or take her work seriously. In her time, her philandering ex, Ted Hughes, was the poet laureate, not her. However, today she’s remembered more than he is. I hope people read not just The Bell Jar but her beautiful poetry: Lady Lazarus, Daddy, and Ariel. 

The trouble with mental illness is the diagnosis can be the same, but the conditions can vary. It’s like when Apple release their new digital agreement and you just accept it. These Doctors and Therapists you see, they’re the experts and you trust them, they wouldn’t give you misguided  therapy or advice or drugs, right? But you don’t know if the therapy is right for you, or what the side effects of the medicines are, especially if they don’t make you feel better.

There are many reasons therapy may not have made you feel better. It could be the doctor.  Sometimes they may have an ulterior motive or their own personal agenda like to enforce religion, or to compromise their ethics considering the advice they give you, or to even question and explore their own sanity and not yours. It could simply be that therapy they’ve subjected you to has not been helpful or has made things even worse. Or, thanks to Big Pharma, it could mean the Doctor has been paid off by a certain drug manufacturer to prescribe a medication you don’t need. The medicine’s side effects can be worse than the so-called ‘cure.’ Or it could mean the permanent threat of being institutionalized if you tell them what is really wrong. There could be many reasons you haven’t felt the ‘right’ kind of difference. We’ll explore many of them together here. 

My mental illness, my ‘Bell Jar’ as it were, has been in place for as long as I can remember but it has been diagnosed as several different things; some which felt right, like OCD, some which felt wrong, like ADD. Recently though, I have been diagnosed with Bipolar Type 2/Unspecified Bipolar and Related Disorder. When I’m in hyper-mania, I feel I have the strength to knock the glass dome over. I feel high, like I can do anything. Reach the top of Everest. Capture the White Whale. Conquer the whole fucking world. But then the Depression hits and I start weeping just like Alexander the Great did, because there are no more worlds to conquer—not for me anyway.  My dreams are so big and I’m so small, how could I possibly make a difference? I’m never going to be successful in life, or in love. It’s as if a solid avocado pit has lodged itself, well, at the pit of my stomach—that sounds much more reasonable than a stone, people don’t eat stones, unless they have Pica.

All I wanted to say was: officially welcome to Betsy’s Bell Jar. I swear not all of it will make you want to listen to Nirvana and go into a downward spiral. Dammit, why did I mention Kurt Cobain? On a website that is supposed to help people with their mental illness? Great choice of artist there, Betsy, you sure do know how to read a room (By the way I have no idea how to do that). 

Some of it will make you laugh, or think, or maybe change your ideas about some things. So let us get this show on the road to god knows where, but hopefully it has a bar where there’s no need to wear a mask.

©Betsy’s Bell Jar 2022