The only reason I remembered this play was because it had a mad person in it, and everything I had ever read about mad people stuck in my mind, while everything else flew out.
Whenever I pick a book to read, I know that two things are bound to happen: I am bound to connect with it or drift between a deep connection and misunderstanding of the events in the story.
It’s not perfection or being a snob; but whenever I read a book, I find myself going through emotions that I choose to embrace or discard.
I almost always discard the emotions when am bored. I daresay there’s only one book that bored me stiff, and I have never dared to turn its pages since 2011. It is in my storage container gathering dust as I write this.
I did not know what to expect when I picked “The Bell Jar” off the library shelves this past Saturday. It was a dull looking book, showing feminine feet and that was it…plus I did not understand why the cover designer could not have just had a picture of a bell jar- it would have been easier to deal with.
So, when I started reading the book I found myself going downhill with Esther. The story is told from her point of view but it is not so much so the fact that she is mentally ill, but her descent is what intrigued me. Growing up, I used to love spending time with my aunt, Lillian, and would always take her yarn and hide just so she could pout and cry. I always thought it was funny that for an adult she laughed all the time, and played with yarn.
My parents often scolded me and told me to respect her.
One time, she came home in a blue checkered uniform and I asked where she was going to. I was told she was going to school. I asked if I could go to her school, and I was told that she was going to a special school.
I never asked another question because my parents had the power to silence me with one look.
My aunt Lillian now resides at home, and she suffers seizures from time to time, but there’s nothing much that my grandparents can do except to always watch out for these seizures. She still laughs and knits. She cannot cook now because they fear she might get burned. She cannot sleep alone in her room because she might have an seizure and fall off her bed, and when she goes to use the bathroom, someone has to be close by in case she needs help.
And there’s a part where Esther’s mom tells her, “I know my baby wasn’t like that?”, and Esther asks “like what?”
Her mom then says,
“Like those awful people. Those awful dead people at the hospital. I knew you’d decide to be alright again.”
What her mom didn’t know was that mental illness was not a switch that Esther could switch on or off as she pleased, and by reading this book and thinking of my aunt, and the society I live in, I cannot help but wonder if I have also been doing the same?
In most parts of Kenya, if you are mentally ill people assume that you are a victim of witchcraft or your parents committed some crime that the gods are paying them for through you. In some cases, children who are mentally ill are locked up or hidden so much so that you never see or hear them.
Well, that’s the question? Must we have a reference point for mental illness?
And this point, does it make us see the mentally ill as objects that need seclusion from us or as human beings who are struggling to find themselves while we are busy struggling to make them who we want them to be?