I consider myself one of the lucky ones. I have a job that I haven’t been furloughed from, I live in a flat with a teeny tiny garden, and I’ve been able to hang out with Effie – an invaluable friend I met a while ago on BorrowMyDoggy. So complaining feels like something I need licence for. Still, quarantine has been hard. I’ve missed my family and friends, suffered from creative pressure and found out I am not an Aquarius. What. The. Hell.
It’s roughly four months since lockdown started. My lows have reached a new level and my highs not so much. Social media is my new toxic best friend I can’t quite get rid of. Numerous articles have been popping up on my Twitter feed today telling me that I’ve been reading the stars wrong all my life. I am not an astrological fanatic I just need something to blame for all my flaws and, most of the time, I tell myself it’s the stars making me unstable, irascible and self-destructive.
I was always convinced that Sylvia Plath was an Aquarius but was recently very disappointed to find out she wasn’t. I consoled myself thinking that even if Plath herself wasn’t, the protagonist of her only novel Esther Greenwood surely was. There’s no evidence to deny or confirm this.
Reading The Bell Jar marks my earliest memory of suffering. Or actually of labelling my emotions as such. My childhood was incredibly uneventful, I didn’t suffer any trauma, was never bullied or the bully. I was just there, doing my best to fit in and only stand out fleetingly, not enough to be noticed, not enough to give people time to see my flaws or label me as arrogant, shy, loud, not loud enough. Plath, by means of Esther Greenwood, showed me that it was ok to feel utterly miserable yet still have it all. That happiness and gloom can share the same space, the same mind.
Furiously refusing to relinquish my star sign, I lock my phone and throw it on the bed. It’s an easy throw from the small and uncomfortable dressing table I have been using as a desk. It’s Friday afternoon and I’m pestered, irritable. Fridays used to symbolise fun, freedom, socialising – now, they instil an expectant fear in my heart, they mark the beginning of 48 hours of nothingness, where I will have to work harder than I do during the week to fill my time with meaningless tasks and activities I don’t enjoy nor am fulfilled by.
I rest my face on the palm of my hand and stare at my laptop. I have 23 unread emails and a lot I need to get done in the next two hours, but I can’t bring myself to do any of it. Instead I decide to investigate where I can buy books to survive the nothingness ahead of me. My options are limited. I can either sell my soul to the devil (aka Bezos) and receive my books tomorrow morning, or place an order with my local independent bookshop and wait for their verdict as to whether they have the book I want and, if so, when I could collect it. My face now rests on both my hands whilst my eyes laboriously travel back and forth from the number 23 on my inbox to my Google search “bookshops near me.” All whilst feeling my bed staring at the back of my head and luring me in to just lie there scrolling down Twitter and increasing my anxiety from 50 to 100 percent.
I consider texting mum, but I know what she’ll say. She’ll tell me to go for a walk or run, to do some yoga or bake something. Instead, I just reach out to open the window, light a cigarette and go back to my Google search. This time I type in “Sylvia Plath books” and scroll down to see if I’ve ever missed anything – a biography, a complete anthology or another collection of poems. Reading something depressing and messed up is my antidote for sadness these days, just like listening to Coldplay was during my teenage years.
My Google search takes me from website to website and I end up in Plath’s Wikipedia page. I double check her date of birth and roll my eyes at the fact that she still isn’t an Aquarius. The box-full of facts to the right of the page reminds me that she was found dead on the 11th February 1963 at the tender age of 30 and, to my surprise, in her house in Fitzroy Road, Primrose Hill. A chill runs through my body when I realise where my mind has ended up – next year on the 12th February I will turn 30 and, if I’m still living in this tiny flat, won’t be far from Fitzroy Road. I lean back on my chair as much as I can without falling back and stretch my neck to be able to look into my kitchen. I stare at my oven for what feels like a long time before the hot ash from my cigarette falls on my thigh and snaps me back into life. No. Lockdown will not break me.