iAnother insight, a "secret" I discovered in writing "Trauma and the Golden Lady," is the likely connection of "secondary posttraumatic stress" to Ted Hughes and the life of Sylvia Plath. I do believe this profoundly affected Ted and, consequently, affected Sylvia and Ted's relationship with her and others. It's no coincidence that the image I've selected to preface this blog is of my metaphorical pink sock monkey trying to lift a heavy stone. Persons I've met and worked with in therapy who grew up with parents with PTSD (diagnosed as such, or not), work hard and anguish to be a healthy self and connect with others. For them, something is missing or lacking. In their development, there may be at least a "passive neglect" within the home and parental environment, or perhaps abuse or even domestic violence. The self-absorbed style of the parent with PTSD impairs their ability to optimally parent or teach and/or love their children. These children find themselves without adequate support , direction, guidance, and attention. They, as it seems did Ted and Gerald Hughes, seem to instinctively seek to compensate for this loss by prematurely becoming independent and seeking to find their own attention and satisfaction. Self-gratifying acts often soothes the hurt of what is lost or missing. These acts bring pleasure and help the child feel good, for a brief time. Unless successfully healed or resolved, however, this narcissistic need may become insatiable. As with Ted, such hurt children become strongly centered on their need to care for their self. In a curious way, they may also become viewed erroneously by others as strong and secure, an attractive source for comfort and stability. These children with Secondary Posttraumatic Stress have learned how to survive and act independently, by and for their self. Acting and living intimately, with and for others, however, may be quite the challenging mountain to climb, something not learned, not taught, not internalized. Without significant and healthy intimacy during development, learning to act and be intimate later on, one may argue, will likely mean getting help from healthy others, such as professionals. They must first come to know and understand what was lost, then grieve, and then heal. It means having to learn to be intimate. It means shedding an ego that had needed to be exaggerated to survive and compensate in growing up and developing a more humble, less anxious and more open one. Thanks to this insight and understanding, I'm finding and developing a more effective way to help others who need to learn to heal after trauma and secondary PTS. Viewing Ted Hughes' family has helped me greatly. Never thought this would be the case. Wow!
Another "Secret" I wish to share with you about "Trauma and the Golden Lady" is the purpose within the purpose of the book. As stated before, this is a biography, the told story of Sylvia Plath. Indeed, what's unique is that it's a biography with a focus, a focus on the impact of trauma on her and in her life. Along with telling the story, I seek to invite the reader to reflect on their self from the life of Plath-understand, learn and use what is learned for self-improvement, growth, to avoid Plath's pitfalls and appreciate her gifts and talents, as they discover and develop their own in life. But something even more intimate came about for the reader as I wrote Trauma and the Golden Lady. What I didn't realize I was doing, at least not as clearly as I later discovered, is asking the reader to become as intimate with Sylvia as I seek to be in psychotherapy (at least to some significant degree). I wrote to invite the reader to put their self in the shoes of Sylvia and think and feel as she. What I noticed in reading her words is that, perhaps indicative of her life problems, all seemed disjointed, confusing, fragmented, more like puzzle pieces of Sylvia. Strong moods, sharp words, descriptions of persons, places or things. My writing, as with my therapeutic work, is an attempt to help the reader put her words to life in an integrated fashion, put at least some of the puzzle pieces together in a way that would help her come alive and walk along with you and you with her. Of course, perfection is not possible. It's not just saying (as she did) how she felt or what she thought that I wish you to be with, but also to show you how her thoughts-feelings-acrtions developed and were lived-out, for better and worse - her lived-out story , her phenomenal world, including her culture. Showing the cultural context in which she lived from 1932 to 1963 gives the reader, I hope, an even greater understanding of what may have both facilitated and impeded Sylvia's development towards well-being. Some of the feedback I've already received from others who have read my book, especially those who have suffered some of what Sylvia did, tell me that this more intimate purpose is accomplished. I hear from readers:
"You hit the nail on the head. That's how someone feels when they feel like that."
"I couldn't put the book down. didn"t want the book to end."
"I've read many book about Plath and this was my favorite."
"Sylvia herself was calling you to write this."
I treasure the reader's response as much as I treasure that from my clients. No greater gift have I received about my life work.
I'd very much appreciate your feedback about my book and it's Purpose within the purpose. Enjoy!
Another amazing "Secret" of my writing "Trauma and the Golden Lady" is my newly found appreciation of poetry. As stated in the book, early in my life I had developed a negative regard for poetry. I couldn't understand it, viewed it as odd and disjointed, never read it, couldn't write it. I just ignored it, avoided it, a lot like we tend to do with trauma. It was never a part of my life. Through my research for the book, however, I found myself having to read it, looking to understand, even experimenting with letting myself be free and creative and write a few lines. The brief statements at the beginning of many of the chapters are my imperfect, yet inspired words from my clients and my clinical work. It's the best I'm able to be "poetic" at this time and in no way to be interpreted as poem-writing on my part, as I would fail miserably at such a deeply learned art, as manifested by Sylvia, her husband or her daughter. These statements, thanks to my work about (and perhaps with) Sylvia, reflect my now new-found "trying" to express my self from deep within, from and with my spirit and soul. It's a bit of my expressing who I am and what I've experienced. I do believe this is what Sylvia sought and used to struggle to do. What a gift this has become for me. I guess I have Sylvia to thank for this.
Without a doubt, my research for my doctoral dissertation about "suicide bereavement" and my clinical work with those who lost loved ones by suicide played a very large role in my writing of Chapter 37-"Life Goes On." I've met and worked with children as young as 3 or 4, to adults in their 90's, all experiencing effects of loss by suicide. My personal and professional value and focus on the uniqueness and gift of a human being has been essential for my role as helper or psychotherapist. Despite my extensive background and ongoing clinical work with these bereaved persons, and knowledge and empathy acquired therein, I remain troubled by what I perceive to be the deep, prolonged and ongoing "hurt" that others bear after Sylvia Plath's suicide. I speak of this in Chapter 1. My thoughts, prayers, hopes, and wishes go out to all. Although name will not be mentioned here, one gifted and beautiful being remains foremost in my mind. Loss by suicide is something we should, in my view, seek to eliminate. It's pain and anguish not only touches many, but also "carries on" in effect over many generations. Perhaps the greatest gift I give as a psychotherapist is faith, hope and love for life and the belief that upholding these "virtues" or good habits defeats despair and helps eradicate suicidality. I work to help others develop these habits.
Here's another "secret" from writing Trauma and the Golden Lady.
It was surprising to me when I looked back on my earliest notes for writing my book (about mid-2004). I jotted down some of what I called "temporary titles" to help me focus on issues that I felt might be interesting and reflect my experience, expertise and interest. Issues of value to me included: Posttraumatic stress, mental health, suicide, suicide bereavement, spirituality, and, of course, the story of a young woman's journey in life - trying to seek and possess well being and personal fulfillment.
Here are some of my, ugh, initial "temporary titles" for sections, chapters or title of my book. Please remember that none were intended as final titles for the book, but rather as guides for future observation and research and writing. They were a part of my very raw brainstorming that I now share with you.
Running in search of a God
Gifts from the grave
Sylvia Plath: lessons for life
In search of self
One story: mine, hers, ours
Creating a world for self-expression
Forging a soul
Me and Sylvia Plath
There were many other such brainstorming titles for initial focus and reflection. It's a taste of the mechanics, the soul-searching for my writing. I hope this is of some help to a future writer or reader.
Here's another "secret" from my book.
In writing the book, I had no intention of making a connection of military service, war or Veterans to Sylvia Plath or her life. I did not believe this would have any place in my topic, writing, or in the life of Plath. Indeed, I work five days each week in an intense fashion with Veterans, discussing trauma and distress. I very much wanted to separate this work from my book writing, "apart from my VA job", if you will. Fortunately, as the gift of serendipity would have it, as I researched and wrote, I discovered a wealth of connection of Plath's life with the military, war and Veterans. It seemed, no matter how hard I tried to avoid or ignore it, the true spirit of Plath's life was leading me towards rather than away from the military. Ultimately, I chose to accept and then embrace it and see it as an essential part of the book. I discovered a beautiful report Sylvia wrote in elementary school about WWI. What an innocent yet very intelligent view of the ugliness of war! I discovered from Sylvia not just her dislike and protest for war, but also her deep appreciation, sympathy and positive regard for the human beings who served their country. It was a Christian approach reflecting her Unitarian teaching. It was the empathy and perhaps angst of knowing boys her age, some of whom she may have dated, who went to war in Korea. Also, I was truly amazed to learn about Ted Hughes' father's military service and about the complex, trauma-filled, sad, and adventuous experiences of "Mad Jack" Sassoon. Almost without thought, as I wrote, I found myself capitalizing the word "Veteran," as my own private and personal, internal protest surfaced against disrespect, hatred, ignorance, selfishness, and hurt done by some toward or against those who have given time and space from their life to their country. Yes, I was truly led, initially against my will, to incorporate the gift of my 19 years of clinical work and experience at the VA (and my even more personal, 4 years of USN experience) into "Trauma and the Golden Lady." To this day, I wonder to what degree I was being led by Sylvia or the Spirit of all life. It was another of the many lessons that teach me to remain humble and listen and be ready to follow a "greater voice." Sometimes what we want or insist on may not be best and, if we're open to inspiration and intuition, we may find something awesome, beyond our wildest dreams or imagination. What a gift life may come to be!
It may interest many to know that, despite my clinical perspective and intentional discussion of Posttraumatic Stress, there are no clinical diagnoses provided about Sylvia Plath in my book. This is intentional. Too many, I believe, have diagnosed Sylvia, put her in one or a combination of many diagnostic categories, labeling her, stigmatizing her, objectifying her, reducing her to a "condition" and detracting from the real human, more complex challenges she faced. And yet, I don't believe any of those who have diagnosed her have ever met or worked with Ms. Plath in therapy. I do believe diagnoses are over-rated in their significance, used and relied upon too much. Yes, they do help us with defining the problem, but we must be cautious not to see the diagnosis as the person, or as a sole, one-and-only, absolute truth-teller about a person.. Plath has been given many diagnoses and identified as psychotic, schizophrenic, bipolar, schizoaffective, majorly depressed, panic disordered, borderline in personality, chronically suicidal, and more. Yet, as you hear these labels, do they really tell us about Sylvia's uniqueness of self, about her unique journey in life? My intent in "Trauma and the Golden Lady" was to understand, "stand-under" and see this unique, gifted lady. Yes, I chose to look with an eye to the impact of trauma, but never to define her as PTSD. Indeed, although I do believe she suffered the effects of trauma and experienced features or symptoms of PTSD, not being her therapist and not being-with her in therapy, leads me away from diagnosing. Only a real therapeutic relationship with her would lead me to a diagnosis of PTSD and, even then, I would view this as giving me one of many "factors or issues" to consider as impacting Sylvia's life and her distress. As the book shows, I hope, Sylvia's life, as with all human life, is much too complex, rich and multi-faceted to put in one or two or so diagnostic category boxes. Sylvia Plath was a gifted lady, a golden lady, a person who, like all of us, sought to be happy, healthy and fulfilled, while dealing with the challenges of life that came her way. In therapy, I try (sometimes fail. How easy it is for the ego to get in the way.) to always look to the unique gift of the human being I meet and seek to put aside my issues and view and appreciate and understand the world of the other. As one of my gifted mentors would say, "be an unassuming presence." Staying human and humble helps me to help others.
As I wrote "Trauma and the Golden Lady" ( and after I did so), I discovered many interesting things about myself, others, about Sylvia Plath, and about life in general. I will share these with you as "secrets" or previously unstated observations that underlie or spring forth from my writing. It's amazing how one experience, one book writing, may gift a person with so much. I hope you will take a moment to reflect on these secrets, with thought about your own unique and gifted life. After all, this is the main purpose for my writing this book; that is, to help the reader see their self through some of what faced Sylvia Plath, positively and negatively. After all, a psychotherapist's work is to be always oriented towards the well being of the other, helping the other reflect on their unique self, understand, and take action to change for the better. I guess this main purpose for the book, if you will, may be considered my first "secret" to be told. Look for others to follow. I think you will find them interesting, especially if you've read the book.
"Bottling things up" is as much a part of what I face in therapy as the chairs and desk in my office. It comes in many forms: avoiding, forgetting, suppressing, ignoring, hiding, deceiving, pretending, denial. The defenses of our mind against facing hurt, problems, imperfections, damage done, outing perpetrators or loved ones who hurt us, are powerful and often very resistant to change. Indeed, it is the road less traveled to see, understand and live with our real self, with both our joyous gifts and ugly warts and hurt, errors, harm done, mistakes, and/or, as some may say it, our "sins." The road to this truth is, without a doubt, laborious and inclusive of anguish. What isn't seen initially by the one who has yet to commit to this road less travelled, though, are the amazing gifts and rewards. To be real is to be free , to experience love, even in a world of conflict or hate. To be free is to really see Truth and live humbly, openly and without fear in its presence.
Chapter Two of "Trauma and the Golden Lady" is titled "1932" and sets the stage for the incorporation of world and social history, the environment, world or "atmosphere" in which Sylvia Plath lived. The world of her time, 1932-1963, was a powerful one. There was trauma, war, peace, Cold War, nuclear weapons, severe depression, prosperity, cold winters, hot summers, almost anything one might think possible. As with all of us, Sylvia was a part of this world. It influenced her-her thoughts, feelings, values, beliefs, biases. As a writer and mental health professional, my past study of anthropology, culture and the work of Erik Erickson and many existentialists provided impetus for my interest and passion to add this historical "atmosphere" in my book. Many readers have commented about this addition, reinforcing its use and value for "seeing" Sylvia Plath's life story. Underlying this sociocultural perspective, as with underlying all in Trauma and the Golden Lady is my personal and professional belief, a core belief, that well-being is dependent on the healthy development of the physical, psychological, social, and spiritual dimensions of who we are.