I read The Bell Jar when I was 18 years old. It was after my first semester of college. I ended up withdrawing and taking a semester off because I was struggling with my mental health. There were multiple times throughout the novel that I felt connected to the words Sylvia Plath had written, as though we shared some parts of our brain. In particular, though, there was one passage that resonated with me completely.
I saw my life branching out before me like the green fig tree in the story. From the tip of every branch, like a fat purple fig, a wonderful future beckoned and winked. One fig was a husband and a happy home and children, and another fig was a famous poet and another fig was a brilliant professor, and another fig was Ee Gee, the amazing editor, and another fig was Europe and Africa and South America, and another fig was Constantin and Socrates and Attila and a pack of other lovers with queer names and offbeat professions, and another fig was an Olympic lady crew champion, and beyond and above these figs were many more figs I couldn't quite make out. I saw myself sitting in the crotch of this fig tree, starving to death, just because I couldn't make up my mind which of the figs I would choose. I wanted each and every one of them, but choosing one meant losing all the rest, and, as I sat there, unable to decide, the figs began to wrinkle and go black, and, one by one, they plopped to the ground at my feet.
I wanted to scream the first time I read that. I wanted to scream and shout and say "Hey!!! Everyone!!! This is exactly how I'm feeling!!! Please help me!!!" The passage captured the duality of my excitement for all the possibilities along with the dread of potentially making the wrong choice. That fear was paralyzing. It's something I still experience from time to time.
When I graduated from college I struggled again, because it felt like I was sitting in the crotch of the fig tree. And instead of climbing up and choosing a branch, I wept in the crotch of the metaphorical fig tree. I felt unhappy with myself and with my choices. I felt like a failure.
When I started college I wanted to be a doctor. I was always interested in science and medicine, and more than that I wanted to make my mom proud. After my first biology lecture, I remember feeling a pit in my stomach. "This is it?" I was in a hall full of other young, ambitious smart people. Some much smarter than me. And they studied and did well on the tests and seemed so sure that this was what they wanted. I felt lost.
I ended up graduating from Fordham with a BA in New Media & Digital Design. I always enjoyed design and technology, but was I sure that this was really what I wanted to do with my life? Was designing websites meaningful?
After a few months of therapy, I realized that I still wanted to be a doctor. So I went back to school to do a post-baccalaureate program in order to complete the prerequisites necessary for medical school. I felt much more optimistic. I was doing well in my classes and I started working as a medical scribe. It was fulfilling, and finally, it felt like I was moving forward. Like I had pulled myself up out of the crotch of the tree.
I finished my post-bac last year, during the start of the pandemic. It was time to study for the MCAT and apply to medical school. I thought it would be perfect. We were in lockdown so it would be easy for me to study as much as I could. But every time I sat down to study I found it harder and harder to concentrate. I loved working as a medical scribe and getting to experience doctor-patient interactions. I hated studying for the MCAT. I eventually took the MCAT and did okay, but not as well as I would've liked. I took it again and did a tiny bit better, but still, not extraordinary. Even more worrying, I felt myself sliding backward, towards the crotch of the tree. Did I even want to be a doctor? Did I want to spend the next four years of my life in school? Will I even get into medical school?
For the past several months I've been designing and coding websites and apps for myself, just for fun. It's become my obsession, actually. Which has lead me to another difficult decision. After spending the last four years of my life dedicated to becoming a doctor, I've decided that right now, I do not want to go to medical school! But don't worry, I'm not weeping in the crotch of the fig tree. Instead, I've jumped down from the tree and found myself on steady ground, in a metaphorical garden, full of trees waiting to be planted. I will plant them throughout my life, and I will climb up and grab the fruits, maybe an apple, or a lemon, or a date. Figs were never my favorite anyway.