The moth having righted himself now lay in most decently and uncomplainingly composed. O yes, he seemed to say, death is stronger than I am” –The Death of the Moth by Virginia Woolf
We are reading through different essayists in my Modern Familiar Essay class and this week we read Virginia Woolf’s piece, “The Death of the Moth.” In the piece, Woolf observes a moth trapped by a window pain. She watches it for awhile and eventually the life energy within the insect fades and the small creature dies, still trapped by the window.
On its surface, the piece seems like a short, slightly morbid, essay about an insignificant insect. However, my professor explained that she wrote this piece shortly before she put rocks in her overcoat pocket and committed suicide in the Thames river. “Was she the month?” we speculated in class. Did she feel trapped by her life, repeatedly flying from one corner to another in a fruitless effort to escape her mental illness until it all became too much?
I don’t know if Woolf felt like that moth, alone in the seemingly pointless fight against death, but sitting there in my creaking desk chair, I had to avert my eyes during the discussion, tears welling up inside them. The words resonated with me.
Woolf fought mental illness for many years and writing was a way she was able to cope. But in the end it wasn’t enough to save her. Sometimes I wonder what will happen to me in the future. Will I continue to get better? Or will my insides break so much that I will give up?
There are days where I feel the tiredness creeping into my limbs. A tiredness that I know is not due to not sleeping enough or stress from college. It is an exhaustion that pulls at you like a black hole, weighing down your heart and soul till you feel as though any movement requires more strength than you possess.
In her suicide letter to her husband, Woolf wrote: “I don’t think two people could have been happier till this terrible disease came. I can’t fight any longer. I know that I am spoiling your life, that without me you could work. And you will I know.” She had fluttered against the glass long enough and felt like there is no other option for her. Will I be like her?
These thoughts scare me. They tangle up my insides like string discarded after unwrapping a present. I am afraid of the potential for tragedy that I possess. I am a ticking bomb. A land mine ready to go off if triggered. Will my life be good enough that this won’t happen?
I am lucky. Unlike Woolf, I have access to mental healthcare and I am taking medication. Also, I know what is wrong with me. I understand the scientific process which helps to give me hope. I have knowledge that she didn’t possess. Unlike the moth, I am aware of the trappings around me and have avenues to help me escape.
I don’t know if I am the same as the moth in Woolf’s essay. I don’t know that I will follow in her footsteps. I am still scared and will probably always be scared, but I have hope that the window will open eventually.