The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

My diving bell becomes less oppressive, and my mind takes flight like a butterfly. There is so much to do. You can wander off in space or in time, set out for Tierra del Fuego or for King Midas’s court.

After reading Jean-Dominique Bauby’s bestseller The Diving Bell and the Butterfly I can’t help but question my entire mantra. How are we constantly looking for more in life, never appreciative of our homes or possessions, with complete disregard for our bodies? We are constantly abusing our only vessels of existence through poor lifestyle choices and lack of appreciation. Bauby adds a different concept into the pool of typical ‘gratitude’ sayings; perspective. His novel describes what life as a fully paralysed person is like, with only the movement of your left eye to communicate with the world outside your mind.

Imagine sitting in a room surrounded by all the comforts you could dream of but never being able to touch them – that is what the last two years of Bauby’s life were like; lying in a hospital bed not even 3m away from all his precious novels, but entirely unable to read them. I could not think of a worse torture; added to the fact that it is never-ending. I can only describe his journey as heroic and inspirational.

The novel describes the life of ‘locked-in syndrome’ victim as having both a diving bell and a butterfly for a mind. During the countless hours of loneliness whereby you are unable to communicate the simplest request such as closing a door, you are in a diving bell, perfectly aware of yourself and your mind, but severed from the outside world; in contrast you can become a butterfly, and travel the world through the use of imagination and memory. This extended metaphor continues throughout the novel with the perfect blend of poetic subtlety.

Reading this french auto-biography has given me an unmeasurable gift of awareness. For now I am so much more aware of the life-changing ability to pick up a glass of water, and to taste the nuances of flavour in my food. To be able to choose my own outfit every single day, and to be able to communicate wherever I am is breathtakingly magical. All-in-all this quick read is well worth a few hours of your time.