Prozac Nation

Prozac Nation is the slowest quick read I’ve ever read. It’s 300+ pages of glib complaints, easy rants, long-winded descriptions, and it is utterly exhausting. But it’s a necessary read for a twentysomething female, and for anyone in the modern world who experiences depressive thoughts, or knows someone who does.

Elizabeth Wurtzel is both the most arrogant and bravest person of her generation for writing this book. She took all her horrific years of pre-diagnosed depression, hashed them out in what was undoubtedly very painful detail, probably even relived them as she put them into words, and then let the masses do the rest. She invited people into her brain, to feel sorry for her, to feel repulsed by her, to want her to shut the fuck up, to want to hold her hand, all in an attempt to describe something that is even worse once it’s described. And that thing is depression. Depression is the most selfish disease of all, but it’s a real one, and her story is the recounting of what happens when it — and its host, for lack of a better term — are not taken seriously.

She summed up her mindset pretty early on: “No matter how many chemicals I have ever used to bleach or sandblast my brain, I know by now, only too well, that you can never get away from yourself because you never go away” (p. 11). Everyone wants to be someone besides who they are at some point, but to have that thought constantly? That’s something else entirely. That’s a chemical imbalance that is often masked by the wrong chemicals — drugs, alcohol — and the wrong experiences — suicide attempts — rather than the right chemicals — drugs — and the right experiences — who’s to say?

Wurtzel is quick to qualify the catch-22 of her depression, too. She recognizes that the source of her depression is no more tragic or complicated than anyone else’s; in fact, she’s probably a lot better off than most people with it. She had just as unstable a childhood as the next person; divorced parents, absent dad, crazy mom. But she never accused them of not loving her, even if she said it at different times in her adolescence. As she put it, “Nothing about my life seemed worthy of art or literature or even of just plain life. It seemed too stupid, too girlish, too middle-class” (p. 51). And then, over the course of the book, she proceeds to describe how everyone around her, including her parents, her school, her employers, her friends, her boyfriends, her own lifestyle, accommodated her disease and made it easier for her to live with it. No one, including herself, found her situation dire enough to fix because it never got that dire in anyone’s eyes — it’s hard to comprehend that behavior like hers was in a gray area, half induced by her own volition, half induced by something askew in her brain, fully coming across as incoherent and helpless. When someone complains about something you can’t relate to, or at the very least see, it becomes trivial. When they do it all the time, and pull the attention away from the good and into the bad, it becomes repulsive.

As I read this book, I found myself relating to passages in it, and then scaring myself into thinking there was something seriously wrong with me. This passage in particular struck a chord because, well, it’s accurate: “Instead of thinking that there was no future, all I did was plan for the future, treating the present tense and all its tension like a lengthy, labored preamble to a real life that awaited me somewhere, anywhere else but here” (p. 97). It’s not that I’ve had those thoughts, it’s that I do have them, currently. But then I’d read on, and see that her reaction would be to go on a bender, and I’d feel relieved that that idea sounded completely unappealing to me. Selfish, yes, and comforting. What a combination.

Wurtzel intended for her readers to experience these emotions with her. She wanted us to go through each little breakdown, each big breakdown, each idiotic decision, all the back and forth between times in her life. She wanted everything to blend together, and for us to feel annoyed, and scared, and unsettled. “As I found myself saying to not a few people who would tell me they found the book angering and annoying to read: Good. Very good. That means I did what I had set out to do” (p. 356). Adding up all the instances of inane whining actually amounts to something — a constant state of something unfixable, but also a tale of how there really is hope.

I finished this book weeks ago, weeks before yesterday in particular, and had been meaning to write about it for some time. Today felt like the right day, in light (or rather, darkness) of yesterday’s awful news about Robin Williams. Like many people across the world, spanning generations, I feel a loss that’s going to feel like a loss for awhile. Robin Williams was an omnipresent, supremely talented man, one who brought everyone joy in a variety of ways, one who was relatively open about his drug and alcohol and mental health problems, and yet one who couldn’t be saved from himself. It goes to show that actually, maybe, you can never be too open about your problems if you articulate them in the right way to the right people. There is help out there for some people. Maybe it’s in the form of laughter, maybe it’s in the form of medicine, maybe it’s in the form of writing, performing, data analysis, sewing, DJing, whatever. Maybe it’s some combination of all of those things that hasn’t been discovered yet. I hope it is soon. I can’t imagine what his family is going through right now.

You won’t enjoy every sentence of this book, because it’ll hit you hard, but if you think you need to know what it’s like, you probably do. It’s better to know, and to empathize, than to shrug it off. I’ve never felt more confident in uttering a cheesy statement like this before, because it’s the truth: We’re all in this together.

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