The Second Book I've Read: Prozac Nation

Ten years ago or so, this book, Prozac Nation, was the hot ticket. Written by a young up-and-coming female writer, it was hailed as fresh and innovative, courageous, raw, and a bunch of other nice things. It was a part of a genre of self-disclosure that was (and is) extremely popular. But written just a few years after William Styron’s Darkness Visible: A Memoir of Madness, this book was written for the young and the restless. Lots of colorful language, a few titillating references to sex, and sort of a super-extension of teenage angst, the book had everything that other books of the genre lacked. It had a movie made about it. It was a bestseller, and so forth.

When I first read this book, early on into my illness, I found it liberating and deeply moving. It described what I couldn’t. Despite the sometimes whiny voice, it served an important purpose for me in understanding what I was going through. I wasn’t crazy; I had a mental illness.

I’ve read it again, and my views on the book are very different. It does describe the state of depression well. It does describe the roller coaster of medications pretty well also. It was, however, written at a time when Prozac was the first of a panoply of anti-depressants to come on the market. In many respects this is better, as more people have more options for healing. But this phenomenon has also added the maddening factor of doctors bouncing you from drug to drug, seeking to find the magic cocktail that will be the right fit. It can be a profounding frustrating and, well, depressing experience.

Back to Prozac Nation. After reading Styron’s book above, and others (which I’ll get to in due time), I find that Wurtzel is not as helpful as other memoir-type books of the genre. One of the dangers of reading memoirs like this while you’re in the midst of the illness is that it can give you ideas, prey upon your already overactive anxieties, and create a mental state which may not have been there at the start. It’s usefulness for those suffering from depression and anxiety comes more as an afterward than as a self-diagnostic tool.

Now what I do find extremely useful in this book is how it chronicles all of the different types of self-medicating that we go through. Alcohol (the pastor’s choice most of the time), uppers and downers of various sorts, over-the-counter drugs, sex, relationships. We can use almost anything as a narcotic against the creeping darkness and the coming fog. They are all attempts to escape from our lives, or to feel SOMETHING so that we can know we are still human. In that respect it is helpful

Completely lacking in the book, though, is any real interaction with the spiritual element of depression and anxiety. Wurtzel is basically a non-practicing Jew, where religion and spirituality of any sort plays no part in her worldview. That is helpful to recognize at the outset, but that also means that the Christian suffering from depression and anxiety is going to find this book completely lacking in one of the key elements of their suffering. It is a picture of the disease, but it is not a complete picture.

If someone were to ask me today what book could I read to describe what I’ve gone through, I’d probably give them Darkness Visible, because it fits my own experience closer than Wurtzel. However, I would also tell them that there isn’t anything out there that I’ve read which really nails it completely, so they’ll have to wait for the book…

-DMR

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