In her memoir on depression, Prozac Nation, Elizabeth Wurtzel paints an annoying picture of herself as a depressive, which includes being desperate and clingy, prone to panic attacks, dependent on boyfriends for her identity, ungrateful for all the good in her life, and selfish.
Reading this book, even I, a sympathetic co-sufferer, became frustrated. When is she going turn a corner? Why is she telling me this? I wondered. And, How can she presume to be the authority on this when her past was not as heartbreaking as mine?
In her afterword, Wurtzel responds to impatient readers like me, saying, basically, “If you got angry at me, good. I wanted you to feel that way.”
The Book’s Bummers
As Wurtzel explains, she wanted to convey what it was actually like to be around a depressive and, more ambitiously, wanted to give the reader the feeling of being trapped in a mental prison similar those in which depressives finds themselves.
Indeed, most of her book grovels in the quagmire of her own circumstances—her parents’ divorce, her father’s abandonment, her failed relationships, her struggle to get adequate medical attention—and this is what gets so annoying . But at key points she surfaces from her self-obsessed soliloquy to take stock of what her situation reveals about her whole generation—and this is what resonates with me.
The Book’s Brilliance
What Wurtzel does particularly brilliantly is characterize the displacement that she and her whole generation faced as a result of the cultural revolution in the sixties. Her parents divorce is, of course, no very remarkable thing these days, but her brilliance is zooming in on this seemingly “small” detail.
She expresses outrage on behalf of a whole generation whose parents have led them to dismiss marriage like so many other traditions that used to give people roots—she expresses anger at the fact that nothing is held sacred anymore—and that individual whim reigns supreme. She characterizes how such a world–where individuality and mobility, not family ties or roots, are seen as virtues—leaves its children feeling hopeless and depressed. She doesn’t go as far as diagnosing the cause of the explosive use of Prozac in the 90s, and the booming popularity of depressed-obsessed punk rock bands like Kurt Cobain’s, but the suggestion is heavily weighted toward the disintegration of the American family.
Where We Agree—The Family’s Demise Spells Depression
Like Wurtzel, I firmly believe that by our disregard for the family unit we have self-imposed many of our problems. In our quest for self-gratification, we have damned and doomed the next generations. I think this is what the Bible refers to when it speaks of parents’ sins becoming a curse to the third and fourth generations. It’s not that God unfairly punishes children for what their parents did. It’s that children can’t help but be cursed when parents choose to be self- rather than God-centered.
How My Take on Depression Differs
I’m glad Wurtzel wrote this book, because now I don’t have to. Years ago, a book about my life would have closely resembled hers, as far as the inspiration meter. Low.
Of course, inspiring readers wasn’t the purpose of the book. It wasn’t to make the reader feel warm and fuzzy, but to portray what depression feels like.
Although I used to envision writing such a book, once I had my conversion I no longer felt comfortable writing such a book. But now, having read Wurtzel’s contribution, I see that such literature has its place, even on a Christian’s bookshelf. Jesus didn’t look away from human suffering, and we shouldn’t either. My problem before was I felt I was wallowing. But now I see that the wallowing effect came from my audience and purpose for writing. My audience? Anyone who would listen, preferably those who had failed me earlier in life. My purpose? To get the sympathy now that I never felt I got when at my lowest points.
In all seriousness, maybe I could write a depressing book like Wurtzel’s these days without wallowing, but that’s only because I would no longer be focused on getting sympathy for my past wounds, but offering empathy to fellow sufferers. Yes, these kinds of books have their place. But since by God’s amazing grace I’ve emerged from that black hole, I’m glad that I don’t have to fill that market niche. And now, I can focus on the upward swing, not the downward slope.