Prozac Nation—Review by a Former Pill Popper

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Photo Credit: Wikipedia

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.

What Christians and Mental Patients Have in Common

I can never tell, I thought, sitting in a mental ward in Minnesota. I was nineteen.

When I get out I can’t tell friends that I dropped out of college. That I attempted suicide. I can’t tell them how messed up I am. I can’t let them see me like this.

When I got out after forty days, there was only one option (besides suicide, of course). I had to hide.

This year of my life, 2004 to be exact, is the darkest one I can remember. Almost a decade has passed, and there’s hardly anyone I’ve told.

After the mental ward, my social worker set me up in an efficiency apartment that was fully furnished, yet covered in grime. The walls were spotted with grease stains, the floors covered in dirt. Kind of like me.

Only, instead of dirt, I was filthy with lies—and they were rooted deep.

And unlike the dirt that disappeared after one afternoon’s scrubbing, it would take me many, many years to recover from the lies that had saturated my mind for so long.

I can never tell, I thought just today, before finally deciding that maybe someone besides me needed this post.

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It’s funny how those lies stay with us. You see, in 2013 my depression and suicidal tendencies are for the most part gone; but today I almost didn’t post this, for fear of looking “crazy” when friends or family read the opening lines.

The good news is, by this point in my twenty-eight years, I know I’m not alone. After repeatedly opening my heart to the Source that “lays bare our innermost thoughts” (Heb. 4:12-13) through prayer, and after training other women to do the same, I’m starting to feel less territorial about the pain I’ve guarded for so many years.

I can never tell. What about all the women and men who have been sexually abused? In The Hidden Half of the Gospel, the book I’m co-writing, we cite a “1 in 3” statistic about girls who have been sexually abused, which blows me away! (Since starting prayer ministry, I’ve also prayed with two women who have admitted to being sexually abused.)

I can never tell. What about the teenage boys and girls struggling with their sexuality—thinking they may be gay but afraid of rejection if they “come out”? I’m reading a memoir right now about a girl, stuck in a mental hospital for three years by her abusive, incompetent parents, who admitted to lying, stealing, cheating, and who lied about having a drug problem, plus an eating disorder, before she would ever admit she had gender confusion. (Still waiting to see how it ends, but the title, The Last Time I Wore a Dress, gives me a good idea.)

I can never tell. What about all the Christians struggling with pornography, drinking, or other “sins”? (In The Hidden Half, Paul and I share the stories of some such Christians.)

I can never tell. What’s the issue for you?

For me currently, this lie is complicating my various writing projects. Just as I did today, just as I did when I published my first magazine article about a suicide attempt . . .

I still sometimes battle that lie, I can never tell.

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Maybe that’s why I like to read memoirs like Prozac Nation and other riveting romps through mental illness.

My husband thinks reading these kinds of things is unhealthy. Wonders if I am vicariously milking old, bad feelings through reading these books.

I used to wonder that, too. But these days, I don’t think so.

You see, more and more as I’ve dealt with my bad roots through prayer, I’m uncovering a holy rage about how humans (and Christians especially) cover up their bad roots. As if denying them is dealing with them. Who do we think we’re kidding? Certainly we’re not fooling God.

No, I like to read these memoirs not because they inspire my faith (I read the Bible and Stormie Omartian for that!), but because they inspire my honesty. I read them because they take me to a level of intimacy far below what I get with pretty much everyone else in my life.

Now for those Christians who may disagree with my “uninspiring” reading selections, that’s fine. But if you’re going to knock them, then at least tell me where else I can find such honesty. Sadly, I don’t find it in church, or from my family members, or even from most friends.

But as for me and my writing, we will be honest.

Not because I think we all need to be sharing and airing our garbage. If we did, just think what a stinky world it would be. But come to think of it, this world already stinks quite a bit…so maybe we don’t have much to lose. And if Christians would speak up more, maybe more people would join us, as they see that we’re not too out of touch to deal with the ugly realities that blot all human stories.

In any case, I’ve decided to be honest, in the name of not being fake…or distasteful to others because I can’t relate in any human way…or disgusting to myself because I’ve built my perceived flaws so big that I’ll never get over them. But the most important reason to be honest? Well, gosh darn, if so many people are writing the depressing stories, don’t we need someone to write the un-depressing ones? (This is the plan for the memoir I’m writing—to share how I got un-depressed.)

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And so, to conclude my very abridged tale of woe (for today, anyway), at the end of that worst year of my life, I’m happy to tell you, God intervened, introducing me to my husband (in Texas of all places!) and moving me 1,000 miles from that dirty apartment and my broken past. He moved me away physically. Mentally, on the other hand, I had a long way to go! But that’s the subject of many more blogs.

So, though it’s sometimes hard for me to write, and might sometimes be hard for you to read (but I’m sure you can find lots of “fake” blogs to read, if this one makes you uncomfortable), I choose to tell. No matter how often Satan tries to tell me I can’t, with God’s help, I will ever tell.