Authors: Elizabeth Wurtzel
Copyright Â© 1994 by Elizabeth Wurtzel
All rights reserved
For information about permission to reproduce selections from this book, write to Permissions, Houghton Mifflin Company, 215 Park Avenue South, New York, New York 10003.
The Library of Congress has cataloged the print edition as follows:
Prozac nation : young and depressed in America / Elizabeth Wurtzel.
1. Wurtzel, ElizabethâMental health. 2. Depressed personsâUnited StatesâBiography. I. Title.
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Long before Derrida and deconstruction, the Talmud said, quite sagely, “We do not see things as they are. We see them as we are.” As far as I am concerned, every word of this book is the complete and total truth. But of course, it's my truth. So to protect the innocentâas well as the guiltyâI have changed most names. Otherwise, unfortunately for me, every detail is accurate.
For my mom,
Very early in my life it was too late.
I start to get the feeling that something is really wrong. Like all the drugs put togetherâthe lithium, the Prozac, the desipramine, and Desyrel that I take to sleep at nightâcan no longer combat whatever it is that was wrong with me in the first place. I feel like a defective model, like I came off the assembly line flat-out fucked and my parents should have taken me back for repairs before the warranty ran out. But that was so long ago.
I start to think there really is no cure for depression, that happiness is an ongoing battle, and I wonder if it isn't one I'll have to fight for as long as I live. I wonder if it's worth it.
I start to feel like I can't maintain the facade any longer, that I may just start to show through. And I wish I knew what was wrong.
Maybe something about how stupid my whole life is. I don't know.
My dreams are polluted with paralysis. I regularly have night visions where my legs, though attached to my body, don't move much. I try to walk somewhereâto the grocery store or the pharmacy, nowhere special, routine errandsâand I just can't do it. Can't climb stairs, can't walk on level ground. I am exhausted in the dream and I become more exhausted in my sleep, if that's possible. I wake up tired, amazed that I can even get out of bed. And often I can't. I usually sleep ten hours a night, but often it's many more. I am trapped in my body as I have never been before. I am perpetually zonked.
One night, I even dream that I am in bed, stuck, congealed to the sheets, as if I were an insect that was squashed onto the bottom of someone's shoe. I simply
get out of bed. I am having a nervous breakdown and I can't move. My mother stands at the side of the bed and insists that I could get up if I really wanted to, and it seems there's no way to make her understand that I
literally can't move.
I dream that I am in terrible trouble, completely paralyzed, and no one believes me.
In my waking life, I am almost this tired. People say, Maybe it's Epstein-Barr. But I know it's the lithium, the miracle salt that has stabilized my moods but is draining my body.
And I want out of this life on drugs.
I am petrified in my dream and I am petrified in reality because it is as if my dream is reality and I am having a nervous breakdown and I have nowhere to turn. Nowhere. My mother, I sense, has just kind of given up on me, decided that she isn't sure how she raised this, well, this
this rock-and-roll girl who has violated her body with a tattoo and a nose ring, and though she loves me very much, she no longer wants to be the one I run to. My father has never been the one I run to. We last spoke a couple of years ago. I don't even know where he is. And then there are my friends, and they have their own lives. While they like to talk everything through, to analyze and hypothesize, what I really need, what I'm really looking for, is not something I can articulate. It's nonverbal: I need love. I need the thing that happens when your brain shuts off and your heart turns on.
And I know it's around me somewhere, but I just can't feel it.
What I do feel is the scariness of being an adult, being alone in this big huge loft with so many CDs and plastic bags and magazines and pairs of dirty socks and dirty plates on the floor that I can't even see the floor. I'm sure that I have nowhere to run, that I can't even walk anywhere without tripping and falling way down, and I know I want out of this mess. I want out. No one will ever love me, I will live and die alone, I will go nowhere fast, I will be nothing at all. Nothing will work out. The promise that on the other side of depression lies a beautiful life, one worth surviving suicide for, will have turned out wrong. It will all be a big dupe.
It is Saturday night, we're about at that point when it starts to be Sunday morning, and I am curled up in fetal position on my bathroom floor. The black chiffon of my dress against the stark white tiles must make me look like a dirty puddle. I can't stop crying. The twenty or so people who are still sitting in the living room don't seem at all fazed by what's going on with me in here, if they notice at all, between sips of red wine and hits on a joint someone rolled earlier and chugs on Becks or Rolling Rock. We decidedâmy housemate, Jason, and Iâto have a party tonight, but I don't think we meant for two hundred people to turn up. Or maybe we did. I don't know. Maybe we're still the nerds we in high school who get enough of a kick out of the possibility of being popular that we actually did bring this on ourselves.
I don't know.
Everything seems to have gone wrong. First, Jason opened the fire escape door even though it was the middle of January because it had gotten so hot with the crush of bodies, and my cat decided to make the six-flight climb down into the courtyard, where he got lost and confused and started howling like crazy. I didn't have any shoes on and I was worried for him, so I ran down barefoot and it was freezing and it really shook me up to come back in to so many people I had to say,
Hello, how are you?
to, people who didn't know I have a cat that I am absolutely crazy about. For a while Zap and I hid in my room. He curled up on my pillow and gave me a look like all this was my fault. Then my friend Jethro, seeing that I was scared of all these people, offered to do a run up to 168th Street and get some cocaine, which would maybe put me in a better mood.
Being on so many psychoactive drugs, I don't really mess with recreational controlled substances. But when Jethro offered to get me something that might possibly alter my state just enough so I wouldn't want to hide under the covers, I thought, Sure, why not?
There's more: Part of the reason I am so meek is that I stopped taking my lithium a few weeks before. It's not that I have a death wish, and it's not that I'm like Axl Rose and think that lithium makes me less manly (he supposedly stopped taking it after his first wife told him that his dick wasn't as hard as it used to be and that sex with him was lousy; not having that kind of equipment, I'm in no position to give a shit). But I had my blood levels taken at the laboratory about a month ago, and I had an unusually high concentration of thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH)âabout ten times the normal amountâwhich means that the lithium is wreaking havoc on my glands, which means that I could end up in a really bad physical state. Graves' disease, which is a hyperthyroid condition, runs in my family, and the treatment for it makes you fat, gives you these bulging, ghoulish eyes and creates all kinds of symptoms that I think would make me more depressed than I am without lithium. So I stopped taking it. The psychopharmacologist (I like to call his office the Fifth Avenue Crack House, because all he really does is write prescriptions and hand out pills) told me I shouldn't. He told me that if anything the lithium was going to give me a condition the opposite of Graves' disease (“What does that mean?” I asked “Will my eyes shrink up like crinkly little raisins?”) but I don't trust him. He's the pusherman and it's in his interest to see that I stay loaded.
But he was right. Off lithium, I was fading fast. Some days, I'd sit with Jason reading the
in the living room and I'd talk a blue streak, presenting him with all my theories about, say, the deterioration of the American family in the late twentieth century and how it all relates to the decline of an agrarian society. And Jason would mostly sit there, absorbed in the paper, wondering if I would ever shut up. But then most days I'd be bummed out, plain and simple, ineffectual, going blank again.
I really needed my lithium. But I was determined to coldkick it. If cocaine would help, so be it. Coke may be really bad for you in every possible way, but it wouldn't give me a thyroid disease, thereby turning me into a younger version of my hysterical, exhausted, overwrought mother. So I did a few lines in the bathroom with Jethro, cutting them up on a Pogues CD. Not five minutes after the stuff first started floating around in my brain, I felt a whole lot better. I went out and mixed and mingled. I walked up to strangers and asked if they were having fun. When new guests arrived, I greeted them, kissing them on each cheek, European-style. I offered to fetch a beer or mix a screwdriver, give them a tour of the apartment, or show them where they should throw their coats. I said things like: There's someone you simply
meet. Or, grabbing some girl's hand and pulling her across the room: Have I got the guy for
I was magnanimous and gregarious and all that stuff.
And then, a couple of hours later, I started coming down. I don't drink, so I didn't have any alcohol in my system to take the edge off what was happening. But suddenly, everything turned ugly, grotesque. Spooky holograms all over the walls, like acid flashbacks without the color or wonder or other redeeming features. I felt a panic, as if there were things I needed to do while I was still on a coke high, and I had better do them before I completely dropped off. There was the guy I spent a misbegotten night with who said he'd call me and never did but came to the party anyway, and I felt primed for a confrontation. There was my dad, who I really wanted to call just then, if only to remind him that he still owed me my allowance from the four years in high school when I couldn't find him. There were a zillion other things to do, but I couldn't remember what they were. I knew only that I wanted a few more minutes to live in this charmed, enchanted, wired state. I wanted just a little more time to feel free and easy and unhampered before returning to my depression. I wanted more coke. MORE! COKE! NOW! I started looking around the bathroom to see if there were any little bits of the powder left so I could keep it going.
As I patted my hands around the sink and frisked the floor, I got the weird sense that this sort of behavior maybe had its place in the eighties, but it seemed really stupid right now, completely passÃ© in the ascetic, adult nineties. And then I reminded myself that life is not a media-generated trend, I'll be damned if I'm going to deny myself just because of Len Bias and Richard Pryor and whoever else.
So I'm getting ready to ask Jethro to go back up to Spanish Harlem to get us some more of this stuff. I'm making plans, I'm thinking grandiose thoughts, I'm listing all the people I'm going to call once I'm coked up again and have the nerve. I'm deciding to spend the whole night writing an epic Marxist-feminist study of Biblical villainesses which I've been meaning to get started on for years. Or maybe I'll just find a twenty-four-hour bookstore and get a copy of
and memorize it in the next few hours, apply to medical school, and become a doctor and solve all my problems and everyone else's too. I've got it all worked out:
Everything is going to be just fine.