By Jamie Bornstein
I knew nothing about Prozac Nation by Elizabeth Wurtzel when I picked it up. I was familiar with it the way one is loosely familiar with a pop culture reference from a different era. It was published in 1994. I was 16 at the time, and not the type of 16-year-old looking for a book like this.
Naively, I thought Prozac Nation was going to be a sober journalistic exploration of anti-depressant use in the United States.
Not so much.
In fact, sober is a pretty laughable word to describe this memoir of sex, drugs and rock and roll, with chapter 12 entitled “The Accidental Blowjob.”
Wurtzel writes with a level of honesty about her struggles with mental illness, heavily defined by years of highly erratic behavior, that borders on exhibitionism. I certainly felt like a voyeur while reading it.
In her afterword, Wurtzel, a Harvard graduate, writes:
“I wanted to write like fever. I wanted to forget all the literary conventions and the hesitation and restraint and sane consideration that I’d always been taught were the hallmarks of good writing. I wanted to write like someone who has been stuck somewhere for so long that by the time she got un-stuck none of the rules mattered anymore. I wanted to write like rock ‘n’ roll.”
Written in her mid-twenties, Wurtzel’s uncensored narrative takes the reader deep into the life of an unhinged but extremely intelligent young woman suffering with depression before Prozac and similar drugs were heavily prescribed (Prozac was approved for use in 1987). The dichotomy between her superbly-articulated self-awareness and her inability to rein herself in, despite years of therapy and older generation medications, reflects the depth of her illness. It is devastating, jarring and unashamed.
Many critics claim this book is a self-indulgent work. Maybe. Spilling well beyond 300 pages it does sometimes feel a bit gratuitous, but I can’t not recommend Prozac Nation. If the goal of Mental Health Safe Space is to get people to share their stories, then Prozac Nation is the prototype of openness.
Jamie Bornstein is the founder of Mental Health Safe Space. He lives in Sharon, MA with his wife and three children. He is the Senior Director of the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies, North America. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.