Hemingway has his classic moment in “The Sun Also Rises” when someone asks Mike Campbell how he went bankrupt. All he can say is, “Gradually, then suddenly.” That’s how depression hits. You wake up one morning, afraid that you’re gonna live. –Prozac Nation
I’ve never seen the movie. I won’t pick up the best-selling novel either. Maybe it has everything and nothing to do with the fact that I’ve been prescribed Prozac and it saved me. Elizabeth Wurtzel, the main character in the movie, felt otherwise.
I probably have no real foundation in writing about a film I never saw or a book I never read, but when I saw the reaction on people’s faces after telling them I was taking Prozac their questions almost always circled back to the movie. So I researched the Wurtzel’s memoir and I was intrigued by the comments from readers who either strongly detested the memoir or related it so well to their own lives. Having neither read the memoir nor watched the film, I could only go off the comments of other readers but I knew the word Prozac sparked some major emotion inside of people.
I was an anxious child from middle school through present day. Mental illness runs in my family, so immunity to it was definitely not in the cards but we wouldn’t find out how bad it could get until the summer of my 25th birthday. I was in a serious relationship and looking forward to the future when, just as Wurtzel says, I woke up one morning, afraid that I was gonna live. Drawing the energy to get out of bed was exhausting. Smiling was faked with more of one corner of my mouth turned slightly upward. Even my eyes were void of life. I just walked around half-dead inside. And I cried…a lot. Whenever someone–my mom, my then-boyfriend, best friends–tried to ease my worries, I’d give myself about 30 minutes before I was right back to feeling like the entire world was crashing down on me. Even a 25th surprise birthday party at a Cubs game couldn’t get me excited.
We needed to break the cycle, so my aunt suggested a psychiatrist out in the suburbs and I wasn’t resistant. I was tired of feeling nothing. I was tired of feeling like I was a nuisance to every person I was close to. I met my psychiatrist on a Saturday within a week of my aunt mentioning it and during our hour-long session, I cried. No, sobbing is probably a better term. I told him I was terrified of everything, that even going outside gave me anxiety, that my actions were pushing those closest to me so far away and that I could get up and function but it was at the very basic level of functioning. I remember him just looking at me and trying to meet my gaze. He could tell my mind was working at the speed of light. He could see I was falling apart but not quite at the point where I’d be impossible to repair. It was that same afternoon I was prescribed Prozac for the clinical depression and Clonapin for the anxiety. It would take about 2 weeks for the Prozac to have an effect on my system, so the Clonapin was more a way to take the edge off until the other drug kicked in.
Prozac is not the magic bullet. I repeat, Prozac is NOT the magic bullet and I think that the common misconception with any anti-depressant is that just by taking the pills it automatically fixes everything in your life. It took a couple of tries to get the dosage right, but it took more than just one pill a day to pull me out of my funk. My psychiatrist explained it to me like this: You take blood pressure medication to regulate, but you also make lifestyle changes. It’s the same with anti-depressants. From what it looks like, Wurtzel struggled with alcohol and other drugs as well as depression which, when coupled with anti-depressants, only magnifies the depression tenfold. When I disclosed to some friends that Prozac was the “drug of choice” from my doctor, I think they assumed I was a disaster waiting to happen. Prozac would turn me into a monster when the exact opposite occurred.
Fast forward to today and I enjoy the occasional Riesling from Germany or Fireball shot, but I also know my limits. I’ve found yoga to be my ultimate passion and running as a great way to detox from a stressful day of work. Ultimately, my relationship with Prozac as a result of a breakdown has proven to be a blessing in disguise. I am stronger than ever not solely because of a drug but because the drug gave me back a piece of my confidence to go out and try new things, to use this experience has a way to help others struggling with mental illness.
Prozac, and other anti-depressants, have managed to attach itself to stigmas because of a few stories floating around the internet. I am living proof that taken the right way and with a willingness to truly get better anti-depressants can be helpful. As Wurtzel writes, “This is all I want in life: for this pain to seem purposeful.” That is exactly what I intend to do.