Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Prozac Nation: Young and Depressed in America by Elizabeth Wurtzel

My sister has been depressed since we were both very young. I went through some cranky, snarky stages and listened to endless hours of maudlin rock (still do, truth be told), but in retrospect have never truly experienced what it means to be deeply depressed, hopeless or suicidal. In an effort to try to understand diseases that are rampant in my own family, I have been reading books about addiction and depression.

I borrowed my sister’s battered copy of Wurtzel’s book because it came highly recommended from her. And it’s layered with her underlining—in highlighter and blue and black pen—and little asterisks here and there. There is something unsettling about reading a memoir this personal, about one young woman’s frightening, all-encompassing descent into uncontrollable depression, and to find a loved one’s story mirrored in it.

It has also made me think about how we all read so differently, all essentially read a different book. My sister underlined this: “One morning you wake up afraid you are going to live.” Here is a line I underlined in the book, a line that may not have spoken to her: “I know how much latent discontent and sorrow that visible determination can mask…”

Wurtzel’s book is well-written—the girl is obviously well-read, for one—and you get the sense throughout, as her friends do, that she has such talent, wit, humor, and is somehow throwing it all away. But that’s the essence of depression—what you cannot see or how nothing is enough to staunch the wounds. Depression can be relentless, incapacitating. As Wurtzel says in her afterward: “I wanted to portray myself in the midst of this mental crisis precisely as I was: difficult, demanding, impossible, unsatisfiable, self-centered, self-involved, and above all, self-indulgent….Depression is a very narcissistic thing, it’s a self-involvement that is so deep and intense that it means the sufferer cannot get out of her own head long enough to see what real good, what genuine loveliness, there is in the world around her.”

This memoir is brave, brutal stuff.

I don’t know if I have come away with a better understanding of how to help my sister, but I have come away with a better understanding of depression.

No comments: