Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Icon Status: Elizabeth Wurtzel

Elizabeth Wurtzel became a prolific writer in the 90's after Prozac Nation was published in 1994, In it's own right something like it had never been written before. Mental illness has been covered through history from William Shakespeare to Johnny Cash but by the time the early 90's came around there was no way of ignoring it and it had seemed to be more common as ever. But Prozac Nation didn't become popular for these reasons but because it gave a bare portrait of what mental illness looked like, it showed how ugly it really was. It wasn't beautiful as Emily Dickinson's poetry or tragic like Sylvia Plath's suicide, it was destructive like a hurricane and hurt everyone in it's way. As Wurtzel put it, "Everything I touch, I ruin. I'm Midas in reverse."

I read Prozac Nation when I was 18 yrs old, I had few friends and spent most of my lunchetimes sitting by myself listening to The Smiths or reading a book. I was a walking carbon copy of Wurtzel herself, just everything was under the surface at that stage. I spent my last year of high school just trying to hold everything in, once I hit the ages of 19 - 21 that's when things got serious. Like Wurtzel I was a walking car crash waiting to happen, I bumped into things again and again till it was a matter of time till I completely shattered. When I wasn't getting blind drunk or doing drugs, I was mostly listening to the same sad songs on repeat lying in bed only to get up when I needed to go to the toilet or eat. Some days I wouldn't eat, others I would eat too much, I chain-smoked, didn't brush my hair and only showered when I was made to. Most things felt like an effort for me, as if asking me to do a simple chore or errand was equivalent to climbing Mt. Everest.

"I just want out. I’ve had it. I am so tired. I am twenty and I am already exhausted.”   

With each page I read Wurtzel seemed to paint a picture of someone who would die before the age of 30, all the overdoses and suicide attempts would slowly catch up with her one day. For me I thought that time would come much sooner but I forgot one thing, in Wurtzel's case it seemed like her case was either just as bad and most likely worse. But she was still alive and still is to this day, this book was not a story of tragedy, it was a story of hope which meant I could get out of this alive. Fortunately for both Wurtzel and I we came from middle class backgrounds and had both the support and resources to recover, not to mention had access to medication and treatment that isn't available in some countries/areas not to mention the fact medication wasn't as readily available pre-1990's. For all Wurtzel's praise and acknowledgements she also had many critics, she was labeled as "selfish", "self absorbed" or "whiny" which are fair criticisms but many ignore the fact that depression and many other mental illnesses are just that: selfish.

"Some friends don't understand this. They don't understand how desperate I am to have someone say, I love you and I support you just the way you are because you're wonderful just the way you are. They don't understand that I can't remember anyone ever saying that to me. I am so demanding and difficult for my friends because I want to crumble and fall apart before them so that they will love me even though I am no fun, lying in bed, crying all the time, not moving. Depression is all about If you loved me you would."

It is hard to think about anyone else but yourself when your thoughts consist of nothing but self loathing, depression and despair. Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project said "The belief that unhappiness is selfless and happiness is selfish is misguided. It's more selfless to act happy. It takes energy, generosity, and discipline to be unfailingly lighthearted, yet everyone takes the happy person for granted." Anytime in my life that I've felt anxious or depressed my thoughts have never been focused anyone but myself, the happier and healthier I am as a person the more energy I have to focus on what I can do for others or how I be there for them without having to worry about negative thoughts or feelings that will distract me or cause me to withdraw from the world.

Prozac Nation held the template for other writers in the future to write their own accounts of mental illness in the future as the 90's progressed into the 00's and it has become a time where these issues weren't shoved under the rug like it was in the past. It also became a voice for generation X (and very early generation Y) who grew up with divorced parents and broken homes as being the norm.

In the present day, Elizabeth Wurtzel has become a perfect example of a successfully individual who has fought and beat depression. She currently lives in New York, has published 3 books, successfully graduated Law School and still continues to write.