Sunday, December 16, 2007

buzzes like a fridge

I started reading Prozac Nation by Elizabeth Wurtzel this week, for the second time. Not because I thought it was so great the first time I read it, but because of the opposite. I was 18, in my freshman year of college, and I just didn't get it. I totally lost patience with it, despite plowing through it, and thought it was the whiniest, most self-absorbed piece of tripe I'd ever read. More than once, I wanted to throw the book across the room, and scream, "Get over yourself!!" So when I saw it on a friend's bookshelf this week, I decided to give it another chance, with 12 years and a whole hell of a lot of life experience to bring a new perspective to it.

Well, I still think it's a pretty terrible book. I still think it's whiny and self-absorbed, and the girl can't write particularly well, but it's definitely striking a different chord with me this time. This time, those things don't make me lose patience because I think I can relate to it a lot more. Not least the feeling that when you're depressed, or when you think you're genuinely losing your marbles, you do become pretty self-absorbed, sometimes by necessity. I pick up on the wisdom a little more this time around, and think that she's got some pretty insightful things to say, not just about depression and hysteria, but about the way our society treats mental illness and the people who suffer from it.

One aspect I particularly enjoy is her juxtaposition of the way depression is viewed against the way drug abuse is viewed. Drug abuse is so tangible, it's so - for all intents and purposes - socially condoned and glamorized. Drug use is seen as something people need to be rescued from, that can be fixed. All manner of inappropriate, destructive, thoughtless, and dangerous behavior can be explained away in drug abuse, and as long as the abuser gets help eventually, generally it's all forgotten and chalked up to the drug. It's not the person's fault, it's the drug. As long as no one dies, it's live and let live.

But anyone who's depressed, or has any kind of personality disorder doesn't get the "get out of jail free" card that drug users get. When Wurtzel was a teenager, slashing up her legs with razors and taking overdoses of allergy medications at summer camp, she was told she had no reason to feel so bad, that all she needed was exercise and more socializing, and the problem was mostly ignored. But, she claims, if she'd been going to parties and snorting coke or shooting up heroin, her parents would have had her in the best treatment facility they could afford before the sun was up.

Drug abuse is seen as a disease, whereas personality disorders are seen as flaws. She even hypothesizes that maybe one reason so many people take so many drugs is not necessarily because they just want to be taking drugs, but because it's the only tangible way, short of a serious suicide attempt, to make people understand how awful they feel and that they might just need some serious help. See, if I take drugs, and engage in a slow but serious physical self-destruction, then maybe someone will take my pain seriously.

It's not an argument, I have to say, that I disagree with.

Just because people can hold their lives together, and keep a job, and do their schoolwork and pay their bills, doesn't mean they don't feel like they're crumbling on the inside. It doesn't mean that they're not still constantly filled with a despair so overwhelming that it feels like a physical presence upon, or within, their body, like a slow-growing cancer. Just because a person can get through the day without bursting into tears every time they actually feel like bursting into tears, doesn't mean that life doesn't fill them with an abject terror and sadness that never ceases, no matter what they do, or don't do. It just means they've learned to work around it, fit it into their schedule, fold it into their daily routine. Make it a part of who they are. Some people don't have the luxury of a total breakdown, and I guess in some people's eyes, if you can actually detach yourself from your life enough to say, Well, maybe if I have this breakdown this weekend, like I really want to, it will put my school career in jeopardy or push my poor mother over the edge, so I can't do it. I have to suck it up and keep going, no matter how impossible it may seem or feel, well then, you're not really that bad off.

But god forbid anyone should go out on weekends and do some blow, or need a drink in the morning to face the awful world and the aching dullness of their life.

Those are the people that have serious problems. And sometimes, they're the ones that get the help, often from the intervention of other people. Because it's physical.

Those other people, well, they just need to get some perspective, I guess.

Or so it goes.

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