85 of 96 people found the following review helpful
Young and Depressed in America,
This review is from: Prozac Nation: Young and Depressed in America - A Memoir (Paperback)
The book is a true to life portrayal of Elizabeth’s life in the USA, written first hand. It starts of in her childhood, in approximately the 1970’s, when she is only around 8 or 9 from when she still feels normal to when she starts to feel the depression first kicking in. Her parents separate when she is pretty young and she gets sent away to Summer Camp for months on end which she dreads. During one of these Summers as a child of only 9 or 10 she takes her first overdose, not enough to do any real damage, but enough to be recognised as a cry for help…. She also spends long periods of time sitting in the toilets at school cutting her legs, however she can hide this all too well. Sadly no-one notices her cries for help and life goes on with Elizabeth sinking further and further into her depression.
The bulk of the book is set during her late teens and the time she spends at college. Elizabeth is an interesting case because she is a very intelligent person and despite her depression she gets a place to study at Harvard and she always somehow manages to just scrape through. Unfortunately away from the security of home, things just get worse for Elizabeth. She starts to drink a lot and to take a lot of drugs, cocaine, ecstasy, cannabis, speed, you name it, to try to make the pain go away and to try to ‘fit in’ but this just makes everything worse.
When she isn’t on a manic partying spree Elizabeth’s days are primarily spend alone, in bed, in the dark, because she can’t even find the energy to drag herself up out of bed. She cries endlessly for days on end and tortures her poor mother who simply cannot understand her ups and downs. Her father stops speaking to her altogether and disappears for up to years at a time. She doesn’t eat and can’t seem to sleep even though she’s too tired even to stand up. Something little like going to the bathroom or answering the phone seems like the worst ordeal ever to Elizabeth at these times. At her worst moments she considers suicide, she doesn’t go to any lectures or do any course work, she literally cannot do anything. A great deal of the book is devoted to the description of these periods at the bottom of despair, it is painful to read and it can become quite depressing, although also fascinating.
Elizabeth’s lowest states can be demonstrated with two examples, both of which occur while she is at Harvard. She sleeps with a lot of people, but because she is so depressed she doesn’t even notice that she hasn’t had a period for two months. That’s until she wakes in the middle of the night, covered in blood and is taken, screaming, to the hospital where she is told she’s had a miscarriage. The other example is her description of the time her Grandparents, two lovely old people, went to visit her in Harvard. They undertake the five hour drive only to find that Elizabeth is not there. She is recovering from a night of taking one hell of a cocktail of drugs on the floor of a friend’s house, depressed and on a come-down she is simply unable to get up and go and meet her Grandparents. They bang on her door and leave countless messages, worried sick, just five minutes away and all Elizabeth can do is lie and cry about the fact that she can’t get up and go and meet them, she just cannot deal with it…...
Her saving grace must be her friends who also seem there to pick her up and drag her to the psychiatry ward or give her a good talking to and of course, her mother. Without these people who are described in great detail within the book, who knows where Elizabeth would be today, or even if she would be….
Other parts of her life are more positive, at times she holds down a good summer job, throwing herself into the workload manic as ever, working all night and proud of what she can achieve and partying all night with it. These are clear manic episodes in which she does crazy, impulsive things without thinking them through and consequently these things often end up going horribly wrong. But of course, such moments never last long, it always goes back to the depression. Elizabeth knows this and she just waits for it to happen.
It gets to the state where Elizabeth is admitted to the psychiatric ward fulltime as she starts to contemplate suicide, in fact there is a period where she is in and out of here on a number of occasions. She eventually has a lot of therapy with a women named Dr Sterling, who she comes to trust and rely upon deeply and who managed to help her and keep her away from the edge. It is this women who eventually starts to try Elizabeth on drugs to control her depression. Some make it worse, some improve the situation marginally. At this point Prozac is a brand new drug on trial and Elizabeth agrees to give it a shot despite the little knowledge there was about the drug at this point. Of course you can guess the rest. The improvement is dramatic and immediate and it changed Elizabeth’s life immensely for the better, letting her control her depression and at least attempt to lead a normal existence.
In many ways this isn’t a happy ending, for Elizabeth the problem will never go away and she has to deal with a life in which she relies on pills, the side effects that come with them and the occasional bouts of depression she still seems to slip into…..
At the end of the book there is a prologue and considerable information about the life of Prozac since Elizabeth became one of the first to be prescribed the drug. There is a very amusing extract in which Elizabeth discusses her friend’s cat. The owners of the cat had recently separately and there had been a house move; consequently the cat had become distressed and had starting to tear fur from it’s coat and chew it. The vet diagnosed depression and prescribed the cat with a low dose of Prozac. Sure this is America, they love their legal drugs over there, but isn’t this just the most ridiculous thing you’ve ever heard? The whole point of course is to illustrate that the whole Prozac thing has got way out of hand, millions of people in America and World Wide now take Prozac and the drug is well over-prescribed. Elizabeth had to suffer for over a decade with the debilitating disease that is depression before she was offered any real help now you can just pop to the Doc’s and I reckon you or I could get some without much cause for fuss at all…. Still that’s the way of the world!
What I also liked about the book is that it contains numerous literary references, for example snapshots of characters or storylines who Elizabeth feels she can relate to. Elizabeth is a literature student and a huge bookworm which explains this constant referencing. If you’re like me and you really enjoy reading then you’ll find that your attention will constantly be grabbed by another interesting book title or author to add to your list of must read material.
In summary I’d just like to say that this is truly a great read, passionately written and shocking to the core, you just won’t be able to put it down. It is an insight into a world you didn’t know existed and if anything at least it helps the rest of us to understand to some extent. Depression is a real problem, however exaggerated it has become, we just have to hope and pray that it is something we don’t have to deal with in our own lives but it personally or to those we love.
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Initial post: 12 Jan 2011 12:32:51 GMT
Emer Mullen says:
Thankyou for this detailed and extremely useful account of Elizabeth's book. Mental illness is a complex problem and often involves more than one perspective to understand it. While drugs can help with the worst of the symptoms for longer term recovery it may be necessary to help the patient understand why he or she feels this way and whether it is possible to literally grow out of the illness into a better mental state. This approach very often isn't popular with mental health professionals as it takes a long time and their training doesn'y always equip them with the skills they need to undertake it. There are signs that things are changing however with greater use of talk therapy and CBT in particular. I believe that at the heart of successful treatment of the illness is the conviction that those that suffer from it can get well and stay well and that they can use the potential of their own minds to change the way they think and feel to acheive this.
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