June 09, 2021

By Autumn Kleiner

woman reading book

I was 16 when I came across “Prozac Nation: Young and Depressed in America” on the 50-cent shelf in the used bookstore by my house. I was horribly anxious, and had recently been prescribed Prozac myself, so the name immediately caught my attention. I added the book to my pile and made my way to the register, completely unaware of the major impact that Elizabeth Wurtzel’s 1994 memoir would have on me.

Not only did Wurtzel’s firsthand account of experiencing mental illness and finding self-awareness manage to steal thoughts right from my brain, but her stream-of-consciousness writing style amazed me. From the frantic thoughts leading up to her first suicide attempt to the meaningless sexual encounters that she was having as a young adult to fill a void, her experience was laid bare for her readers. This was my first real exposure to someone talking openly about their mental health struggles. I grew up in a household where the topic of mental health was seen solely as a scapegoat or an excuse for failures. Reading her story gave me a reason to believe that I was not the only one who felt misunderstood and lost.

Reading Gave Me Hope

“Prozac Nation” gave me a glimpse of the “light at the end of the tunnel.” At that point in my life, I felt like I was drowning. I was rarely ever able to do what I wanted, I was constantly fighting with my mother and grandmother, my relationship with my father was in shambles.

People in my life always told me to just “make the best of things” and to “cheer up,” as if it was that simple. No matter how hard I tried, I felt that everything around me was weighing me down. It was all too much.

Absorbing Wurtzel’s experience became my solace. I read her memoir five times within the first month of purchasing it, filling its pages with notes and highlights. I even found myself Googling images of her and looking up what her life was like post-publication to feel closer to her and her story.

Wurtzel captivated me because the book was about her experience as she lived it, rather than reflecting on it with a more mature outlook years later. During the eight years that Wurtzel wrote her manuscript, she went through some of the most harrowing times in her life, all while trying to understand her newly medicated mind. She plunged into the depths of illness and confusion, but she somehow managed to emerge with hope and clarity.
While she may not have been a typical role model, she was an inspiration to me at a time when I had trouble understanding that my anguish was not permanent. Wurtzel’s honesty about her mindset when she was at her lowest point — and how long it took her to regain herself and learn to live in a way that made her happy — helped me understand that recovery could come to me, too. If not right now, then soon. And if someone with a mindset so similar to mine (in circumstances far worse than my own) could emerge successful, I could, too.
The impact reading “Prozac Nation” had on me highlights the importance of encouraging people who live with mental illness to share their stories. Reading transports us to the world that an author creates, and a true connection within that can be life changing.  

Autumn Kleiner is a fourth year English, Journalism and Professional Writing major at the University of Massachusetts Lowell, who hopes to find a career involving communications. She is incredibly passionate about spreading social awareness and trying to dismantle inequalities across the board to work towards creating a better and more accepting society.


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