Duly Quoted

"A library is a hospital for the mind."

“You seem like maybe you’re too intense for this world.”

Book: Prozac Nation, by Elizabeth Wurtzel

So I probably read this book so many times during my fifteenth year that i started seeing the plot in my sleep. Wurtzel is a heck of a writer and it’s a quick read so i decided to read it again now that i’m a whopping half a decade older and obvz sooo much wiser (sarcasm, kind of). Also, it’s interesting to read this after reading her second memoir (More, Now, Again–also very very engaging), wherein she becomes a cokehead–because her perspective on a lot of things shifts dramatically (specifically, the parts where she hypothesizes that a drug addiction would be easier to break than straight up depression).

In conversation i have probably referred to this as angsty & emo & such, but i don’t think i really believe that. I suppose it’s easy to dismiss her descriptions of depression in the way that i learned how to dismiss 95% of what went on in the journals of my 15 year old self (arrrgh, they’re even painful to reference)/the way the whole ’emo kid’ thing of crappy poetry and even crappier music has become a point of mockery. Frankly, I’ve probably done it as a means of trying to prove a distance between my current self and the self of those rather unfortunate years whom, if I could somehow go back in time and revisit, I’d like to smack in the face for any number of reasons. Anyway, I think Wurtzel’s text deserves a lot more respect than your typical emo kid (actually, lots of emo kids probably also deserve to be taken more seriously than they are) (of course some don’t) (but Wurtzel’s case is about a lot more than just being an emo kid mind you), especially considering how self-aware she is. I’d wager that anyone who’s ever been depressed, though perhaps not to the same lengths/depths/extremes as her–and I really do think by the time they’re 20 everyone has probably had a taste of it–can read parts of Prozac and be like ‘ohmigod, yes.’ her descriptions are vivid and sharp, and her perspective on it as an author is intelligent and wry, impressively and refreshingly un-self-pitying.

Which is the other reason i appreciate wurtzel (in a way that i probably didn’t when i read it during my teenage ahhwwwngst era): she identifies the bullshit, she doesn’t try to romanticize her problems, she writes in earnest, and she manages to be pretty objectively self-critical. She doesn’t try to make her illness out to be a point of genius or inspiration–just an illness–and I really appreciate that she pointedly de-glamorizes the image of depression (see last quote).
Also, parts of the book make me laugh out loud, which is impressive for a memoir about depression (see blowjob quote). Her language is powerful, and if the content feels like it gets redundant/boring/long-winded/tired/trite/flat…i think that’s her point. i could see how it might get annoying to read in places…but that also indicates its rhetorical success, in a way, of giving the reader a genuine taste of the author’s actual experience.

Also, Radical Sanity by Wurtzel is a solid follow-up to her memoirs. It’s much less personal, but the perspective from which she writes is more triumphant and more balanced.

I feel like a defective model, like I came off the assembly line flat-out fucked and my parents should have taken me back for repairs before the warranty ran out. But that was so long ago.
I start to think there really is no cure for depression, that happiness is an ongoing battle, and I wonder if it isn’t one I’ll have to fight for as long as I live. I wonder if it’s worth it.

But when I’m off the drugs, when my head is clean and clear of this clutter of reason and rationality, what I’m mostly thinking is: Why? Why take it like a man? Why be mature? Why accept adversity? Why surrender with grace the follies of youth? Why put up with the bullshit?

Some catastrophic situations invite clarity, explode in split seconds. You smash your hand through a window-pane and then there is blood and shattered glass stained with red all over the place; you fall out a window and break some bones and scrape some skin. Stitches and casts and bandages and antiseptic solve and salve the wounds. But depression is not a sudden disaster. It is more like a cancer: At first its tumourous mass is not even noticeable to the careful eye, and the one day — wham! — there is a huge, deadly seven-pound lump lodged in your brain or your stomach or your heart, and this thing that your own body has produced is actually trying to kill you. Depression is a lot like that: Slowly, over the years, the data will accumulate in your heart and in your mind, a computer program for total negativity will build in your system, making life feel more and more unbearable. But you won’t even notice it coming on, thinking that it is somehow normal, something about getting older, about turning eight or turning twelve or turning fifteen, and the one day you realize that your entire life is just awful, not worth living, a horror and a black dot on the white terrain of human existence. One morning you wake up afraid you are going to live.

That is all I want in life: for this pain to seem purposeful.

He says, You seem like maybe you’re too intense for this world.

I was like an already overspiced stew, and all the chefs adding all their condiments were only making it more foggy and muddled and bad.

[from a chapter epigraph:]
If you take someone’s thoughts and feelings away, bit by bit, consistently, then they have nothing left, except some gritty, gnawing, shitty little instinct, down there, somewhere, worming round the gut, but so far down, so hidden, it’s impossible to find. Imagine, if you will, a worlwide conspiracy to deny the existence of the colour yellow. And whenever you saw yellow, they told you, no, that isn’t yellow, what the fuck’s yellow? Eventually, whenever you saw yellow, you would say: that isn’t yellow, course it isn’t, blue or green or purple, or… You’d say it, yes it is, it’s yellow, and become increasingly hysterical, and then go quite berserk.
– David Edgar, Mary Barnes

Insanity is knowing that what you’re doing is completely idiotic, but still, somehow, you just can’t stop it.

They ask me if I’ve done any drugs in the last twenty-four hours, and I say no. Then I say, I guess I smoked some pot and snorted some coke also, but that was just to make the Ecstasy last longer.

He behaved as if we were normal: Give us the right clothes and we could model for J. Crew.

I wanted so much to forget the past, but it wouldn’t go away, it hung around like an open wound that refused to scar over, an open window that no amount of muscle could shut. I remembered learning about the Doppler effect in high school science, about the paradoxical reaction between sound and space which causes a source of noise to get louder the farther away it moves from you…
Nothing in my life ever seemed to fade away or take its rightful place among the pantheon of experiences that constituted my eighteen years. It was all still with me, the storage space in my brain crammed with vivid memories, packed and piled like photographs and old dresses in my grandmother’s bureau. I wasn’t just the madwoman in the attic—I was the attic itself. The past was all over me, all under me all inside me.

I still wouldn’t be busy enough to satisfy this enormous, deleterious need I have to keep moving. There will always be this deficit, this flabby remainder of self hanging over me, demanding more attention than I and seventy-two other people put together could possibly satisfy. What I wouldn’t do to be Alice climbing through the looking glass, taking one of those pills that makes you small, so small. What I wouldn’t do to be less.

That’s the thing about depression: A human being can survive almost anything, as long as she sees the end in sight. But depression is so insidious, and it compounds daily, that it’s impossible to ever see the end. The fog is like a cage without a key.

I am crying about the elusive nature of love, the impossibility of ever having someone so completely that he can fill up the hole, the gaping hole that for me right now is full of depression. I understand why people sometimes want to kill their lovers, eat their lovers, inhale the ashes of their dead lovers. I understand that this is the only way to possess another person with the kind of desperate longing that I have to take Rafe inside of me.

We try, we struggle, all the time to find words to express our love. The quality, the quantity, certain that no two people have experienced it before in the history of creation. Perhaps Catherine and Heathcliff, perhaps Romeo and Juliet, maybe Tristan and Isolde, maybe Hero and Leander, but these are just characters, make-believe. We have known each other forever, since before conception even. We remember playing together in a playpen, crossing paths at FAO Schwarz. We remember meeting in front of the Holy Temple in the days before Christ, we remember greeting each other at the Forum, at the Parthenon, on passing ships as Christopher Columbus sailed to America. We have survived pogrom together, we have died in Dachau together, we have been lynched by the Ku Klux Klan together. There has been cancer, polio, the bubonic plague, consumption, morphine addiction. We have had children together, we have been children together, we were in the womb together. Our history is so deep and wide and long, we have known each other a million years. And we don’t know how to express this kind of love, this kind of feeling. I get paralyzed sometimes. One day, we are in the shower and I want to say to him, I could be submerged in sixty feet of water right now, never drowning, never even fearing drowning, knowing I would always be safe with you here, knowing that it would be ok to die as long as you are here. I want to say this but don’t.

But I am crying because whatever my gifts, the pieces of good buried inside and under so much that I feel is bad, is wrong, is twisted, are less clear than the ability to hit a ball with a bat and break the scoreboard or do a triple pirouette in the air on ice. My gifts are for life itself, for an unfortunately acute understanding of all the cruelty and pain in the world. My gifts are unspecific. I am an artist manqué, someone full of crazy ideas and grandiloquent needs and with even a little bit of happiness, but with no particular way to express it. I am like the tile character in the film Betty Blue, the woman who is so full of…so full of…so full of something or other-it is unclear what, but a definite energy that can’t find its medium—it is unclear what, but a definite energy that can’t find its medium—who pokes her own eyes out with a scissors and is murdered by her lover in an insane asylum in the end. She is, and I am becoming, a complete waste.

Tolstoy is frequently quoted as saying something about how all happy families are the same, but unhappy families are all unhappy in different ways. Of course, he’s got it totally wrong, completely ass-backward. Happiness is infinite in its variety, and happy people, happy families, can find their joy in so many different ways. It’s true that happiness is not very profound as far as art is concerned– it is not the stuff that lengthy Russian novels are made of– but a family that is happy has the ability to do so much, to try so much, to be so much in ways that unhappy families are too smothered in their own sorrow and melodrama to explore. When you’re happy, there’s so much you can do, but when you’re sad, all you can do is sit around and be miserable, paralyzed by despair.

“I know you say that you’re narcoleptic, and that between the time change and Mellaril you were more or less asleep, but I really don’t think there’s any such thing as an accidental blowjob.”

Rock bottom is an inability to cope with the commonplace that is so extreme it makes even the grandest and loveliest things unbearable…Rock bottom is feeling like the only thing that matters in all of life is the one bad moment…Rock bottom is everything out of focus. It’s a failure of vision, a failure to see the world as it is, to see the good in what it is, and only to wonder why the hell things look the way they do and not—and not some other way. As if there were any way that might look right from behind that depressive fog.

I have studiously tried to avoid using the word madness to describe my actions. Now and again, the word slips out, but I dislike it. Madness is too glamorous a term to convey what happens to most people who are losing their minds (myself included). That word is too exciting, too literary, too interesting in its connotations, to convey the boredom, the slowness, the dreariness, the dampness of my condition. Madness is delightful to the beholder, scary in its way, but still fun to watch, a sport for spectators and rubbernecks who can’t avert their eyes from the awefulness that they know they shouldn’t be seeing. It’s every great moment in rock and roll, and it’s probably every great moment in popular culture. The elegance and beauty of Cio-Cio-San as she bleeds to death in Madame Butterfly, or of the double suicide in Romeo and Juliet: That is the domain of madness alone. The word madness allows its users to celebrate the pain of its sufferers, to forget that underneath all the acting-out and quests for fabulousness and fine poetry, there is a person in huge amounts of dull, ugly agony. Why must every literary examination of so many writers and artists, keep perpetuating the notion that their individual pieces of genius were the result of madness? While it may be true that a great deal of art finds its inspiration wellsprung in sorrow, let’s not kid ourselves about how much time each of these people wasted and lost by being mired in misery. So many productive hours slipped by as a paralyzing despair took over. No one writes during depressive episodes. If they were manic-depressives, they worked during hypomania, the productive precursor to a manic phase which allows a peak of creative energy to flow; if they were unipolar depressives, they create during their periods of reprive. This is not to say that we should deny sadness it’s rightful place among the muses of all art forms, but let’s stop calling it madness, let’s stop pretending that the feeling itself is interesting. Let’s call it depression and admit that it is very bleak. Sure, madness draws crowds, sells tickets, keeps The National Enquirer in business. Yet so many suffer in silence, without anyone knowing, their plight somehow invisible until they adpot the antics of madness which are impossible to ignore. Depression is such an uncharismatic disease, so much the opposite of the lively vibrance that one associates with madness. Now, to sum this up, remember that when you’re at the point at which you’re doing something as desperate and violent as sticking your head in an oven, it’s only because the life that preceded this act felt even worse. Think about living in depression from moment to moment, and know it is not worth any of the great art that comes as it’s by-product.

In the last few years, as so many people have started to fall into some version of a dysthymic category, it was become clear that depression is no longer just a private, psychological matter. It is, in fact, a social problem, and an entire culture of depression has developed around it. In the meantime (1991-1994), the moody macabre British new wave bands like The Cure, The Smiths, and Depeche Mode– once considered too depressing for the mainstream– were selling out shows at 20,000 seat arenas and finding their largest American followings with suburban mall rats, not the arty intellectuals they were always thought to appeal to.


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