Elizabeth Wurtzel, author of "Prozac Nation" and "Bitch" discusses her depression and drug use
November 15, 2007
With nearly every seat full, Elizabeth Wurtzel shared her ordeal with depression, drugs and how she overcame it during the Keene State College's Citizenship Symposium. "The worst part of any mental illness is being stuck in your own head and thinking you're the only one," said Wurtzel, addressing an audience of nearly 500 KSC students and local residents. Wurtzel, was designated as one of the symposium's three keynote speakers and has written several books - her latest titled, Americanism: A Love Story. "I've never thought of myself as a particularly good citizen," she said. "I'm a writer first and foremost."
After writing her best-selling book "Prozac Nation," Wurtzel said readers came to her with their stories of depression, insisting they went through the same ordeal she did. "I think it was a shock after "Prozac Nation" came out that other people connected with me that actually have nothing in common with me," she said. "I had to be nice … I had to come up with some sort of message."
Wurtzel found that message, and told it to the audience by reading out of an advice book she was asked to write for teenagers. "If I had to say anything to people, it would be this: You cannot be a guest at your own funeral … You will not know you will be missed. You will be dead and gone." These opening lines led into a short excerpt from her unfinished advice book, in which Wurtzel points out the pointlessness of suicide and how petty some problems are.
"Even for normal people life doesn't always seem like an easy prospect," she read aloud to the audience. "Everything that is wrong is not so bad."
Although Wurtzel's depression began when she was 12 years old, she said she did not find help until college, where the health services told her she needed 15 to 20 years of therapy instead of medication. "I never lost the feeling I had that there was something more they could do," the former drug addict said. Wurtzel became addicted to drugs around the age of 26 when she was put on Ritalin for ADD (attention deficit disorder). "I started to abuse it terribly … At the time I was put on it I was addicted to heroin anyway," she said, adding this led her to cocaine and eventually landed her in the hospital for four months for rehabilitation. "I got addicted to Ritalin. That was an amazingly horrible experience … I was snorting 40 pills a day and I don't think people know it can get that bad."
However, Wurtzel's fears of distributing anti-depressants do not come from her drug abuse, but from her knowledge of what it does to a person. "The thing about medication is they're not vitamin pills. They change you … I think it's very dangerous to prescribe these medications to people under 18." Wurtzel referred to a story of her friend who stalked her ex-boyfriend because of her depression. She was put on medication, but did not go to therapy, which Wurtzel said would have helped her substantially. "She kept stalking her boyfriend, but she was just happier doing it," she said.
After responding to questions from the audience, Wurtzel concluded her appearance by offering her opinion as to why the United States is one of the most depressed countries in the world - a fact offered by audience member Marianne Salcetti in the final question of the night. "I think we lack connection," said Wurtzel. "I think that's our biggest problem. I hate to say it but America is one nation under divorce … there's a breakdown of community unlike anywhere else in the world."
Elizabeth Lee Wurtzel (born July 31, 1967 in New York City) is famous for her work in the confessional memoir genre. She has often been compared to Anne Sexton and Sylvia Plath. Brought up Jewish, Wurtzel's parents divorced when she was young. As described in Prozac Nation, Wurtzel's depression began at the ages of ten to twelve. She attended Ramaz for high school and was described as an over-achiever by her teachers, who expected her to become a nationally famous writer. While an undergraduate at Harvard College, she wrote for The Harvard Crimson and the Dallas Morning News, from which she was later fired for plagiarism.Wurtzel also received the 1986 Rolling Stone Magazine College Journalism Award. Following her graduation, Wurtzel moved to Greenwich Village in New York City and found work as pop music critic for The New Yorker and New York Magazine.
Wurtzel is best known for publishing her memoir, the best-selling Prozac Nation, at the age of 26. The book chronicles her battle with depression and suicide attempts. The film adaptation of Prozac Nation, starring Christina Ricci, premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival September 8, 2001 but never had a U.S. theatrical release. It was telecast on the Starz! network during March, 2005 and was released on DVD in the summer of 2005.
After Prozac Nation
Following the critical acclaim and bestselling success of Prozac Nation, Wurtzel moved to Florida as she felt she was no longer able to concentrate on her work in New York City and began writing her second book, Bitch: In Praise of Difficult Women. It was at this point that she battled abuse and addiction to Ritalin. Prior to moving to Florida, Wurtzel had battled cocaine and heroin addictions as well. Wurtzel wrote Bitch as she felt that feminist writing had become "dry" and she wanted to make it "juicy" again. She focused on societal definitions of "bad girls" and analyzed female public figures from Amy Fisher to Hillary Clinton through this lens. Wurtzel, at this point a drug addict, gained much weight due to the medication she was taking, and was seen as distressed while promoting Bitch on numerous media channels such as CNN. Her troubles during this period led to cancellations of multiple book readings and press interviews. During this time, her regular column in The Guardian was canceled because of her inability to produce work on time. It was these experiences that led to her publishing a second autobiographic volume, titled More, Now, Again: A Memoir of Addiction (2001, which was centered around her addiction to the prescription medication Ritalin while writing Bitch.
Wurtzel has also worked for the website Nerve as a film critic. As of 2007, she is studying at Yale Law School, and is expected to earn her Juris Doctorate in 2008.