I stumbled upon Prozac Nation at a time when I couldn’t have needed it more. It was the Fall of 2014, I was entering my last semester of college and feeling completely burnt out, depressed, downtrodden; wondering how I would even get through the next 4 months without having some sort of mental breakdown and fumbling up my entire degree. I was in the Barnes & Noble on 86th & 3rd, near the apartment I lived in during college. I began to read the book at a table in the cafe, sitting across from my dad, and I got that feeling a reader is always yearning for. When you find a voice that reminds you of yours. When you think “Oh wow, I am not alone in the way I feel.” Although I still had a tumultuous last semester, full of crying spells, panic attacks, and opting out of assignments through carefully-written emails to my professors (explaining the severity of my mental health) – it felt good to advocate for myself. To opt out of things that weren’t serving me. At that point, I just wanted the degree. This piece of paper I had been made to feel was of the utmost importance; that would define my life and career.
The book really helped me through this time, emboldened me. Allowed me to feel that although I was barely 21, I should be allowed to make these decisions for myself. I was allowed to tell someone when I had been pushed to the brink.
Ever since then, I had kept up with Elizabeth’s life the way I do with most people I admire – through Instagram. I watched her get married for the first time at the age of 47. I watched her travel with her husband Jim and her dog Alistair. I watched her continue to be an example of the New York woman I had always wanted to be – and still want to be.
Her life was continuously an example of defying expectations. She made me feel as though the voice of a mentally ill person could be valid, should be shared with the world. That we weren’t just crazies with chemical imbalances that should be banished to silence.
She blew open the conversation about depression and medication, although I know there were criticisms of her writing style. That it was self-indulgent or egotistic. But what these critics couldn’t grasp is the movement this woman was opening up. I think the impact of her honesty reverberates through all of the ways we speak of mental health today.
On January 7th, Elizabeth Wurtzel died of complications from breast cancer. I didn’t expect it. I didn’t notice that she had dropped off of social media. And for some reason, it always makes me sad to think of a writer not getting the last word on their life. Writers spend their whole lives trying to express themselves authentically; trying to get their story out into the world in hopes that someone will relate, will understand. But when death comes knocking, you don’t have the luxury of “the final word.” It is a narcissistic desire; to have control over your story from your first breath to your last…and maybe it isn’t as important as I think it is.
All I can think is that I wish I could have read her thoughts during these final months. I wish she could’ve expressed what she was feeling. But maybe when you are faced with the realest reality; you don’t care about getting the last word anymore. All of the words you have written up to that point are enough.
And they are enough.
Thank you Lizzie, for every word you ever wrote. For being the person you were. The example of a person who lived their life despite of and because of their demons. We won’t forget.