The death of one of the shooting stars of American literature has, as always, been an apology to an abused author.
Elizabeth Wurtzel, author of the iconic book Prozac Nation, died on January 7 in a hospital in Manhattan at the age of 52. Upon hearing the news, all the headlines praised the best-selling author for her influence on the so-called Generation X.
“Ms. Wurtzel was one of several authors who helped reinvigorate the personal memoir in the 1990s,” said the Washington Post. “Ms. Wurtzel (…) was well cast to serve as a face for a generation that the news media perpetually cast as nihilistic and irony-suffused,” said the New York Times.
Wurtzel’s follow-up in memoriam is the perfect example of the anachronistic melancholy typical of the media, which insists on atoning for past faults over gravestones.
But the author was, in fact, a victim and victimizer of the industry that made her shine.
Having suffered from chronic depression since the age of ten, Wurtzel explained in Prozac Nation the reality faced by psychiatric patients in the face of the medical taboo of the 1980s, where mental illness still suffered the exclusionary stigma of insanity.
Although her work opened the debate on the normalization of depressive pictures, the pharmaceutical industry, and the true scope of psychology, its author continued to live the collateral of the disease in public life.
Her second book, Bitch: In Praise of Difficult Women (1998), won her criticism for being “dysfunctional,” being labeled an “overage adolescent” by columnists such as Peter Kurth.
As if writing a best–seller would cure any personality disorder.
The rumination of thoughts, the constant personal centripetal speech and the frequent incoherence in the organization of ideas — all characteristics of the author’s work — represent precisely the features of a person with depression.
For Wurtzel to separate that from her work was simply impossible. A severe drug addiction and a failed career as a lawyer later made the author a symbol of the phenomenon she helped to create.
In a fantastic essay for The Cult, Wurtzel described exactly what mental illness teaches all of us who share life with it in the long run: “Convention serves a purpose: It gives life meaning, and without it, one is in a constant existential crisis. If you don’t have the imposition of family to remind you of what is at stake, something else will.”
For her, that “something else” was all of us who saw her suffer in public from the consequences of having opened the door of her personal hell to the “sane.”