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Submitted Literature

Prozac Diary

By Lauren Slater

Review

 

Lauren Slater’s Prozac Diary is a beautifully written account of the strangeness of health encountered by a young American woman in her mid-twenties with an almost life-long history of mental illness: depression, self-mutilation, eating disorders and, more recently, obsessive-compulsive disorder.

 

In the late 1980s, Lauren Slater was one of the first to start using Prozac. About a decade later, she was one of the first long-term users of the drug and one of the first to write about it. In Prozac Diary she explores questions related to identity, authenticity and long-term use of psychopharmaceutical drugs. She describes her body’s almost miraculous response to the drug - and the much slower process of accepting her new self. She describes the fundamental changes that a long-term mental health care patient experiences in the process called cure: not only does Prozac change her everyday life, her daily routes and use of space and eating habits. Prozac also changes her literary interests, love and professional life and sexuality. Furthermore, Prozac changes her memories. Slater reminds us that a depressed person may well be an unreliable narrator: the darkness of the mood colours the perception of both the present and the past. As depression gives way to brighter views, Slater begins to remember positive aspects of herself in the past.

 

But in Prozac Diary, health is not simply joy. It is also loss.  Therea re aspects of illness and depression that Slater associates with intellect; there are aspects of drug-induced health - the loss of libido, the highs and lows and a certain intensity in writing - that for Slater are a painful compromise. For Slater, illness has also been a means to identify with - and reach out to - her rigid mother. Illness is learnt patterns of behavior and also a special language: it is a way to conceptualize oneself, it is a narrative of the self. It is a way to relate to the world, a way to inhabit it. Health, to start with, is to lose oneself and to lose ones coordinates in the world. It is “a strange planet pressing in”.

 

Prozac Diary does not, however, account only a personal history. In its wider cultural and medical context Slater’s narrative embodies the shift in psychiatric from psychoanalytical discourses to biomedical one: her self-narrative shifts from one focusing on family dynamics to one where only synapses matter, and  only health seems dignified. Having finally accepted her cure and dependence on the drug, Slater experiences a poop-out and finds herself counting and walking backwards again. Within the medical discourse illness is constructed as something only to be erased; ridden with illness, where can she now find dignity and a reason to live, Slater asks.

 

Key Themes:

  • Addiction
  • Creativity and Madness
  • Cure
  • Depression
  • Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

Significant Quotes / Pages

 

It is morning again, and I shake one capsule from the bottle. I stare into the pearl of

 

the pill and wonder whether it has given rise to an addiction that brings me closer to

 

my oystery heart or further from it. A barnacle stuck on the exoskeleton of a shell.

 

Like my mother, I hold the gem up between thumb and forefinger, turning it this

 

way and that, assessing how light lands on its surface, pushes to illuminate the

 

sphere’s interior, where, I sometimes imagine, my whole world might live, a long long

 

time ago there once was – a hospital, a nurse, a horse, a love. A scalpel sharp enough to

 

sever or to stitch. I picture it all inside the pill, which is pearl and nipple, which

 

makes me so many many metaphors, and finally, then, I am grateful. My cognition

 

may be fraying, my libido might be down, I may lose language. Prozac is a medicine

 

that takes much away, but its very presence in my life has been about preserving as

 

well as decaying. The flowers I cure. About remembering as well as forgetting. The

 

pond and a pair of skates. In the dream I forget the words where, I forget the word

 

home, but in my waking life Prozac has taken me deeper and deeper into those

 

questions – me or not me, crutch or inner bone. Returned, I am then, with each daily

 

dose, with the wash of water to take the pill down, returned I am to my stomach, to

 

my skin, to the fabrics of my past and, yes, to the threat of the synthetic. This is

 

Prozac’s burden and its gift, keeping me alive to the most human of questions,

 

bringing me forward, bringing me back, swaddling and unswaddling me, pushing

 

me to ask which wrappings are real. (PD, 200)

 

Reference: Lauren, Slater. 1998. Prozac Diary. Penguin Books, 1999

Reviewer

PhD Saara Jäntti
Date Review Submitted: Monday 14th January 2013