A Recovery Blog

This blog is about my continuing recovery from severe mental illness. I celebrate this recovery by continuing to write, by sharing my music and artwork and by exploring Buddhist ideas and concepts. I claim that the yin/yang symbol is representative of all of us because I have found that even in the midst of acute psychosis there is still sense, method and even a kind of balance. We are more resilient than we think. We can cross beyond the edge of the sane world and return to tell the tale. A deeper kind of balance takes hold when we get honest, when we reach out for help, when we tell our stories.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Prozac Nation and Memories

Watched a film last night called PROZAC NATION. It was based on the bestselling memoir by Elizabeth Wurtzel which was published around 1994. I had heard of the book years ago but had never read it. Because of the title I was under the mistaken impression that it was a nonfiction book critical of Prozac and people's growing dependence on anti-depressants in the U.S. Instead the film showed me that the book was about Elizabeth Wurtzel in the mid 1980's when she was going to school at Harvard. She suffered from mental illness, primarily depression which appears to have stemmed from her relationship with her mother and her absent and irresponsible father. Nonetheless, she is smart enough to get into Harvard and pursue her dream of becoming a journalist. Soon after she gets there she loses her virginity to someone she doesn't really care about, starts drinking and using drugs and sleeping around, acting out. Eventually her writing suffers and that's when she goes into therapy and later starts taking Prozac which allows her to start writing again.

The film was good but not as good as GIRL, INTERRUPTED which was also based on a memoir dealing with mental illness during early adulthood. But it did get me to try to remember me at eighteen and I, too, suffered from mental illness while going to college but unlike Ms. Wurtzel I didn't act out.

I lost my virginity to my first boyfriend Saul soon after I turned 18 in my senior year of high school. A few months earlier I had my first tongue kiss and found it revolting. We were both virgins, he a year younger than me and we went to the same school. I remember feeling very unhappy when he wanted to be sexual with me and I resisted it. The irony was that I knew perfectly well how to be sexual with myself but was at a loss with him. Him touching me and kissing me was like an invasion of my privacy. It was all too intimate and even at 17 I still didn't feel ready. But he pressured me and I gave in. I felt protective of him because he lived alone with his alcoholic mother in a small apartment. His father was mentally ill and had left years earlier which angered Saul who it was obvious needed a father figure in his life. So Saul threatened to act out and would share violent fantasies. This really disturbed me and I told him he was going in the wrong direction. He even had a gun which I managed to convince him to dismantle.

That fall I began college at Bennington in Vermont while he finished his last year of high school. But I didn't last there long, only one semester and then I left and returned home. At home I had a mini nervous breakdown which I hid from my family. I began spending a lot of time alone. Saul was busy with school, he was the lead in the senior play Inherit The Wind. I tried to write. I applied to New York University and got accepted. That Fall I told my parents that I needed to see a therapist, they directed me to our family doctor and he gave me the number of a therapist. I began to go to her once or twice a week. Meanwhile Saul had been accepted at Columbia University and we continued to see each other. My therapist was a petite blonde woman who basically listened to me. I don't remember much of it except that I didn't really respond to her, so I stopped going after several months. In retrospect that was probably a mistake on my part. If I didn't like her I should have found someone else to go to but I was adrift and didn't talk about my problems to my family or Saul. I don't think I fully understood that I was ill even then.

I didn't really enjoy N.Y.U. and made no friends. Just went to school, did the work, got mostly good grades, saw Saul. So I applied to Barnard College which was across the street from Columbia. I knew Barnard was a good school and I wasn't sure that they'd accept me, but they did and so the following year I went there and stayed there for three years. The very first year I remember checking out the school's counseling center but the woman I got I found so off putting that I never went back. Again I did well in school though I don't remember talking in class very often. Again I made no friends and kept seeing Saul.
I did a lot of reading and thinking and writing and discussing with Saul. Saul had become my best friend. We worked together and relaxed together. He began living with me at my parent's house and became a part of my family. Was I happy? Was I well? I'm not sure. But at least I was stable.

Saul and I stayed together throughout college, a total of about five years for me. I think we loved each other but we were so young and inexperienced. Unlike adult relationships, we had no mutual friends. We went out to eat, the theatre, the movies, museums, etc... but always just the two of us. He was somewhat social with people at Columbia but didn't introduce me to them. Maybe he just wanted some of his own space apart from me. It didn't bother me. I was too much the introvert to really care I guess. But by the end of college I think he began to feel restless for new relationships and new experiences and so we decided one day to separate. I don't remember that being a traumatic moment, perhaps because we remained friends to a certain extent until the day I left the City four years later. Later I would see us more as companions than lovers and that's why we could be friends even after we broke up.

We were, in a way, married to each other for those years and it was the best relationship I ever had with another person, but we weren't ready to be married and so it ended. Later, just after I left Brendan, I would see him again but he made it quietly clear that he was not interested in being my friend any longer. This was not surprising, quite a few years had gone by with no contact between us. We no longer knew each other. It still hurt though.

My mental illness was hibernating while I was with Saul. I was protected emotionally by him and my family and occupied by school but when school ended and then my relationship ended I began to withdraw more deeply into myself. Soon I would begin hearing voices which should have been a sure sign to me that I was indeed ill but since these voices were not intrusive and seemed to be helpful guides I just accepted them as a part of me and continued on with my life.

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