The theme of ‘Openings’ fuelled the launch of Exhibitionists- the…
Demons and dysfunction
Mental health issues descended sortly after the death of my mother in ’85. I fell apart and fought my demons and other people. By the ‘90s, life was a messy puzzle. Was my condition genetic, circumstantial, or a down to E, LSD, mushrooms and weed?
To a misery like myself, Prozac seemed to offer a modern, clever adjustment to the brain’s chemistry that could iron out those ruinous creases. The literature and cultural hype around the drug peaked with Elizabeth Wurtzel’s 1994 novel Prozac Nation. The New York Times dubbed Wurtzel ‘Sylvia Plath with the ego of Madonna’. NME described the book as having ‘the same relevance and resonance as On The Road, Catch-22 and Generation X’.
It’s a harrowing, sometimes hilarious, but ulimately exhausting book, which appealed to my fraught nature at the time. I tried to re-read it recently and have no idea how anybody tolerated either of us. Hated myself retrospectively and felt bitter about Wurzel’s subsequent success. Maybe I need to up my meds. Anyway, Prozac became sexy, a feat rarely achieved by a prescription drug owned by a wily pharmaceutical giant. By 1999, Prozac was giving Eli Lilly more than 25% of its $10bn revenue.
Porn and Prozac
In ’96, while interviewing Blue Blake for QX Magazine, in his entirely mirrored apartment in Earl’s Court, I noticed a fruit bowl overflowing with blister packs of pills. It was Prozac. He confessed, quite frankly, that some performers in the industry were using the drug to combat the symptoms of crystal meth abuse. There’s a logic to the psychotic equation, but in the long run, it’s like trying to mop up Loch Ness with a flannel.
Meth (or Tina) was gathering pace as the drug of choice for the wilder corners of the porn crowd. It numbs emotion, fuels sexual adventure and suppresses appetite. Wanna be a wide-eyed sex robot with abs? Meet your new friend, Tina.
Noting my fascination with his bouquet of pills, Mr. Blake gave me a month’s supply of the antidepressant and a signed copy of his latest VHS.
Most people would address their mental health issues by seeking the advice of a health professional, but not yours truly. I chose to address my depression by using a part-time hooker and the star of Posing Pouch as my personal pharmacist and spiritual guru. Always at the front of the queue for stupid behaviour, I just started popping the Prozac while interviewing him. That was the ’90s for you.
Blue was a total gent, and a super host. His dinner parties and anecdotes were a debuached scream. He was found dead in his London home in October 2015. Cause of death unknown.
The situation with a member of my family became untenable. I left and become homeless. The Prozac hadn’t kicked in yet, but when it did, nightbuses and sofas merged into a three-bedroom flat in Clapham South.
The progression from gutter dweller to semi respectable tenant seemed curiously seamless. Almost enjoyable. After the oddly sublime move, it became clear we living in the House that Prozac built.
Dark and debilitating
The pills ran out. A year went by. A harsher, debilitating depression hit me. It’s shocking when you think you’ve been depressed, you know the shadows, but then a darker, potentially fatal wave crashes on your shore.
The media talks up ‘awareness’. Exercise, cognitive therapy and ‘snapping out of it’ are discussed like they’re easy to access. Fine advice, if you’ve got the time, motivtation and sanity to seek help. The closest I’ve come to suicide was when a receptionist at my local GP’s surgery hung up the phone while I sobbed. She had no available appointments for at least three weeks and wasn’t ‘qualified’ to talk to me. Click. Tick tock.
Back to Prozac
After downing Prozac with recreational abandon, it was time to face the green and cream pills for real. The doctor didn’t hesitate to prescribe them. I sought therapy privately.
Like the experts say, a combination of prescription pills, therapy and exercise meant that the shadows retreated.
When you’re on SSRIs, the change is tangible, sometimes physical. Suddenly, I was able to get out of bed, to catch public transport without weeping and once again feel a will to exist. Okay, so I became slightly robotic, perhaps a tad less creative and completely lacking in a sex drive. However, the medication gave me a break from my destructive self, which is all you want when severely depressed.
Hunt for happiness
Yes, I’m aware that Prozac may have contributed to a few suicides. Doctors have been guilty of dishing them out a little to readily and perhaps this practice stems from diminished resources. All I know is that Prozac may have saved my life. Oh, and my understanding of depression was useless, patronising and hypothetical until I’d actually suffered it.
Emma Cheevers argued that pill popping would be the end of us and that the hunt for happiness may be futile. Added to that bleak assessment, Prozac and other SSRIs have been dubbed a ‘waste of time’.
For others, like myself, that pill proved a life jacket in very choppy seas.
First Published : TheHospitalClub