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As the pandemic death toll rises, jobs crumble and confusion reigns, we’re spinning deeper into a mental health crisis. Lockdown experiences are having psychological consequences – including restrictions on funerals and the rise in domestic violence.
On the 100th birthday of Tom of Finland, it was hard not to reflect on my battles with depression and first experience with Prozac. It came courtesy of a meth-smoking porn star who worked for Tom of Finland Studios.
Demons and dysfunction
Mental health issues arrived shortly after the death of my mother in ’85. Struggling with my sexuality, dealing with grief, fighting off bullies and facing the disintegration of my family proved challenging for this 15-year old. I fell apart, came out, spiralled down and fucked up.
By the ‘90s, life was a messy, harrowing puzzle. Friends and lovers were dying by the dozen due to HIV/AIDS. Attending weekly funerals proved a strain on the wardrobe, liver and joie de vivre.
Were my dark days circumstantial, genetic or simply down to the drink and drugs that had coloured my life since adolescence?
In the middle of this madness, Prozac popped over the horizon. The drug appeared to offer a modern, scientific adjustment to the brain’s chemistry that might iron out my ruinous creases. The literature and hype around Prozac peaked with Elizabeth Wurtzel’s 1994 novel Prozac Nation.
The New York Times dubbed the author, ‘Sylvia Plath with the ego of Madonna’. NME described Wurtzel’s book as having ‘the same relevance and resonance as On the Road, Catch-22 and Generation X‘.
It’s a harrowing, often hilarious, but ultimately exhausting book. This heady mix 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.
By the mid ’90s, Prozac had become sexy, a feat rarely achieved by a prescription drug. By ’99, the drug was giving Eli Lilly more than 25% of its $10bn revenue.
We both survived our breakdowns, but sadly, the brilliant Wurtzel’s died of breast cancer at the age of 52 in January 2020
Porn and Prozac
In ’96, I interviewed Blue Blake for QX. At the time, Blake was the star of muscle-jammed porn epics, ‘The Wild Ones’ and ‘Nothin’ Nice’ for Tom of Finland Studios. He’d already made over 60 adult movies and was arguably one of the UK’s biggest stars in that field.
Our meeting unfolded in his entirely mirrored apartment in Earl’s Court. It was like a boudoir in a Jackie Collins novel; decadent, slightly dated and totally tawdry. I loved it.
Blake was certainly built like a Tom of Finland character. He was an understandable casting choice for projects hoping to recreate the sketched fantasies. However, glossy, LA-shot video is a harsh medium for soft-pencilled, vintage artwork. Cold reality can destroy illusion in a mean heartbeat.
Meth in the madness
Despite the distracting reflections of myself in the mirrored ceiling, I noticed a lime green Murano fruit bowl overflowing with packs of pills. It was Prozac. Blake confessed, quite frankly, that some performers, including himself, were using the drug to combat the symptoms of crystal meth abuse. According to Blake, the crashing, paranoid mood swings of meth withdrawal could be offset by this 2-tone, neuro-wonder drug.
There’s an optimistic logic to this equation, but in the long run, it’s like trying to mop up Loch Ness with a flannel.
Meth was gathering pace as the drug of choice for the wilder corners of the porn crowd. The drugs numbs emotion, fuels risky sexual adventure and suppresses appetite. Wanna be a cum zombie with abs and OCD? Meet your new friend, Tina.
Noting my fascination with his bouquet of pills, 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 advice from a health professional. Not yours truly. I chose to address my depression by using a part-time sex worker and star of Posing Pouch as my personal pharmacist and spiritual guru.
Always at the front of the queue for stupid behaviour, I started popping the Prozac, washed down with martinis, while interviewing him. That was the ’90s for you.
Blue was a charming, hilarious gent, and a superb host. His dinner parties and anecdotes were a debauched scream. He was found dead in his London home in October 2015. Cause of death unknown.
In the middle of this, I became homeless and tangled in a circus of stressful incidents. My mental health crumbled. The Prozac hadn’t kicked in yet. When it did, nightbuses, sobs and sofas evolved into me finding a three-bedroom place in Clapham South. I sourced flatmates and moved them in with quiet efficiency.
The progression from nomadic tragedy to responsible tenant was curiously seamless. Almost enjoyable. After the freakishly sublime move, it became clear we living in the House that Prozac built.
Surveying the landscape, it was astounding to note that I’d bossed a bunch of admin and happily managed a complex, exhausting project- finding a flat in London.
At no point had I cried, screamed or ran away from the struggle of it all. Prozac had sucked the drama from me and replaced it with quiet functionality.
Dark and debilitating
The pills ran out. A year went by. A harsher depression hit me. It’s shocking when you think you’ve been depressed, you know the shadows, but then a darker, possibly fatal sadness seeps into your core.
The media talks up ‘awareness’. Exercise, cognitive therapy and jo Malone candles are discussed as if they’re easy to access. Fine advice, if you’ve got the money, 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 as 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 pills for real. The doctor didn’t hesitate to prescribe them. When possible, I sought therapy privately. I’ve tried everything to heal my spiritual angst, from becoming a Sanyassin in an ashram in India to downing ayahuasca with a Brazilian shaman in Camden.
Like the experts say, a combo of medication, therapy and exercise meant the shadows retreated, but who really knows where the light came from.
Hunt for happiness
I’m aware that SSRIs have sparked suicides. Doctors have been guilty of dishing them out a little to readily and this stems from diminished resources.
Prozac may have saved my life, but a supportive health system might have equally performed that task. I worked in drug-fuelled nightclubs to pay for my therapy. DJ gigs in a crim-owned venues funded gym membership, so I could do yoga and pilates.
I was lucky to access unconventional and standard forms of therapy. It was hard work, and bad days can still throw a spanner in the works, but at least life’s not dull. Ultimately, I’m very glad to still be here and heart broken for all those that aren’t.
In the UK and Ireland, Samaritans can be reached on 116 123
In the US, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255.
In Australia, the crisis support service Lifeline is 13 11 14.
Other international helplines can be found at www.befrienders.org.