What Elizabeth Wurtzel Taught Me as a Troubled Twenty-Something

Reading about Elizabeth Wurtzel’s death yesterday (7th Jan 2020) was like a kick in my guts. Long time literary hero of mine, Wurtzel was a rank outsider. Telling it like it was in an era where everyone swept their feelings under the carpet. I read Prozac Nation, Bitch and More, Now, Again back to back during my first proper depression in 2002. Her words resonated with me like no other words ever had before, or many have since. We also share a birthday – twelve years apart – which felt significant.

Wurtzel made me feel less alone when I was capable of feeling lonely in a crowded room. Also, having been prescribed Prozac, based on her accounts, I decided not to take them. That script would wink at me like bright, shiny wrapping paper, holding the ultimate promise: I can take your pain away. At 23 I was well aware that even if the drugs did what they claimed, it would more than likely be a very temporary fix.

So I sat with my pain; had hours and hours of therapy. Did all the things we are told to do to make our lives better. Set boundaries, identify toxic relationships, learn to love the gym, eat well, ensure you have amazing friends. Largely I followed in Wurtzel’s footsteps – writing myself off at one point as “too fucked up” to be loved. Drugs and booze and crazy parties were par for the course. Fun was had and lines were crossed. Then one day, I took a long look at myself and decided to stop. And that’s when life became better than I ever imagined it could be. I’ve never officially done the 12 Steps, like she did, but I can relate to so much of what she said here.

Art should comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable

Elizabeth Wurtzel was repeatedly ridiculed for writing about herself in such an unflinching way, but I think she was simply ahead of her time. Us writers have a lot to thank her for – she opened the conversations on mental health and addiction. And had us questioning whether happy pills were the right way to go just because the doctor said it was. Her later books and articles on getting clean and starting to properly enjoy life are well worth checking out. She had a look of wisdom in her. Perhaps now that she’s gone, she will receive the acclaim she always deserved

I haven’t experienced significant amounts of death, the way others have. So when a person who made an impact on me passes away, it hurts. Can’t imagine I’m the only person who feels like this, and no, it’s not self-indigent, it’s simply being honest about how we feel. If only more people were willing to do this, truly without judgement, I think the world would be a much better place.

RIP Elizabeth.

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