Young and hyped in America

Elizabeth Wurtzel, author of Prozac Nation, has been described as Sylvia Plath with the ego of Madonna. Neglected, misunderstood, unlucky

When a radiant young woman walks into the hotel lobby clutching a glass of orange juice in one hand and two bottles of pills in the other, I know this must be 28-year-old Elizabeth Wurtzel, author of the much- hyped book about being "young and depressed in America", Prozac Nation (Quartet). Judging by her constant banter and beaming smile, the controversial wonder drug, the anti-depressant that has America in its thrall, is spinning its magic once again.

Or maybe she is smiling for another, less pharmaceutical,reason. For Elizabeth Wurtzel is flavour of the month. Herfriends call her a walking Prozac poster. The New York Times has described her as Sylvia Plath with the ego of Madonna. She was photographed for Vanity Fair last year, lying on the ground with a ring of pills for a halo. She has been dubbed the Princess of Prozac.

Across America, she has been fted as the nose-ringed, tattooed, coke- sniffing manic depressive who has been to hell and come back with a raw autobiographical tale of teenage depression and personal tragedy.

Her timing is impeccable: Elizabeth Wurtzel is capitalising on both the Prozac buzz and the media's obsession with the disaffected twentynothings of Generation X. She is the latest in a long line of middle-class media darlings, canny Harvard graduates who cash in on whatever happens to be the latest media fetish. Just as Katie Roiphe capitalised on the date rape furore, Wurtzel is making the most of America's obsession with crazed, sexy, over-achieving literary women. "Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton, Zelda Fitzgerald," she says, relaxing into an armchair. "There is a history of beautiful women who were very unhappy."

Poor, beautiful Elizabeth: she was neglected by her father, misunderstood by her mother, unlucky in love. Who can blame her for suffering from severe depression since she was 11 years old? When she was 22 she was given Prozac and now she is making her fortune with the story of how it saved her life.

Today, Wurtzel has copious amounts of willowy blonde hair which swishes about her shoulders and neck. She wears lizard skin cowboy boots, tight black jeans and a cropped, tummy-revealing T-shirt printed with the words SUPER MODEL, worn underneath a long black cardigan. She has three gold rings and a stud in her left ear, a stud in her nose. Her finger nails are painted with dark plum nail varnish - the Chanel Vamp worn by Uma Thurman in Pulp Fiction - and she wears matching lipstick, which looms like a gash against her pale complexion. It is a groomed, happy smiling people look that is quite different to the sultry, pouting teenager image of the book cover. Which is a little confusing.

The story of her life goes something like this. She is born in New York in 1969, where she lives with her parents on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. She comes from a family of depressives. Her father is an IBM middle manager who takes Valium. Her mother is a strict Jewess who can't cope with disorder. They divorce acrimoniously when she is two years old. They fight long distance and constantly, over her, over each other. Wurtzel, meanwhile, is an overachiever. She is a A-grade student. She writes a series of books about pets by the age of six, a play by seven and wins the school spelling competition five years running. But when she is 11 she is sent away to summer camp and the depression that is to plague her for the rest of her life sets in. She takes her first overdose.

By the age of 12, she spends her time gouging out her knees with razor blades while the other kids are playing softball. By 13 she is too depressed to get out of bed. Her father disappears completely when she is 14 years old, and by the time she gets to Harvard she is doing cocaine, drinking too much, sleeping around, all in a constant bid to make her parents love her and those around her to recognise that she is suffering from a mental and physical disease - chronic depression.

She spends a lot of time in the campus hospital's emergency room but still manages never to miss a deadline. "But the depression never switched off," she insists. "When you are depressed you don't have a lot of energy, but what you have you use well," she says, modestly. "I husbanded my resources incredibly intelligently. I felt like I was slipping so low and that the one thing I could do was my work, that if I could still do that I would still be part of the living."

So she keeps travelling down the fast lane to success, winning the Rolling Stone College Journalism Award as a freshman at Harvard and, after graduating, working as the pop music critic for New York magazine and then the New Yorker. And so to today. Oprah wants her on her show, the movie of the book is in the pipeline and she is nicely set up for her next book, to be called Bitch, about female villains. This month the publicist's dream poses topless in GQ. "I'll do anything for the camera," she says blithely. "If the photographer here were to say to me take your shirt off, and we were alone, I would. I am very malleable."

For Wurtzel, there is no conflict between the message (depression and anti-depressants are a serious issue) and the marketing (rock chick is blue but sexy). She is not worried that people might mistake her for a bimbo because, she says, "I'm not one. The book is so naked, that me going nakedmakes it all go together more. I think people should look at those pictures with the attitude: you get the book and and big tits, too. The reason the book is marketed this way," she says plaintively, "is because I am this way. I am still a very needy person, who needs a lot of attention; it is part of the problem."

On paper, however, the author laments the trivialisation of depression. "I can't get away from a sense that after years of trying to get people to take depression seriously," she writes, "of saying, I have a disease, I need help - now it has gone beyond the point of recognition as a real problem to become something that appears totally trivial."

She goes on to blame America's "culture of depression" on a rootlessness created by high divorce rates and a proliferation of dysfunctional families which are then cured by anti-depressants. What is left is a pill-popping Prozac nation that fails to recognise how physically and mentally devastating depression can be. When a friend takes her cat to the vet because he is pulling out all his fur, he is prescribed Prozac. When patients visit their doctor with symptoms of depression, they are prescribed Prozac within three minutes of describing their symptoms.

But what really worries Wurtzel is not that cats and teenagers, ladies- who-lunch and boost-seeking businessmen are popping Prozac unnecessarily, but that she herself had to endure years of mental and physical agony before the "happy pill", the "sunshine in a packet", the "Princess Diana drug", shone on her own stoop. "I resent that I had to go through so much pain before it was finally taken really seriously - not that I don't want other people to get help sooner."

What also bothers her, somewhat contradictorily, is that people might overlook the fact that, as one of the first people to take Prozac when it was approved in 1987, she is the ultimate guinea pig. But at least, she explains, being given Prozac was a turning point in her life. It proved that what she had been saying all along was true: there was something wrong with her and she needed help. And now, having won the attention she craved ever since she literally prised open her estranged father's eyelids in a pitiful attempt to make him look at her when she was a little girl, she isn't strong enough to walk back into the shadows.

Elizabeth Wurtzel is earnest and eager to please. She describes herself as "a moral writer". She believes in a writer's integrity and she hopes her writing will continue to be "useful", that it will "connect" with readers. The only other person who "connects" is her idol, Bruce Springsteen. "I am so in awe of him," she says. "He is the only heroic person in the whole of America right now; his integrity is so intense."

Her mother hasn't read her book. She disapproves of the cover and sees its contents as an invasion of her privacy. She hasn't heard from her father in years and has decided that he is an evil man.

But she has attained a happiness of sorts, albeit a fragile one. She is dating a film director and hangs out with "very extraordinary" people in downtown Manhattan. Her book has sold thousands of copies in America alone. Fans call her every day and she receives hundreds of letters. "One woman wrote to say that, next to the Bible, this was the most powerful book she had ever read. Other teenagers say the book is their bible."

Her spirits are high, she says, as long as the sun is shining. When lows set in, as they still do from time to time, she boosts herself up with heroin and cocaine. And when I ask her whether depression is the recognisable problem she always craved as a child, she says maybe. "But I don't want to be a professional depressive."

Does she at least wish she had discovered Prozac sooner than she did? She pauses for the first time and then she answers no. "It is sad and it bothers me that this is true, but I was very fuelled by depression. I don't know what I would have been like without it."

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookA wonderful selection of salads, starters and mains featuring venison, grouse and other game
News
Ian Thorpe had Rio 2016 in his sights
people
Arts and Entertainment
Original Netflix series such as Orange Is The New Black are to benefit from a 'substantial' increase in investment
TVHoax announcement had caused outrage
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur
fashion

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

News
One Direction star Harry Styles who says he has no plans to follow his pal Cara Delevingne down the catwalk.
peopleManagement confirms rumours singer is going it alone are false
Voices
Mrs Brown's Boy: D'Movie has been a huge commercial success
voicesWhen it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor
Arts and Entertainment
Curtain calls: Madani Younis
theatreMadani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
Arts and Entertainment
'Deep Breath' is Peter Capaldi's first full-length adventure as the twelfth Doctor
TVFirst episode of new series has ended up on the internet
Life and Style
Douglas McMaster says the food industry is ‘traumatised’
food + drinkSilo in Brighton will have just six staple dishes on the menu every day, including one meat option, one fish, one vegan, and one 'wild card'
Sport
Mario Balotelli, Divock Origi, Loic Remy, Wilfried Bony and Karim Benzema
transfersBony, Benzema and the other transfer targets
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Web Developer (C#, ASP.NET, AJAX, JavaScript, MVC, HTML)

    £40000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Web Developer ...

    C# R&D .NET Developer-Algorithms, WCF, WPF, Agile, ASP.NET,MVC

    £50000 - £67000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# R&D .NE...

    C# Developer (Web, HTML5, CSS3, ASP.NET, JS, Visual Studios)

    £40000 - £50000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...

    C# Developer (ASP.NET, F#, SQL, MVC, Bootstrap, JavaScript)

    £55000 - £65000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...

    Day In a Page

    Iraq crisis: How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over the north of the country

    How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over northern Iraq

    A speech by an ex-MI6 boss hints at a plan going back over a decade. In some areas, being Shia is akin to being a Jew in Nazi Germany, says Patrick Cockburn
    The evolution of Andy Serkis: First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

    The evolution of Andy Serkis

    First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
    You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial: Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried

    You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial...

    Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried
    Refugee children from Central America let down by Washington's high ideals

    Refugee children let down by Washington's high ideals

    Democrats and Republicans refuse to set aside their differences to cope with the influx of desperate Central Americas, says Rupert Cornwell
    Children's books are too white, says Laureate

    Children's books are too white, says Laureate

    Malorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
    Blackest is the new black: Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...

    Blackest is the new black

    Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...
    Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

    Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

    The US Ambassador to London holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence – it's all part of the job, he tells Chris Green
    Meet the Quantified Selfers: From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor

    Meet the 'Quantified Selfers'

    From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
    Madani Younis: Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

    Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

    Madani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
    Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

    Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

    When it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish – among others – know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor
    Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy: Was the otter man the wildlife champion he appeared to be?

    Otter man Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy

    The aristocrat's eccentric devotion to his pets inspired a generation. But our greatest living nature writer believes his legacy has been quite toxic
    Joanna Rowsell: The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia

    Joanna Rowsell: 'I wear my wig to look normal'

    The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef gives raw ingredients a lift with his quick marinades

    Bill Granger's quick and delicious marinades

    Our chef's marinades are great for weekend barbecuing, but are also a delicious way of injecting flavour into, and breaking the monotony of, weekday meals
    Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014 preview: Why Brazilians don't love their neighbours Argentina any more

    Anyone but Argentina – why Brazilians don’t love their neighbours any more

    The hosts will be supporting Germany in today's World Cup final, reports Alex Bellos
    The Open 2014: Time again to ask that major question - can Lee Westwood win at last?

    The Open 2014

    Time again to ask that major question - can Lee Westwood win at last?