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."

News
Susan Sarandon described David Bowie as
peopleSusan Sarandon reveals more on her David Bowie romance
Sport
Arsenal supporters gather for a recent ‘fan party’ in New Jersey
football
News
i100
Sport
sportDidier Drogba returns to Chelsea on one-year deal
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
Arts and Entertainment
The Secret Cinema performance of Back to the Future has been cancelled again
film
Life and Style
Balmain's autumn/winter 2014 campaign, shot by Mario Sorrenti and featuring Binx Walton, Cara Delevingne, Jourdan Dunn, Ysaunny Brito, Issa Lish and Kayla Scott
fashionHow Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film
filmFifty Shades of Grey trailer provokes moral outrage in US
News
people
News
BBC broadcaster and presenter Evan Davis, who will be taking over from Jeremy Paxman on Newsnight
peopleForget Paxman - what will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Life and Style
fashionCustomer complained about the visibly protruding ribs
News
newsComedy club forced to apologise as maggots eating a dead pigeon fall out of air-conditioning
Arts and Entertainment
Jo Brand says she's mellowed a lot
tvJo Brand says shows encourage people to laugh at the vulnerable
Life and Style
People may feel that they're procrastinating by watching TV in the evening
life
News
Tovey says of homeless charity the Pillion Trust : 'If it weren't for them and the park attendant I wouldn't be here today.'
people
Sport
Rhys Williams
commonwealth games
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
Latest stories from i100
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

    Employment Solicitor

    Highly Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: MANCHESTER - Senior Employment Solici...

    Senior Risk Manager - Banking - London - £650

    £600 - £650 per day: Orgtel: Conduct Risk Liaison Manager - Banking - London -...

    Commercial Litigation Associate

    Highly Attractive Package: Austen Lloyd: CITY - COMMERCIAL LITIGATION - GLOBAL...

    Systems Manager - Dynamics AX

    £65000 - £75000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: The client is a...

    Day In a Page

    Evan Davis: The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing to take over at Newsnight

    The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing

    What will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
    Finding the names for America’s shame: What happens to the immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert?

    Finding the names for America’s shame

    The immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert
    Inside a church for Born Again Christians: Speaking to God in a Manchester multiplex

    Inside a church for Born Again Christians

    As Britain's Anglican church struggles to establish its modern identity, one branch of Christianity is booming
    Rihanna, Kim Kardashian and me: How Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

    Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

    Parisian couturier Pierre Balmain made his name dressing the mid-century jet set. Today, Olivier Rousteing – heir to the house Pierre built – is celebrating their 21st-century equivalents. The result? Nothing short of Balmania
    Cancer, cardiac arrest, HIV and homelessness - and he's only 39

    Incredible survival story of David Tovey

    Tovey went from cooking for the Queen to rifling through bins for his supper. His is a startling story of endurance against the odds – and of a social safety net failing at every turn
    Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

    Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

    The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

    Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

    Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
    German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

    Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

    Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
    BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

    BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

    The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
    Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

    Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

    Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
    How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

    Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

    Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
    Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

    Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

    Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
    10 best reed diffusers

    Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

    Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

    Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

    There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
    Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

    Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

    It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little