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on February 7, 1999
Ten years into her relationship with Eli Lilly's breakthrough antidepressant Prozac, Lauren Slater contemplates the cost her dependence holds. She notices tremors in her hands. Her memory, once a point of pride, fails her in subtle ways. Is she just getting older or is her cure exacting a physical toll? Then, there is the loss of her sex drive.
There is a tradeoff here, however. For while these symptoms are troubling, and open profound questions about a drug that has no long term track history, there is the patient herself to consider. Hospitalized five times in her teens to early twenties, she was unable to hold steady employment. Ms. Slater becomes one of the early Prozac users in 1988 as the onset of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) begins to haunt her. She has carried the burden of unrelenting depression as well as a diagnosis of borderline personality disorder.
Contrast this with the Dr. Lauren Slater who appeared on National Public Radio's Talk of the Nation in early 1997. She has earned a master's degree in psychology from Harvard, and completed her doctorate in just two years. Her first book, Welcome to My Country, published in 1996 was critically acclaimed. Her essays have merited national recognition. Listening to her talk eloquently on the struggles of mental illness one can't help but be awed by her achievements. Clearly, the cream and green capsules Slater writes so effectively about in Prozac Diary have had a stunning impact on her own life.
The 204-page book offers depth and color to arguments that have often been hardened in black and white. From press coverage earlier in this decade that once surrounded Prozac in negative controversy to recent literature that painted it as a miracle compound, rarely have we visited the subject from the middle. Slater's account is of the give and take, a wondrous return to normal life followed by the disappointment of the drug suddenly losing effectiveness. It never again has the same impact, yet she realizes she is bound to it for each time she tries to stop using it symptoms recur. At the same time one realizes in reading her moving account, that maybe the true turning point in her life is when she realizes that even without Prozac she can exert some control over her condition.
The questions she digs at from so deep a personal level are fundamentally unsettling. As research into brain chemistry yields ever more effective pharmacological compounds, several issues creep into the picture. What is gained and what is lost from tampering with chemicals so closely linked to a person's sense of self? Do we lose in creativity what we gain in function? Ms. Slater finds herself concerned over an inability to write easily and by her own indifference to that fact early in her experience with Prozac. She is on the other hand amazed by her ability to perform at a level she has rarely touched beforehand. She wonders if when the drug is it yields unfair advantages. Where does a personality begin and chemistry end? Are the traits that make us who we are easily changed by advanced pharmaceutical design? Can we separate ourselves from the science?
While there are no easy answers here, Prozac Diary offers a funny and touching memoir about life changed forever by chemical interaction. Its strength is in Lauren Slater's ability to write so poetically about a struggle to emerge from the darkness of a life lived on the edges of mental illness. That she has the insight to ponder the price and meaning of her experience make this a provocatively engaging read.
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on May 13, 2001
On a whole, Slater's work is a well-written description of her struggle with mental illness and the relief provided by prozac. She provides an excellent thumbnail summary of Peter Kramer's thesis in Listening to Prozac (itself a superb book) as it relates to her own experience. This is not a memoir that rehearses every injury, every grief, every small sorrow that has piled up to tip her into unhealthiness; it is instead a series of brief but salient vignettes that reveal just enough about the author's past to give us an understanding and appreciation for the background of her pain. This content is subtle and understated. Parenthetically, it also reveals the multigenerational impact of the Holocaust on mental health. My one complaint about the book is that the prose can obscure the content at times. It can become too thick, too full of colorful or metaphoric language, and thus becomes tiresome. I found myself being impatient and irritated with the distraction, like an otherwise excellent dish that had been over-salted.
I must admit to being somewhat mystified at the hostility expressed in some of the other reviews. This book did not present itself as a self-help book or a practical manual on the pharmacology of selective seritonin reuptake inhibitors. It is an account of one person's experience with a remarkable medication - a personal and very individual history. While some may not identify with her experiences, others (including myself) may.
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VINE VOICEon June 12, 2004
Lauren Slater's 1999 memoir Prozac Diary is a worthy addition to the "women and madness" genre or for the millions currently taking antidepressants. What makes Slater's book a standout, though, is that it's the experience of one of the first people to use Prozac for depression. Slater writes her diary ten years after she first started taking the drug regularly in 1988, so we get to read of the long-term affects of daily dosing and how the drug changed her life over time. What was most interesting about Slater's story is how she had to learn to live life as a no-longer-depressed person. Her entire life, depression and its consequences dominated her life, gave her life meaning and routine, and defined who she was. When the "Zac" started working, she struggled to develop a new sense of herself, separate and apart from the depressed Lauren.
For me, the problem was that there wasn't enough experience there; something felt missing from the story. Perhaps it was the editor's fault. Or maybe my expectations were incorrect from the start. Slater's history is briefly given: lifelong struggles with depression and other forms of mental illness, a history of hospitalizations and attempts at various therapies, none of which were successful until Prozac in 1988. Perhaps I wanted to know more or I wanted the story to be told in a different style. I can't put my finger on it, but for this reader there was just something missing. Slater's writing style is poetic, but it was sometimes a distraction.
I highly recommend the book to those interested in antidepressants for any reason, whether it's history of Prozac's rise to prominence (what some call the aspirin of our age), how it affects people over the short and long-term, or simple voyeurism into the mind and life of someone classified as mentally ill. Lauren Slater truly benefited from this drug, and while many people think Prozac is tossed around too freely these days, she is an excellent example of whom this drug was originally developed for. It's staggering and sad to think how many lives could have been saved if we'd had this drug fifty years ago.
Prozac Diary is a slim read that can be devoured in one day by the voracious reader. Definitely worth the time for those of us living in this Age of Anxiety.
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on November 15, 2003
The main fault I find with this book is the way it is written. The author uses too many metaphors, which I found annoyingly abstract. I had a sense that the author wanted to write in a catchy way so that it would sell. There is no way I can read her mind when she wrote the book but it just didn't seem frank. It was almost as if she was thinking "Nothing in here should sound too dull or boring or no one will want to read it". She seemed to go overboard with the colorful images - every paragraph was written (in a way that a student might try to spice up a creative writing paper in order to get an A), but paradoxically her effect *was* quite boring, in a way I can't describe. It would have been better if she was told from the outset to eliminate all poetry and flowery phrases and just share what her life was like. Or, perhaps her book is the unfortunate product of "what are we supposed to think when we want our illness to be understood by the public" -- as the catchier something sounds the more likely it will get noticed (as in a glossy ad). I do think it would take a gifted writer in order to get noticed in the first place, especially in a subject as obscure and little-understood (in most peoples' perceptions) as 'depression'. It would be very hard to sell ourselves in our success-oriented culture (USA), unless it is a giant act of heroism (in the conventional sense of the word) or an extreme anomaly or exaggeration of sorts (Perhaps if Laura Slater had two heads along with her taking Prozac she could be more optimistic about her chances :-). Depression is a very banal illness -- something that is more likely to go unnoticed or seem 'self-absorbed' if expressed in a completely candid way.
I can only speculate why Slater overdid herself in this book "See? My experience with depression is not so dull or boring. I can ENTERTAIN you with my flowery prose". There were a number of times that I would have wanted her to get into the specifics of her day-to-day experience - I wanted to know what she was feeling, her thoughts, particularly the ones that we depressives wouldn't dare share with anyone else - the ones that most haunt and embarrass us. Instead I felt dissatisfied with all the stuff that was very catchy but didn't seem to quite fit. She seemed to be trying to make rainbows with her prose when the reality might have been a bit of grey.
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on October 1, 1998
A deeply thoughtful meditation on what it means to have one's mental state altered by a pill, written in the same subtle and poetic voice that made Slater's earlier book "Welcome To My Country" so memorable. Slater's view of Prozac is balanced and honest; unlike other writers, she isn't out to present it as either a panacea or a poison, just to give a truthful account of what it has meant for her as an individual, encompassing both benefits and side-effects. Anyone currently trying to decide whether or not to take Prozac or any other psychiatric medication would find Slater's account valuable, whatever they ultimately decided. But the book also deserves to be read by a wider audience because of its rare combination of lyricism and intellect.
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on April 2, 2015
Every single thing Lauren Slater writes is wonderful. I'm very picky about books, but she manages to be totally engaging and relatable and conversational, while being one of the most poetic writers I've ever read. She is oriented toward the inner world more than the outer--so certainly not a plot heavy action-filled story, but I can never put her books down nonetheless. Her voice is beautiful and her books are psychologically and emotionally so honest and also so interesting. She's incredible.
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on April 28, 1999
I have been perplexed by the many positive references to Ms. Slater's writing style. While she has some interesting insights into the relationship between Prozac and the self, too often the message is obscured by her efforts to be "poetic." It seems Ms. Slater cannot write a paragraph without dropping a half-dozen overwrought metaphors. She "overwrites" in the same way that dinner-theater thespians "overact." It is interesting (if, perhaps, a little bit unfair) to compare her style to that of Elizabeth Wertzel in her _Prozac Nation_. Ms. Wertzel, a genuinely gifted writer, packs her story with penetrating observations and insights; one can truly feel her desperation. Ms. Slater, in spite of (because of?) her purple prose stylings, rarely seems to dip far below the surface of her experience. In all, _Prozac Diary_ is worth reading, but not really worth pondering. Lauren Slater may become a good writer someday, if she would quit trying so damn hard.
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on December 6, 1998
The transition from obsessive-compulsive disorder to a peacful life of shopping, falling in love and finding a job is told with poetry. I wanted much more, however. Slater skampers past very weighty issues with barely a nod. Perhaps the new life "lite" she enjoys with Prozac makes her unwilling as of yet to probe in much depth the problems and potentialities to which her remarkable experience speaks.
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on February 22, 2000
i loved lauren's book 'prozac diary'. i love her writing in general because she depicts her life as both beautiful and staggeringly painful. this is a difficult thing to do but writing can sometimes be a doorway out of that pain. it's very much an artform to be able to transform the pain of one's life into something useful, something that communicates and i think she does this very well. i don't believe people should be so heartless in their criticism. not every book is going to be a fit for everyone, no matter what their expectations and although not everyone can relate to this type of book i think it's hard to deny that it communicates intelligently.
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on September 21, 2014
Magical realism, or just what life feels like to her? Either way she does a great job of conveying her subjective reality, and the ways that it changes when meds are introduced. I adore Lauren Slater's books and articles, and I think this is her best work.
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