by Priya Banerjee
art by Amelia Connelly
[originally published October 2021]
Oberlin is full of kids on pills. We eat them for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and maybe pop a couple more for dessert. No, I’m not talking about those little blue pills you might crush and snort before a party, but rather those little once-daily treats that promise to take away the blues. Almost everyone I know is on, or has been on, antidepressants. Personally, I take Prozac. When I first started taking it, I quickly realized that it’s more likely that someone has a spare Prozac for me when I’ve forgotten my daily dose than an Advil when I’ve got a migraine. Despite the ubiquity of SSRIs, a prescription has nonetheless become a badge of honor that daily pill-poppers everywhere can’t help but show off. The proliferation of antidepressant prescriptions has made it apparent that being medicated just isn’t enough to separate you from the rest of the crowd anymore; when everyone is a self-proclaimed psycho on meds, a prescription is no longer enough to grant bragging rights to the hoards of depressed twenty-somethings afflicted with individuality complexes.
I recently read Elizabeth Wurtzel’s 1994 memoir Prozac Nation, whose title has come to represent the cultural phenomenon that was Prozac and its unprecedented celebrity status. Fluoxetine HCl, the chemical name for Prozac, was first approved by the FDA in 1987 and with the help of a very skilled marketing team, quickly became the coolest, hottest, trendiest drug of the 90s. Wurtzel’s novel follows her years in college as a reckless, unstable, junkie who just can’t seem to keep it together. Her being prescribed Prozac in its early phases of testing is where the novel leaves us, and where finally she finds a semblance of stability. Of course, Wurtzel’s story is far from a happily-ever-after; in her reflections on Prozac’s rise to fame, she mentions what many pill-takers tend to forget, and what many prescribers tend to withhold; Prozac and similar antidepressants were not formulated with the intent to treat depression. When drug companies create a new product they decide what it will treat after they figure out what effects the drug actually has on the body. In the case of Prozac, they stumbled upon a drug that effectively numbed human reaction to stimuli and created a barrier between emotion and emotional response. In short, Prozac and other SSRIs prevent you from feeling sad, but they also prevent you from feeling happy. And there’s a reason you can’t come on Prozac. The sexual dysfunction that 70% of those taking SSRIs report as a side effect comes as no surprise when you reframe the idea of antidepressants into what they really are: anti-everythings. You can’t get hard on Prozac because yes, it took away your misery and despair, but it’s so good at being a feel-nothing pill that it also took away your desire to fuck. But in the end...it works. I am not anti-anti-depressants. They undoubtedly make many people’s lives better,but are by no means a cure. While I am not opposed to the prescription of these types of medications (I’ve got a couple myself!) I am wholeheartedly opposed to the terrible mental disease that SSRIs have left in their wake: something I like to call Prozac Nationalism.
Prozac Nationalism is very, very contagious and has infected our entire population of Prozac Nation. It’s like some twisted offshoot of the Oppression Olympics but instead of people trying to one-up each other on how severely society has marginalized their identity (barf), it’s a competition between the mentally ill and whoever has the highest dose listed on their pill bottle wins. The recipient of the highest dose must, in the eyes of the citizens of Prozac Nation, be suffering the greatest and are most deserving of sympathy. The longer the list of symptoms and side effects you’re able to complain about the more impressive your ability to cope is perceived by those who are supposedly suffering less, with the hierarchy of suffering of course being determined by how many milligrams have been bestowed upon you by your psychiatrist. God forbid an unmedicated person comment on the fragile state of their emotional or physical wellbeing, as there is no way in Hell that they could be experiencing what you experience everyday. The mere fact that you are medicated and they are not must mean that their pain pales in comparison to yours, and that they have no right to complain. This is the mindset that plagues the medicated, and I for one have had enough.
Ultimately, I think everyone should just shut up! Believe it or not, everyone’s going through one thing or another, and so many people are on meds! For that matter, so many others aren’t on meds for so many reasons, and not because they aren’t messed up in the head enough to need them. Not only is the process of getting a prescription arduous and expensive, but also finding a good therapist who will refer you to a good psychiatrist will cost you a pretty penny that not everyone is willing to shell out for a product that comes with no promises of improvement but lots of promises of terrible side effects. Taking meds has become a personal brand for so many, acting as the foundation of their online personality and social media presence. I think there’s something very very sinister about the way that Big Pharma has wormed its way into our brains to such a degree that a product has become a personality trait. You shouldn’t be defined by the medications you are prescribed. It is so gross to don an attitude of eliteness because you have made the decision to try medication, a decision not everyone is able to make. There’s no need to compete over who is the most fucked-up. And even if it were a competition, medication status is not at all an indicator of who is suffering the most, or who “needs” medication the most. Let’s find something else to compete over. Maybe we could brag about how many cartwheels we can do in a row...or maybe how many servings of vegetables you can eat in a day. That at least would be a good start.