In 1988, having suffered for years from major depression and borderline personality disorder, and now also showing symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder, the twenty-six-year-old Lauren Slater is prescribed a new drug: Prozac. In this "diary," a series of meditations and progress reports on her experience, Slater traces ten years on Prozac, providing a remarkable before-and-after picture of the drug's effects.

She is "hobbled" by her illness: has dropped out of college, has been fired from most jobs, has been hospitalized five times. By the end of the book, she has received a doctorate from Harvard, has a successful career as writer, teacher, and psychologist, and is in a happy marriage.

Despite these unquestionable positives, Slater is ambivalent about the drug, describing the shock of becoming "normal," of being assaulted by health. She describes the sexual dysfunction, her anxiety about losing the need and ability to write the kind of poetry she had written before, and the terrifying moment when the drug suddenly stops working, and she must confront the possibility that it may not be a reliable and permanent solution.

She comes to fear that, healthy, she is no longer herself but something the drug has created. At the same time, though, it is only because of the drug that she is even able to ask these questions. Finally, she thanks her doctor for his ambiguous gift: she has become like a beautiful fish, her "skin all silver," her "mouth pierced" on Prozac, "this precious hook."


This beautifully written account of a medical success story gives a vivid and perceptive sense of what the move from mental illness to health can feel like. "It was as though I'd been visited by a blind piano tuner who had crept into my apartment at night, who had tweaked the ivory bones of my body, the taut strings in my skull, and now, when I pressed on myself, the same notes but with mellower, fuller sound sprang out." (25).

At the same time, this success is qualified by Slater in her analysis of the effects of entering a state we call "health" or "normality." This casts new light on the ways in which we judge medical success at a time when identity itself can apparently be adjusted by psychopharmacology.

It would be interesting to compare this text both to Lisel Mueller's poem Monet Refuses the Operation, where the painter rejects medical correction of his eye disorder in order to maintain his artistic vision, and to Sylvia Plath's novel The Bell Jar, which traces the experience of a woman of about Slater's age with a similar illness in the time before Prozac was an option (both works are annotated in this database).


Random House

Place Published

New York



Page Count