I Am Not Myself
Listening to Prozac by Peter D. Kramer
“I am not myself.” This is what a patient told her psychiatrist when she was taken off her medication. In Listening to Prozac, psychiatrist Peter Kramer goes through many case studies of his various patients and how they reacted to Prozac. Prozac was introduced in 1987 and has been prescribed to almost 500 million people. What is Prozac suppose to cure is the question that many psychiatrists are trying to answer. Psychiatrists want to know if Prozac is actually curing depression or if it is a drug that changes personality. Through Kramer’s book, we are able to see the different effects that Prozac has on different patients.
Tess, one of Kramer’s patients, “had accomplished remarkable things in adult life despite an especially grim childhood; now, in her early thirties, [she] had become clinically depressed” (Kramer 1). She was born to a passive mother and alcoholic father in one of the poorest public-housing projects in the city and was abused both physically and sexually. When she was twelve, her father died and her mother entered a clinical depression. Kramer tried many different medications on Tess before prescribing Prozac to her, but he was unable to get the results he wanted. The other medications would help her for a few days and then she would fall back into her depressed state. The medication never helped her to get over her abusive husband either. She would continually walk into Kramer’s office and when he would ask her about her husband she would begin to get teary eyed. Kramer knew that Prozac was perfect for Tess when she came into his office and was able to talk about her husband without getting upset. When she first walked into his office, “she looked different, at once more relaxed and energetic” (Kramer 7). Kramer was able to notice her happiness and the change in her personality. She was more lively, laughing and more sociable. Tess told Kramer of the changes in her life after the medication. She was more energetic and felt more comfortable at work and conversing with men. Tess believed that the medication proved that she had always experienced some sort of depression because she feels that now she is ‘herself’.
Tess was a perfect example of what Kramer was realizing was the effect of Prozac. He was beginning to see that not only was her depression leaving, but her complete social life was evolving. Kramer brought up a very important issue about patients and their medications. He asks, “How does Prozac, in Tess’s life, differ from amphetamine or cocaine or even alcohol” (Kramer 16)? I thought that this question was self explanatory because cocaine and alcohol are not prescribed by a doctor or physician so that is why they are not the same. But isn’t the reason why most people take drugs similar to those who take medication; to reduce pain. He then states that:
I do no think it is possible to see transformations like Tess’s without asking ourselves both whether street-drug abusers are self-medicating unrecognized illness and whether prescribed-drug users are, with their doctors’ permission, stimulating and calming themselves in quite similar ways. (Kramer 16)
So in many cases, it can be said that taking prescribed medication is the same as doing drugs. I do believe that many people are prone to taking medication when they are in the slightest pain and I find that it is what makes them similar to drug users. When Tess began to reduce her dosage of Prozac, nothing really changed but after being off of Prozac for months, she began to not feel ‘herself’ anymore. When she did return to Prozac, she began to feel like a different person, a ‘new’ person. She wanted to take the medication to feel ‘better.’ This medication began to transform her into a whole new person. In this case it was a very positive effect, but that is not always the case.
There are many incidents where Prozac has had a negative effect on a person. Kramer writes, “Though Prozac has been of remarkable help to millions of patients, a cloud hangs over the drug – accusations that its effects on a few patients have been devastating” (Kramer 301). Kramer had a patient that had suicidal thoughts before he was put on Prozac. Suicidal thoughts were actually common in his family and he agrees that the Prozac actually made his thoughts worse. His patient actually attempted to commit suicide once while on Prozac, luckily he was saved. There have also been some reports of patients who said that they were never suicidal or violent before taking Prozac. Kramer still believes that Prozac does not make people suicidal and that Prozac is a drug that overall helps patients.
I think that Prozac is a drug that can be used to really better people. I think that it helped a lot more patients than it might have hurt. I do believe that Prozac could help a patient get rid of their depressed state and become more sociable, but I believe that it could make a suicidal person more suicidal or a violent person more violent. I feel like this book did not really answer my questions on whether or not Prozac is a safe drug, but I was able to kind of take a stance. I really do not know a lot about the drug but I do know that it helped a lot of people and I would trust a psychiatrist that prescribed it. Kramer made a really interesting statement at the end of his book. He states:
Part of what makes people uneasy about Prozac is precisely that it works so well and has so few side effects. Prozac is enormously seductive. It is not addictive—patience do crave Prozac, and there is no known withdrawal syndrome—but people who have experienced a good response to it are often leery about coming off medication, out of fear that they will return to their old way of feeling and behaving. Since we continue to believe in conservation of mood, we are suspicious of a drug that is so pleasant to take. (Kramer 311)
I agree that a lot of people are really hesitant about taking medications or even trying new things when they are told that it works and have proof. People are not use to things working so it makes them very hesitant. I think that Prozac is a medication that can really help people.
1. Kramer, Peter D. Listening to Prozac. New York: Penguin Books, 1993.