Letting go of yourself 


There's a scene in the dark suburban '70s chiller "The Stepford Wives" where the only sentient women in town try to get the title characters interested in starting a women's group to counter the Men's Association. One by one they approach their neighbors, who just turn their pretty little heads and blithely insist they have too much housework to join such a frivolous endeavor. Frustrated with this dull serenity, one of the normal, likeable, shit-stirring women finally asks, "Doesn't it ever bother you that the most important organization in town is sexually archaic?" After being told what "archaic" means, the Stepford Wife turns it over in her mind like a stoner looking at a snow globe. "Does it ever bother me ... Nope!" she says, and that's it. There won't be any consciousness-raising in Stepford.

You're not supposed to admire the Stepford Wife, but there is something achingly enviable about that marble-smooth "Nope!" She disposes needling thoughts like you would a snotty Kleenex. No "well, maybe ... ," no appeasement, she's as emotionally elastic as a log. For the emotionally voluptuous among us, dealing with Frigidaires like this is as gratifying as trying to braid a grapefruit. But being Teflon-hearted sure seems like it would make life blissfully easier.

Chemical dependent

Anyone could achieve this chilly veneer with the help of tranquilizers, which people had to invent to make themselves bearable. Whoever created humans really botched it when they threw in all those hormones, chemicals and feelings. We contain more needless additives than Twinkies. And who needs them? Consciousness is way overrated. Reptiles don't experience it, and they do beautifully, plodding along through the millennia on a tankful of pure instinct. The only thing that makes life hard is knowing and caring how hard it is.

And women, lucky, lucky women, were served huge, lumbering portions of hormones that men were not. Men, void of periods and so naturally as tranquilized as Frances Farmer, lope through emotional difficulties with the animation of a common iguana. Women, at times, get to feel every disturbance in The Force like a skinless body on a bed of nails. Any woman worth the title has been moved by PMS to throw her own wine glass at her own television, or to scream, "I hate you because I love you!" or some awful tortured gibberish like that. We were made for self-expression.

But, like a tattooed face, sometimes self-expression makes it hard to get along in a rigid, unimaginative social structure. As richly satisfying as it would be, you can't just haul off and kick someone at a staff meeting when they say, "You look tired" at the exact moment that a spoonful of hormones decided to take you on a sleigh ride. Women try lots of things, mainly in pill form, to keep the pull of their natural red tides in check, for the benefit of others and for themselves. Now they're going to get to try Prozac.

Actually, it's "Prozac in drag," according to an essay in the New York Times Magazine by psychiatrist Peter D. Kramer that details how Eli Lilly will soon be marketing that most famous antidepressant as a PMS remedy. As though it were Shelley Fabres dolled up to go to prom, the new form of Prozac will be outfitted in a pink-and-lavender pill in a sky-blue package and called Sarafem, as though it were a heaven-sent cure for your tacky little mood swings, delivered by very tall angels crooning Sarah Brightman songs.

Winging it

And maybe it could be. Lilly says Prozac takes two weeks to affect depression but days or even hours to affect PMS. Taken two weeks out of the month, it can lessen the charming physical symptoms of PMS, the ones that make you feel like the Sta-Puft marshmallow man filled with water. "In truth," Kramer writes, "no one knows exactly how these medicines relieve either depression or PMS." So? You don't know how the computer works, but you use that, so what the hey?

What's ironic is that Lilly is marketing Sarafem on the company's website with the slogan "More like the Woman you are." The woman you are gets PMS and becomes miserable; squashing that symptom actually makes you less like the woman you are. More palatable, more Stepfordian, but not the woman you are. Prozac may smooth life over for yourself and others, but how appropriate is it to concede that your natural personality is one that needs to be treated?

Tranquilizers are a beautiful thing, ace co-pilots when an Emotional Perfect Storm is on the horizon. But while your emotions can be jagged, jarring, painful, harsh or cold, at least they are lushly and grandly your own. All gifts are one part curse. It's hard to tell whether it's better to take your difficult, dissonant personality as is or opt for no personality at all.

Yes, it's a very tough call. But does it bother me? Nope!


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