Buck Up

Notes from the West Coast Puke-Haters Convention

We are there for several hours, the rain pounding. Sometimes we run out of things to talk about, and then we talk about how comfortable our pants are. Then someone remembers something else phobia-related, like the woman on Jenny Jones who said she was terrified of buttons. They laugh. They are not as crazy as that. They are happy. They can laugh. What they can't do is eat anything besides rice or meat that has been charred to something resembling a tree stump. What they can't do is touch their food with their hands, even though they've just washed them. What they can't do is get pregnant—except Chan—because then they might throw up or their child might.

The statistics are whatever you want to make them. Some sites tell you 30 million people have been on Prozac and millions more on other anti-depressants. Others tell you one out of 75 people worldwide has a panic disorder. Does that include everyone who has ever felt short of breath when she found out her boyfriend was running around? And what about social-anxiety disorder? And what's the difference between social-anxiety disorder and being "shy"? That the former is a billable condition? And what about the newly minted PMDD? How, exactly, is it different from PMS? What's wrong with just saying you have PMS? The National Institutes of Mental Health says one in five American adults has a mental disorder.

My mother says my generation isn't any different from any preceding us: we just think we're too good for unhappiness. We should just buck up. I ask my therapist why so many young women are in so much distress. Why are so many of my friends unable to leave their homes? She says it's because so much is expected of women these days: home and family and work. But her answer doesn't really apply to my childless, mid-20s friends—smart, college-educated women who are afraid all the time. My therapist's answers are always pat. And a pat answer is worse than none at all. Buck up.

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