Nardil Saves Lives

I just finished reading the 2012 biography of author David Foster Wallace. He received great help from the medication Nardil and less than a year after he went off it in 2007, he committed suicide.

I was largely bedridden from 1988-1993, but around September of 1993, I started on Nardil and felt immediate benefit. Within a few months, I was strong enough to resume two-thirds of a normal life.

According to Wikipedia: “Phenelzine is used primarily in the treatment of major depressive disorder (MDD). Patients with depressive symptomology characterized as “atypical”, “nonendogenous”, and/or “neurotic”, have been reported to respond particularly well to phenelzine.[1] The medication has also been found to be useful in patients who do not respond favorably to first and second-line treatments for depression, or are said to be “treatment-resistant”.[2] In addition to being a recognized treatment for major depressive disorder, phenelzine has been found in studies to be effective in treatingdysthymia,[3] bipolar depression (BD),[4] panic disorder (PD),[5] social anxiety disorder (SAD),[6]bulimia,[7] and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).[8]”

I went off Nardil without any ill effect in 1999.

In 2001 and 2002, I went on clonidine, clonazepam and lithium. In 2006, I tried out wellbutrin for about a year. I went off all meds a couple of months into my Alexander Technique teacher training (in March of 2009) without any ill effect.

From page 52 of this Wallace biography:

Wallace stayed at the psychiatric unit at Carle Hospital for several weeks. The doctors likely considered the possibility that he suffered from bipolar disorder, manic depression. That he was crashing after an enormously productive spring would lend credence to that diagnosis, but they decided instead to give him Nardil, a MAO inhibitor often used to treat atypical depression. Atypical depression — its key characteristics are unusual sensitivity to social rejection and a quick return to mental health when circumstances improve — was a more welcome diagnosis in Wallace’s eyes. It seemed less a sentence of insanity than the medical acknowledgment of a condition he was already dealing with. But Nardil…was an older antidepressant, 1960s and ’70s staple that came with many dietary prohibitions. He would no longer be able to eat chocolate or drink coffee, nor should he drink alcohol or take drugs…

The Nardil helped Wallace quickly. By August he was out of the hospital and on a kind of high.

I felt a substantial improvement within hours of taking my first Nardil pill (on a Saturday morning, I believe). I felt a developing strength and hope that day as a friend picked me up and drove me to synagogue. I was able to hang out longer in the real world without crashing.

Another major theme in Wallace’s life story that I share is the help he got from 12-step programs.

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see My work has been covered in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and on 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (
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