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Taking Fluoxetine and Mirtazapine: Rachel's story

  • Anorexia
  • Anxiety and phobias
  • Depression
  • Fluoxetine
  • Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
  • Mirtazapine

I’m Rachel, 20, and have been taking Fluoxetine and other meds since I was 12.

I had just turned 11 when everything I’d been holding together for the past few years fell apart in a kind of catastrophic, scary, isolating mess of fear and starvation. I was diagnosed with anorexia, and somewhere over the year or so of hospitalisation and lapses that followed, recognised OCD, depression and anxiety all joined the list too.

That’s quite a lot to take when you’re 12 years old and scared.

It wasn't actually until I was readmitted to hospital that the new CAMHS team decided that I had to start taking Fluoxetine. I remember feeling you don’t get much say when you’re 12.

And to me that was almost THE scariest thing. I knew nothing about this medication at all, or any of my supposed conditions. The things I was being told I was feeling and experiencing felt alien and patronising, and I was so terrified of the medication having side effects that it made me ill.

I’m sure for a long time my phobia of taking it must have undone any good it could possibly be doing. Luckily, I didn’t really experience any side-effects at this point. My ability to handle my OCD - which had reached a point where I couldn't go out in public or leave rooms - actually did start to get better, though to this day I'm never sure whether that was influenced by the Fluoxetine or by the meditation and artistic therapy I started receiving at CAMHS rather than the infuriating psychotherapy and whirlwind of assessments I’d had before.

I was discharged again about eight months later after a long reintroduction phase, but my Fluoxetine dosage stayed at 40mg. I’ve never really been sure how this affects me. I’m now 20, and it’s been so long that it’s impossible to work out whether it makes anything better.

I do know that when I was 18 and they started trying to wean me off it because I was in a ‘better place’, I definitely got worse. My mood plummeted and so did my ability to cope with food. Similarly the only time that anyone has ever tried to change my medication was a very bad experience: Mirtazapine made me feel like I was drunk, completely spaced out, and not in a good way. I was numb and couldn’t control things properly and felt completely disassociated, and it was terrifying. I refused to take it again. 

I never have come off my medication. I’m trying to juggle growing up and doing a degree in Drama and English Literature, and performing too. But I have dark days and have lapsed again numerous times, to the extent that in my most recent relapse last November my new doctor at university made the decision to increase my Fluoxetine dosage to 60mg.

This unfortunately took place on the day of the dress rehearsal of a production I was in and I felt like I was having an existential crisis. Luckily another girl in the cast, who I now know has experience with medication too, recognised what was happening and rushed me outside until my panic attack subsided. This kind of effect gradually got a little better, and I’m still on 60mg now. There has been talk of switching me onto something new, but the thought scares me and I think my doctors feel it would be a gamble too.

I don’t want to be on medication for the rest of my life, but I’m not sure if I know what ‘better’ is and I don’t know if being on 60mg rather than 40mg has helped significantly or not.

I only know that without the meds I’m definitely worse. Additionally, being a student and taking medication, especially at this dosage, is very expensive. I’m lucky that my family is willing to help me out on this, but not everyone is that fortunate, and I think that’s something that seriously needs to be addressed too. 

Being on mental health medication isn’t about making ‘it’ go away, it’s about helping in any way to make day to day living better. Mental health medication never really will be, I don’t think, an ultimate cure or a solution, and some days in my experience they do seem totally obsolete and useless, but if and when they do help even a tiny bit, they can be a little step towards living a life that isn’t defined by your disorder. I think that’s positive.