Digital illustration of a person standing with his arm around a Prozac pill.
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I started seeing a therapist the summer before my freshman year of high school. After several months of cognitive behavioral therapy — a form of therapy which focuses on changing negative thoughts and behaviors while instilling healthy coping mechanisms — I didn’t feel much better. Sure, I had fixed how I thought about myself, but there was still a nagging, TV static-like feeling that I couldn’t shake. Every Wednesday, I talked and talked and talked with my therapist, but she couldn’t seem to help me. We tried working through different ways of thinking, and I tried out healthy coping mechanisms like breathing and counting exercises, but I simply could not clear the static.

Frustrated and hopeless, I went to a doctor. I explained that I had been going to therapy for a few months, but I still constantly felt anxious and a little depressed. He had me fill out the GAD-7 test, a standard test for anxiety and anxiety-related symptoms and seemed shocked by how many “nearly every days” I put down. The doctor’s solution — my savior — was a prescription for Fluoxetine, best known as Prozac. A prescription of 20 milligrams, to be exact.

Now, as a sophomore in college, I’m coming up on five years on Prozac. I don’t know quite how to feel about it. 

Back in 2019, during the first couple weeks on my new medicine, I felt the same. The little green and white pills with their plasticky coating didn’t seem to be doing what they were supposed to. I still felt that same sense of anxiety weighing down on me, the same constant TV static in the back of my mind. I was always on edge and couldn’t stop my racing mind for even a moment. I would lay in bed at night, staring at the ceiling for hours before I was calm enough to sleep. 

Around two months later, I had a check-in with the doctor. I told them I felt no improvement, but they insisted that I kept taking the medicine, explaining that Prozac is a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor: a type of drug that is supposed to affect the body’s absorption of serotonin. SSRIs can take several weeks to have an effect, as they change the protein and serotonin transporters in the brain, the results of which may take several weeks to fully express. I listened to the doctor and continued on with my daily life. Track season was starting up soon, so I had a welcome distraction from my anxiety. 

One day in the spring, as I rounded the bend of my 400-meter race, I realized. It was gone. The static was absent — like the buzz of a mosquito had finally disappeared. I could hear the silence. As I finished my race, I reveled in what felt like what normal was supposed to be. I hadn’t realized how debilitating my anxiety had been before taking Prozac. Now, finally, I could fall asleep, and my mind was not constantly racing. Rather, my mind was clear. Artificially, but still clear. 

I stayed on 20 milligrams for the rest of 2019. In my Superman patterned ditty bag, my Prozac traveled with me between my mom’s suburban house and my dad’s city apartment. The little orange CVS bottle got progressively beat up as the month went on before being replaced on the 6th of each month. The only sign of change between bottles was the little date printed on the label. The familiarity was comforting; it was a predictable and unchanging routine. Throughout that summer, Prozac accompanied me as I navigated my first relationship. It kept me much more even-keeled than I had been before; I could actually talk to my girlfriend without constant nerves convincing me I was going to say the wrong thing. When I began school again and fractured my tibia, Prozac helped me keep my chin up despite my crushed hopes of a good cross country season.

I joined the swim team that winter and ended up being awful at every part of the sport. Nonetheless, my Prozac was there for me, keeping me from getting too down on myself in a completely new environment. It attended every swim meet, cheering me on as my goggles filled with water during my 500-yard swims. 

Of course, Prozac stuck with me through the pandemic. It helped me fill out worksheets when I had no instructions for the assignment and had no idea what would actually count towards my grade. During that strange summer when I could only see my friends and girlfriend outside and at a distance, I felt aloof from the world. Yet, the same white and green capsules sat in the same orange bottle from before the world shut down. Their normality brought me back to reality. Taking my Prozac was like entering a daily time capsule back to when things weren’t complicated by a deadly virus and the looming threat of my junior year and standardized testing approaching.

Despite my concerns, Prozac continued to help me face challenges: the ACT and SAT questions I stared at dumbfounded; the late nights in October spent writing my “Why Michigan?” essay and all the other applications; the countless senior year IB tests that would reflect all of my learning thus far; the angry customers at Dick’s Sporting Goods demanding to know why we didn’t carry Nike crew socks.

Then, in the fall of 2022, I moved on to 30 milligrams because I felt like I needed it — the static was creeping in as I dealt with the stress of being a college freshman living away from my family. The newness was getting to me.

Even with this higher dosage, there was an irking sense of fog in my mind. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, but I knew I felt off. I pushed through a stressful end to the winter semester and figured I’d return to normal once I went home. I didn’t. 

I started spiraling, worrying about what could be wrong. Maybe it was something sciencey, and the chemicals in my brain weren’t quite linking up. Or it was something psychological, and I was subconsciously dealing with the thought of growing old and dying after finishing my first year of college. Maybe it was something completely different, and no one would ever be able to figure out what was going on. Looking back, my guess is actually the second option: Uncontrollable thoughts about my mortality and the degradation of my age were starting to be more and more frequent for no real reason. The idea of growing old and dying kept popping into my mind, and my incessant anxiety would not let me ignore it. 

So, in May, I talked to my doctor and reverted to my old companion. I was done with 30mg — 20mg were officially back. In hopes of relaxing my reeling mind, I did next to nothing that month. I relaxed at home and spent time with friends and family. I was soaking up the Michigan sun, trying to find words for what I was feeling. As I swallowed my pills every day, I found myself wondering if, maybe, my Prozac was the issue. I debated going cold turkey to see how I experienced the world without the aid of the white-and-green tablet. Why else would I be feeling this never-ending dread about the inevitable march of time to my own mortality if not for a drug messing with my thoughts? 

Nonetheless, I decided to stay on Prozac. As I left to go work in Dublin for the summer, my prescription was nestled into my jam-packed suitcase. I couldn’t bring myself to leave it behind. The pills served as a reminder of home, familiarity and the American pharmaceutical industry that was mostly working for me. 

Now, it’s odd to think about the fact that I have taken Prozac nearly every morning for about five years. That’s 1,825 days; 1,825 pills. My Prozac has seen one-quarter of my life. I’ve changed for better and for worse on it. It’s traveled with me across the world, through pandemics, relationships and schools. My thoughts of my mortality have mostly subsided, surfacing only at random moments every couple of months instead of every night. Prozac has always been there for me. A pillar of stability in an ever-changing world.

I can still taste the pill mixed with a little bit of acid and bile (sorry) after taking it on an empty stomach and washing it down with an energy drink before my first class. That taste haunts me — Prozac does not taste good. It settles weirdly in my stomach, making me feel nauseous and ravished at the same time and incredibly cognizant of my esophagus. Because of Prozac, I get incredibly tired at 8 p.m., profusely sweaty when I exercise and thirsty enough to drink three liters of water daily. But it is comforting. It’s been with me for so long that I feel afraid to give it up — to nakedly experience the world again. That static may come back, and I’ll be the nervous wreck I was for all of my childhood. But this white and green pill wasn’t meant to tide my static over forever, right? Or was it? I’m not sure. For now, what’s five more years, after all?

Statement Columnist Miles Anderson can be reached at