Sunday, June 10, 2007

Herbal Remedies

I really haven’t tried too many herbal remedies for depression. St. John’s Wort seems to be a popular one. I might even have heard once that it’s recognized in Germany as a “proper” drug and covered under whatever sort of health insurance system that they have.

I tried it once a couple of years ago – back when I was still toiling away in the corporate world – and found that all it seems to do was put me on edge. No, that’s not right because it sounds like I had coffee-like jitters. It made my emotions tenderer, like a new wound. And the effect was only on the negative emotions. I didn’t benefit from any super highs, no fits of uncontrollable happiness; only rage, sadness, and self pity. It was like it worsened the depression. I thought that perhaps my body just needed to adjust so I went ahead and stuck with it. But it was always temporary and negative. For the hours after my dosage I was always just on the edge of a meltdown and just about the time that that feeling would wear off it would be time for another dosage. I never experienced and overall lightening of spirit like I hoped I would. I finally stopped taking it after I got in a huge fight with a co-worker. I had indeed been inconvenienced by her but I completely overreacted. Luckily we didn’t work in the same department because I really never could look at her again.

So, what’s it all mean? Don’t take this to mean that I think that St. John’s Wort. With most things I’m a majority opinion kind of guy. If so many people find relief with it then there most be something to it. It just didn’t work for me. There’s another, somewhat conspiratorial possibility: Since the FDA doesn’t see fit to regulate herbal remedies it could be that I had a bad batch. It could be that it wasn’t St. John’s Wort at all. Maybe I was taking lawn clippings and my depression produced a predictably negative placebo effect.

I keep an herbal garden and thought I’d try growing the stuff but friends and family like to come over, point at different plants, and ask What is that? Remember, my diagnosis was depression caused by social anxiety. Think I’m willing to just grow my remedy where everyone can see? My wife knows that I’m depressed; I told her when I went to that clinic. But we never talk about it. She bought me a book once but that’s been it. Other than that I just don’t talk to anyone about it. I didn’t even tell her when I tried the St. John’s Wort. There’s not a chance that I’m going to try to grow the stuff.

The only other herbal remedy that I tried was indeed from my garden. I cracked my copy of Rodale’s Illustrated Encyclopedia to Herbs and read up on everything that I was already growing. It turned out that quite a few of my culinary herbs were also traditional remedies for depression or melancholy. I went to the local health food store and bought a couple of cups of bulk green tea then harvested large amounts of the alleged happy herbs – I can’t remember all of the herbs that I used but I know that rosemary and lavender were among them. (I know lavender isn’t culinary. It’s my only none culinary herb. I just love the look and smell of it.) I mixed them with the green tea leaves and started drinking the tea.

It tasted absolutely horrible. I’m making a face as I write this at the memory. Nothing I did to it could make it taste better. In the end I drank it with lots of honey. The honey didn’t take the taste away – with enough honey it just made the tea taste like honey and something horrible - though it did manage to make it a bit more drinkable. But here’s the thing: I really made me feel happier - content, really. For a couple of hours after choking down a pot of the stuff I really did feel better. I actually still have quite a lot of the stuff and I’ve almost thrown it out a few times but can’t bring myself to because it really does help. Unfortunately I also can’t bring myself to drinking it, either.

So, I started writing this post with the idea that I would announce a decision to try St. John’s Wort again – the thinking being that now I work at home I’ll give it another try. But why turn my back on the tea? I think that I’ll try to start drinking it again. I’m pretty sure that the green tea is a big part of what I don’t like about it. I will go to the store and find a different base like plain black tea and mix up some more of the stuff. Or maybe I will try it with just the herbs and no tea leaves. Some rose hips, dried apple or cranberries might just give it the lift that it needs. (I will also do a better job this time of cleaning the herbs. Part of the problem is that there is a bit on dirt on some of the leaves where I didn’t clean them very well. There’s nothing worse than getting dirt in your teeth when you drink a cup of tea.)

The only problem with this is that it is a temporary fix. One day of me not feeling like having my tea or being out of town could spin me right down into the depths again. If my problem is a chemical imbalance as Big Pharm would have us all believe then whatever remedy I find needs to be maintained. But if it’s all in my mind, as opposed to the physical brain, then using the temporary fix of a chemical high from herbs on most days could be enough to bring about the right kind of change in my overall disposition.

Tea it is, then. For now I’ll choke down the nasty stuff until I have a chance to go to the store and mix up some more. I’ll let you know how it goes.


James said...

Hi anonymous blogger,

Firstly I wish you all the best with your blog. Writing is great therapy for many people. I hope it provides some of the same for you.

You may have been hoping that no-one would find you here, but I have, so you will have to suffer some unsolicited advice!

St John's Wart is a mild anti-depressant that is apparently helpful for some people (not all) with mild to moderate depression. It has had mixed reviews. If it didn't do much for you then you're probably in the majority.

It is widely agreed that antidepressants and cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) are the most effective treatments, although neither are suitable in every case. I don't know whether CBT is unpalatable to you as well as medicines.

In my (humble) opinion anyone with depression will benefit greatly from routine - plenty of sleep, exercise and minimal stress - that kind of thing. These are especially helpful for preventing new episodes.

There are things like Vitamin B supplements and Omega 3 capsules, that can correct a diet deficiency that contributes to depression, but these are also "enhancement" type strategies that are unlikely to turn things around completely. Then there are dozens of other things that will help for some but not others - acupuncture, animal therapy, ecotherapy, ginkgo biloba, music, yoga,...if it helps you relax then you could add it to the list.

There is no reason to be ashamed of depression. I've told practically everyone in my church that I have bipolar and it hasn't made any difference to the way I've been treated at all. In fact about half a dozen people now talk to me about their depression, which I didn't know about before, including a couple of my good friends.

A long comment I know. I didn't mean it to be a sermon. Delete it if you like. All the very best.


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