The internet is absolutely littered with stories on how anti-depressants have changed lives, saved marriages, saved lives actually, given people back their freedom, made it easier to get up in the morning, etc, etc, etc.
Less prevalent are the stories from people who used anti-depressants for a specified period in time before successfully weaning themselves off it again. Actually, one of the best of these stories that I've come across so far came not from the internet, but from a book I've been reading in the last little while.
You guys might have heard of it. It's a little novel called, Eat, Pray, Love.
Now I haven't seen the movie, so I have no idea how much depth the adaptation goes into about this portion of the novel, but this passage right here struck me:
"I never relaxed into taking those drugs, though they helped immediately. It never mattered who told me these medications were a good idea and perfectly safe; I always felt conflicted about it. Those drugs were a part of my bridge to the other side, there's no question about it, but I wanted to be off them as soon as possible. I'd started taking the medication in January of 2003. By May, I was already diminishing my dosage significantly ... Those pills might have saved my life, but they did so only in conjunction with about twenty other efforts I was making simultaneously during that same period to rescue myself, and I hope to never have to take such drugs again." (Eat, Pray Love, p. 54)
It was something I noticed on Sunday night: nowhere could I find a story of someone who'd taken St John's wort for the mild depression I'd read it suggested for. Now, of course this doesn't mean nobody's ever tried it with successful results, no more than the same lack of online stories telling of people getting off anti-depressants. Just this morning, I saw my last post was reposted on Tumblr by someone else who had also taken St John's wort and another person Tweeted me that they're getting off the anti-depressants right now.
But still, a fleshed out experience somewhat closer to my own, something to give me an idea of what to prepare for (if anything!) would have been nice so, here it goes:
I honestly don't know if I even expected this to work.
I mean, the link I posted last time listed St John's wort as greater than a placebo, but less than an actual anti-depressant. Well, that's maddeningly helpful. Where, exactly, does this herbal remedy fit on that fairly broad scale?
Still, I was game. I bought my little bottle in it's small paper bag, took my first tablet with a glass of water and followed it with dinner half an hour later, as directed.
Actually, 'as directed' is three individual tablets of 2000mg each day 30 minutes before a meal. There are a couple of problems I had with this. Not the smallest one of which: I don't wake up in the morning 30 minutes before I head off to work. It's more like 10. Why on earth would I eat into my perfectly good solid sleeping time each morning? So that put before the morning meal off the table. More importantly, 900mg was the least suggested dosage I found suggested to take an effect for mild depression. Okay, I thought to myself. 900mg may not be the right dosage for me, but I haven't tried anything like this before, and maybe doubling the recommended dosage per day might be a good first place to start, rather than multiplying it by more than six?
Even so, I was making the decision to lower the recommended dosage on the bottle by three and it was just a herbal remedy. On top of that, I had read the expected time to wait for effects to stabilise was a couple of weeks at least.
I really wasn't expecting much more than the placebo end of the scale. But as soon as I took the first tablet on Sunday night I felt much more calm, like I was taking a good solid step on the path to helping myself.
Monday (Day 2, for those who are keeping track), I took the second of my 2000mg tablets. And a strange thing happened to me. Three strange things, actually, which was what made me sit up and pay attention.
The first was a duality that occurred between my thoughts and my bodily response. It was lunch time, and I was with friends who are known (and loved) for their tendency towards disorganisation. We were meant to be having lunch together, but they weren't ready quite yet. This went on for an hour. Usually, when it comes up to a meal and something is making me miss it, that makes me cranky. It's because of this that I previously had blood tests done to see if this was something to do with my blood sugar levels. Nothing showed up then, and this was the first time I actually believed it. For the first time in what seemed like months, I simply observed that I would kind of like to be having lunch now. With no more bodily reaction to go along with the thought, I continued reading my book. There was no tension in my body, no agitation, restlessness or bad mood that usually accompanies that thought. And, sure enough, by around 2.30pm we were having lunch without further issue.
The second occurrence was a minor irritation at a social engagement that night. I remember a moment of feeling disappointed at something that was said, frowning but then, inexplicitly, a feeling came to me that it would just be more trouble than it was worth to really get annoyed by this. The issue was fairly minor, and I wasn't particularly emotionally invested in the cause of irritation. (This might on its own be obvious by the fact that two days later I don't even remember what this source of irritation was...) The moment passed, but it had got me thinking.
The third and last time on Monday was a sexual instance. This is an issue in most talks to do with depression and treatment of it. Because of that, I felt this account would be incomplete if I left this out. When it came to the end of Monday, I was with my partner and, I regret to say, I was less engaged than is usually the case. In this instance, my body reactions were exactly as normal, but there was an emotional barrier that I just couldn't pierce through. My partner described me as 'eerily calm'.
Unfortunately, this triggered me right in the fear place (too much like anti-depressants; it's swallowing up my sex drive, next it will kill every single one of my writing muses!!) and before my Tuesday tablet, I got him to cut a couple of them in half for me, effectively halving the dose from 2000mg to 1000mg: only 100mg over the originally recommended 900mg daily dose.
I am sorry to say, Tuesday and today (Day 3 and 4) have not been so easy for me. Both days have also involved stressors from work and time in hospitals. (Things I have learned: I am not at all interested in having an MRI scan. If, after all, I must have an MRI scan, it is going to have to be in a private hospital, because those places don't have the white walls and florescent lights that scare the bejesus out of me.)
Tonight, after three hours in a public hospital in the middle of the city for something that was only supposed to take 40 minutes, I gave in and took another half dose of the St John's wort. The last thing I wanted was to be a complete bear to my fiancee who, it turns out, had taken care to ensure there was a full table spread of antipasto foods all ready for me the minute I got home. (Awwwwww.)
Whereas, before the tablet, I had stood in front of the mirror in the girl's toilet in the white-washed hospital and told myself not to cry, after the tablet, I stood up with a straighter back, found a smile from somewhere (I suspect it was hiding at the bottom of my bag) and, most importantly, I managed to offer that smile as well as tender words of thanks and love to my darling boy whose attention combined to make things much better.
In conclusion, not a conclusive result as yet. Whether placebo or not, the St John's wort seems to be doing more good than harm and, even if it's just in my head, it's giving me a bit of breathing space right now when I sorely need it.