Yes, I have heard of St John’s Wort

Lately I’ve been feeling a bit down. Actually, make that very, very down. Poor, sad, glum, down me. But don’t worry. This morning I headed to the doctor’s and asked for some pills. I got them and now I’m looking forward to feeling much, much better.

You’re probably reading this and thinking “well, that sounds perfectly reasonable”. But in case you’re not – in case you’re my mum, or my friends, or some random person I’ve just met in the street – here are a few clarifications to put your mind at rest:

  1. No, I’m not “just a bit fed-up”. “Just a bit fed-up” is the state to which I’m currently aspiring.
  2. No, I haven’t read that specific article in Cosmo/The Sunday Telegraph/My Weekly which says that actually, to cure depression all you need do is exercise/work harder/have a nice cosy chat with your nan. I have, however, read all the other ones which say the same thing. It would appear that they’re all lying.
  3. Yes, I have heard of St John’s Wort and its use as a natural treatment for depression. I have also tried it, in both pill and tea form. All in all, I believe that if St John were here now, he’d feel I’d given his wort a fair hearing.
  4. No, I am not attempting to be a sexy female fuck-up, à la Elizabeth Wurtzel in Prozac Nation. I’m too old and I can’t be arsed. Being fucked-up sounds like a lot of effort.
  5. Yes, I am worried about a Brave New World-style medicalisation of human happiness. On a philosophical level, it troubles me. But I’d worry a lot more if any of this looked remotely like becoming a reality.
  6. No, I’m not bothered about whether “depressed me” is “the real me”. Neither am I bothered about whether what we think of as “real life” is all a dream and Bobby Ewing is still in the shower. I really don’t care. I just want to feel a bit better.
  7. Yes, depression is self-indulgent if you’re middle-class, and a myth used by doctors to mask deprivation if you’re working class. Fine, whatever. In fact, no on has ever been properly depressed, except perhaps for Princess Diana.
  8. No, I haven’t been having major withdrawal since the last time I stopped taking antidepressants. No babies have crawled across my bedroom ceiling. I’ve just been feeling down. Believe me, if it was more dramatic, I’d tell you, because this is really boring.
  9. Yes, I have tried various other therapies. They are useful. I’m having pills as well, okay?
  10. No, I can’t think of a tenth point, but I’m adding this because just having nine looks uneven.

With any other form of medication, if I was taking it and it seemed to be working, I would not simply stop for no reason whatsoever. Yet I often do this with antidepressants. It’s because I don’t like “the idea” of taking them. Because I know friends and family don’t approve. Because I’m worried, still, that it means I’m stupid and gullible and haven’t found the route to non-sadness in the way that “normal” people do. Because I started taking them 16 years ago, when it was fashionable for journalists to wring their hands about Prozac and Seroxat being handed out “like Smarties” (alas no doctor has ever handed me a Smartie).

Well, anyhow, I’m getting a bit sick of this. I’ve been on the same dose of antidepressants for 16 years and actually, for me, it works. I’m starting to think that for many people, myself included, this is the annoying thing. Antidepressants shouldn’t work. It doesn’t seem fair. It offends the puritan in me. Shouldn’t we all have to drag ourselves out of suffering on our hands and knees? You shouldn’t be allowed to feel better just by taking a pill. You should be at home writing The Bell Jar, not trotting out to Sainsbury’s to buy dishwasher tablets like a “normal” person.

Alas, I’ve now taken the first pill in the packet and I’m one step further away from becoming the next Sylvia Plath. But hey, not to worry. Even if all of my non-sadness is illusory, at least I’ll have real, non-illusory clean dishes.


6 thoughts on “Yes, I have heard of St John’s Wort

  1. Ha. I’ve been on the same happy pills for 15 years and you will have to pull them from my dead, clawed hands before I will give them up. I’m lucky enough to have a doctor who understands depression and will work actively with me to control it – unlike the GP I once saw many years ago who prescribed vitamin B and a diary to deal with my moderate to severe clinical depression. Seriously.

    1. The only time I had trouble getting antidepressants was when I lived in Germany. It felt a bit like a judgement on the pathetic drugged-up English who just couldn’t hack it on St John’s Wort alone…

  2. Well there’s no way I’m giving mine up easily. I’ve tried twice & both times it was awful. There are still times I really struggle even with them. I still hate the idea that I need them but if I want to enjoy my kids & function vaguely that’s what I need to do. Thanks for writing this. I think there is still a real lack of understanding around depression & anxiety

    1. Thank you for your comment! I was worried I’d get people saying “but you’re not thinking about the long-term blah blah blah” when actually, I just wanted to say I think people really do think it through and it really can help people if they need it (and they shouldn’t be ashamed). I am glad it helps you.

  3. Jaysus, if they work, take ’em and stay taking ’em til you decide not to. No one sees insulin as an indulgence. If any of the pills worked for my depression and anxiety, I’d take them, deify them and leave everything in my will to them.

    And surely the long term is being stable, not lurching about feeling fraught and down and unhappy. That’s good for everyone. I’d be tempted though to lie and say the St John’s Wort is just tremendous if it takes the pressure off you. It’s not your job to tackle the stigma across the nation, but just to feel better. Good luck!

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