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Bottling it up: time taken with st john wort

What is it with particularly bad, black times? Sometimes bad things come along like buses, everything is going nicely then suddenly out of nowhere the pressure cranks up, things you thought you could always rely on start crumbling away. It was a particularly bad time then. My gran had died peacefully in March, followed by my cousin very prematurely a few months later. I was working, but the job(s) were stressful and my employers expected too much of me. I kept quiet and got in with, as many of us do. But it was when my fiancee’s dad died from a protracted battle with cancer by the autumn of that year that things got too hard to hold together.

Friends and family knew my story, or enough of it anyway. They asked if I needed help and largely I said “No, I’m alright thanks” and brushed them off. I can get on with it. Simple. The cool, confident type. He’d been a heavy alcoholic, which probably masked other problems, either way he’d been a huge and negative presence in her life and hence in mine. I was organising the funeral, I just needed something to get through whilst working, whilst keeping together our lives, myself, and everyone else.

In these times of difficulty you start taking on the burdens of the whole world. And so I’d heard about St John’s Wort, a herb recommended informally for mild-moderate depression and sleep problems. A coping device without having to explain my life-story to a sceptical GP. St John’s Wort is pretty common. Reasonably priced, popular in Germany, comes in pill, available in many health food shops, backed largely by anecdotal evidence, e.g. friends who told me to sort my head out when I kept getting wasted and losing it. I was drinking a lot but got through it. Three times a day, bottled up.

But the job didn’t get less stressful – they were impressed at how well I coped under pressure and piled on more responsibilities. Money problems increased for lots of small boring reasons which added to the pressure. 18 months later I was still bottling it up, three times a day. I’ve heard that one in five Londoners apparently suffers from a mental health problem, and that these days you can find traces of prozac in the tap water, but you always think it happens to someone else. It seems like the easier and safer option at the time though to keep quiet and get on with it, don’t bother anyone, I’ll be alright in the end, I’ll get through it. We’re all cool. How many more people are doing exactly the same thing? I have no ideas. But either way, the causes and circumstances of what makes life feel so hard go unaddressed. It bottles it up, but doesn’t really solve anything.

So 18 months later, I’d tried making positive changes in my life – drink less, exercise more (10k runs etc), leave my job and try one of my life ambitions for a year with the money I’d saved from working. I stopped the heavy self-dosage without telling anyone (I hadn’t even told anyone I’d started taking the stuff, and had been hiding the St John’s Wort inside innocuous pots of cod liver oil tablets). Very quickly life got very tough again – I was losing my temper, finding it pretty difficult to do normal things and ‘get on with it’, and so I was drinking a lot, getting wasted a lot, going out of control.

You’re probably wondering where the solution or moral of the story kicks in. Well St John’s Wort is routinely self-prescribed to manage rather than resolve feeling down. Until we (and that means me too) start learning how to lean on our mates when we’re feeling down, and let others be there for us in the way that we’d always try to be there for a bro, then the circle of problems will continue. Stuck in the cool self-sufficient superhero mould, secretly messed-up. I know what advice I’d give myself. In trying to keep in control and keep it all together, we’re slowly unravelling. I’m going to try though. St John’s Wort bottles it up, takes the venom out of feeling bad. For a few months, it’s very effective. I’ve used it throughout my teens sporadically when stressed out or fed up over exams, or being skint and feeling like life’s going nowhere. It’s better than other things. But St John’s Wort shouldn’t be taken for life, not to mask other problems.

Kenny Augustus is a musician from north London.

If you’re also taking St. John’s Wort, be sure to check any side-effects and get advice before you do so. If you think you’re suffering from anxiety, depression, alcohol problems or anything else Kenny mentions, talk to CALM, and consider getting support from a medical professional.

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Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article or in the comments below, are not those held by CALM or its Trustees unless stated, and liability cannot be accepted for such comments. We encourage friendly and constructive debate, but please don't share personal contact details when commenting and exercise caution when considering any advice offered by others. We don’t allow abusive, offensive or inappropriate comments or comments that could be interpreted as libellous, defamatory or commercial and we will remove these without warning as and when we find them.

2 Responses to this article

  1. The effects of St Johns Wort are doubtful overall (a lot of research into it has challenged its usefulness).

    BUT.. I noticed that the willingness to take on the issues and even if treatment is using a placebo; the willingness to exercise, focus on healthier happier living and getting back on track are the key things. Basically whatever works.

    For me it’s cutting out drink, exercise and getting hugs from people that matter. Oh and sleeping a lot more at the right time. For example not being awake at 0130am like I am now.

    You’re not alone, lots of positive support.

    Martin 7th December 2011 at 1:32 am
  2. What a beautiful, heartfelt posting. I am so rooting for you to keep going and keep finding the positive. I have a loving affirmation I put on my kitchen cabinet:
    I trust, I accept, I let go. Knowing that everything always works perfectly for me.
    I say it everyday, a couple times a day and especially when I become afraid. It really works and it’s not hogwash. Our brains are capable of sending us positive messages and bathing us in hope and peace if we allow it. But if we do nothing but think negative thoughts…what do we expect but negativity to keep drowning us. So keep your chin up and a smile on your face. Fake it till you make it. It works. I have been through a lot of ups and downs in my life. I am 55. It does get better! Yes, lean on others, get help with therapy, stay away from the crutches of booze/drugs/gambling etc.
    I love that you quit the job that was doing you no good. I actually stopped doing a career that I had been doing for 30+ years (various places), because it was just a stressful career and it was killing me. I ended up pursuing a totally different career and one that was more freeform. While I’m still on a journey and the last one did not work out…I was better prepared to walk away because I was too nice of a person to be treated the way they treated me. So my message is that over time, you start to see how you DO love yourself and take care of YOU. And then it becomes easier to allow the Universe to speak to you and place you where you need to be. It is ever evolving. You will be ok and you are so very loved <3

    Kathleen 23rd March 2012 at 3:03 pm

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