February 28, 2000
Kava Kava, Everywhere


My pal Joanne stopped me in the hallway one day last week, as I was ferrying an armload of expense reports from one end of the Totem Pole Company to the other.

"You seem so calm these days," she said approvingly. "I like it."

I didn't bother pointing out to her that I had enough St. John's Wort floating around in my bloodstream, that afternoon, to tranquilize a moose.  (She reads the website anyway, so she already knows about The Great Herbal-Remedy Experiment.) I simply accepted the compliment for what it was: acknowledgement that my efforts to stabilize myself emotionally are starting to show results.

It's one thing to feel stronger and better and calmer on the inside: it's quite another thing to have somebody validate it. Especially somebody like Joanne, who gets her own daily dose of Franz ... and who understands exactly what I'm up against, day after day.

So ... I might be on the right track after all with the St. John's Wort.

In the meantime, a handful of readers have written to me lately about another herbal remedy, Kava Kava.

You know how it is when somebody tells you about something you've never ever heard of -- like, say, cavatappi pasta -- and then, for the next little while, you see cavatappi absolutely everywhere you look?

It's been that way with Kava Kava, for me.

I had never even heard of it until a month or so ago, when Daughters #1 and #2 were visiting us. During one of their boy-hunting expeditions to Berkeley, a street vendor managed to talk them out of $6.00 in exchange for a bag of Kava Kava powder. The vendor told my oh-so-susceptible teenage daughters that Kava Kava was "a great legal high."  An "alcohol replacement with no hangover!", according to the package.

(And yes, I know. I clearly have my work cut out for me here.)


That night they excitedly whipped up the Kava Kava "shake" in our blender, and we all took an obliging swallow.  It tasted like the stuff we used to put our dog's skin rash. I dumped mine down the sink, and immediately wrote Kava Kava off as just a bunch of Berkeley street vendor hooey, and didn't think another thing about it ...

... until my readers started writing to me about it last week. Now all of a sudden I see Kava Kava everywhere I go -- in drugstores, in TV commercials, on websites.

"A wonderful, calming, safe to use herb," wrote my new pal Judy.

"I like it because it helps me relax at the end of the day without feeling drugged or stupid," said another reader.

Naturally, the first thing I did was hop onto the Internet to do a little research. "Recent clinical studies have shown that the herb kava is a safe nonaddictive anti-anxiety medicine," says the Herbal Information Center website, " and as effective as prescription anxiety agents containing benzodiazepines such as valium. While benzodiazepines tend to promote lethargy and mental impairment, kava has been shown to improve concentration, memory, and reaction time for people suffering from anxiety. Kava has been clinically demonstrated as a means of achieving a state of relaxation without the adverse side effects."

Wow. Sounds good to me.

So even though "relaxing at night" has never been the issue for me -- that's why they invented sex, ice cream and Must-See TV -- I decided to give Kava Kava a try. David and I stopped at Long's Drugs on Thursday night, on the way home from work, and I bought a box of Kava Kava tablets, plus a little bottle of elixir.

I drank the elixir that night, per the instructions, right before bed. It tasted even worse than the girls' blender experiment had tasted, if that's possible. Plus it left my lips and mouth completely numb, as though I'd just had a big Anbesol Milkshake.


Friday morning I swallowed a couple of the Kava Kava tablets along with my morning juice and toast. This was on top of my regular 900 mg. of SJW the night before. I felt just fine until mid-afternoon, when all of a sudden all of the energy seemed to whooooooosh right out of me ... like somebody poking a hole in a balloon. I felt depleted and quivery and vaguely nauseous. It reminded me of high school, when my girlfriends and I would take triple doses of Dexatrim, just for the speedy effect. After work I went home and went straight to bed, sinking into a black, coma-like nap that lasted until David got home.

Saturday I threw the box of Kava Kava into the far reaches of the desk drawer, and went back to straight St. John's Wort.

And that's where I am today.

It's been exactly three weeks since I started taking the SJW in earnest. Some of the newer research I did, over the weekend, suggests that it takes 4-6 weeks to really see results. (Sigh. First it was "two weeks" ... then it was "three weeks" ... now it's "4-6 weeks.")  But that's fine. I'm committed to this experiment. I'll stick with it for as long as it takes.

Here's the thing, though.

I don't want to become obsessive about this stuff. I don't want to become one of those people who lugs around eight bazillion different bottles of This Vitamin & That Supplement all the time, and who makes a big show of spreading them out across her desk at work, and who stands in the office kitchen and goes through this whole big production number whenever it's time to take another stoopid pill.

I don't want to become the crashing bore who talks (or thinks, or writes) about nothing but how her herbal remedies are making her "feel."

And -- most especially -- I don't want to become dependent on anything that comes out of a bottle -- ANY kind of bottle -- to make me feel *good* or *better* or even simply *normal.*

All I want to do is find a way to keep myself from grinding my teeth down into those little pointy stubs every day. At least, as long as I'm working for Franz.

So I'm trying to approach this whole thing with common sense. And right now, common sense tells me to stick with the St. John's Wort -- and only the St. John's Wort -- for another few weeks. Just until I finish the recommended first cycle of useage, and can decide for myself whether or not it's making a difference, and whether or not I should keep taking it. I'm not going to mix it with any other herbal remedies or vitamins or magic potions. I realize that Kava Kava, by itself, would probably be a perfectly reasonable option ... and maybe someday I'll try it again, all by itself. But in the meantime I'm a one-herb-woman. If I start feeling better, I want to know for sure that it's the SJW that's doing the trick, and not some random miraculous mix of stuff that I'll never be able to duplicate.

And I'm going to continue exploring all of the othermethods of staying calm at work, just in case this St. John's Wort stuff turns out to be a bunch of Berkeley street vendor hooey. Like getting more sleep, and eating the chunks of broken plaster every morning instead of the Cookie Crisp with Extra M&M's, and making a point of getting away from my desk (and out of voicemail range) a few times every day.

Or like keeping my résumé updated.

self-important blurb #1 will go HERE:
"For centuries, Samoan natives of the South Sea Islands have used kava kava, in their ceremonies, to produce an exceedingly relaxed euphoria. Taken at night this product may invoke a deep restful sleep with clear, epic-length dreams."

[editor's note: think they have The Teeth Falling Out In My Hand dream?]

self-important blurb #2 -- probably having something to do with the WEATHER: gray. cloudy. cool. blahh.

a year ago

here's where i'll ask a *relevant* question:
whut the hell is cavatappi, anyway?
more importantly: do they sell it in berkeley?

amazingly profound thought of the day:
Murray: "A whole bottle of pills! My God, get an ambulance!"
Oscar Madison: "Wait a minute, will ya?! We don't even know what kind!"
Murray: "What difference does it make?! He took a whole bottle!"
Oscar Madison: "Well, maybe they were vitamins! He could be the healthiest one in the room!"