When the Sword of Damocles Disappears

I’ve been taking St. John’s Wort for three months.

I had several panic attacks recently. I’ve always had issues with seasonally-affected depressive episodes and anxiety, and lately I’ve been experiencing a lot of work stress, exacerbating these issues. I meditate semi-regularly, but I found I couldn’t even sit zazen with the amount of anxiety I had been experiencing.

Friends had recommended the herbal remedy years ago; when it was getting too burdensome, I decided to give it a shot. I suspect I’ve had a chemical imbalance since I was in high school, so a pharmacological treatment isn’t out of the question.

It’s helped quite a bit. There’s still a lingering well of anxiety below the surface, but it isn’t the rising tide that it had been lately. I feel, for lack of a better term, more stable than before. Thankfully, it hasn’t dampened my other emotions, although I feel a bit more weepy than I used to and I laugh more readily.

Yet now there’s a problem. A lot of my motivation had been fear- and anxiety-driven. “Don’t eat that cake, or you’ll get fat and no one will love you!” “You’d better pay that bill or you’ll be homeless and miserable!” With that motivator significantly diminished, a lot of my habits have no stick or carrot to keep going.

That’s not to say I still don’t have deep-seated fears. I don’t want to be overweight — I’m 240 pounds at almost 6′ high, which is obese — but the pressure of anxiety that would make me eat pickles for dinner if I went over my calorie diet is gone. The fear of obesity just seems more distant, and I cheat more often than I should as a result.

Without the stick of anxiety, I need to find the carrot. I’m reduced to starting with simplistic positive reinforcement for now — “stay under 2000 calories and you’ll get a fruit bar!” — but it’s a start. I seem to do okay with delayed gratification, so long as it doesn’t an emotional crutch, such as food, sadly.

Surprisingly, I haven’t needed much motivation to write. Ancillary tasks — writing “chores” — still need a bit of positive motivation to get done, but the act of putting words to screen is motivation enough.

I hope my self-medication continues to work. Finding those new sources of motivation will mean some things will be ignored or delayed, but anxiety is too harsh a taskmaster for most things.