Updated photo of turmeric tea and my Untamed writing journal

How turmeric accidentally treated my depression

It started with a box of tea. Ginger, my evening go-to, was out of stock on Walmart’s website and rather than make a store run (an introvert’s nightmare) or go without (and suffer the inevitable dizziness that would follow–no thanks), I opted for a box of ginger and turmeric tea, which had positive reviews and was about the same price.

It didn’t brew up as strong as my regular ginger tea, but it was pleasant enough, a rich orange like the color of an egg yolk. I drank it nightly and didn’t think any more about it.

I had a realization one morning, about halfway through the box. My mood had been level for at least a week. I was shocked because my mood is rarely level. Positive, yes. I have great days. Strings of them. But there is always a dark shadow beneath the surface.

I should back up. Starting in my mid-teens, I began to experience signs of depression. I won’t document them, but suffice to say I’ve experienced the range from garden-variety sadness to daily suicidal ideation, and I had a long bout with self harm—now thirteen years behind me. I ask myself daily, “On a scale of one to ten, where is your depression today?” Four is my usual baseline, two is a phenomenal day, nine means leaning on years of learned coping methods and promising myself that things will be better in the morning.

But a week had passed and that meter hadn’t gone above a one. If you’d forced me to give it a number, it was zero. I can’t remember the last time it was at zero.

My thirty-seventh birthday, back in February, had been one of the worst days I’d had in years. It had registered a strong nine, flirting with ten. I’d stayed at my sister’s house because I was worried about being alone. I don’t act on impulses anymore, but I hadn’t wanted to push it. Now, just a few months later, it was just…gone. Those dark, weighted feelings that had followed me for over half my life—I couldn’t find them. It’s like they’d been erased. I didn’t feel like crying. And assuming it was a blessed good span, I got a few high-stress tasks done (like taxes!) and waited for the darkness to come back.

It’s been almost a month, and I’ve had a single bad afternoon: a four, cased by the PMS that usually drives me to an eight for days.

I analyzed recent changes I’d made, because I knew something had to be causing this. Depression doesn’t just clear up like the weather. There were three:

  • I’d fallen in love with a new novel
  • I’d started working on a stalled book again
  • I drank tea with turmeric in it every night

I’ve read plenty of books and write constantly, so it didn’t make sense that either of the first two could be responsible for what I assumed was a chemical change in my brain. So I Googled “turmeric and depression.”

Maybe that’s how you landed on this post.

Here’s the TL;DR version: turmeric contains the active compound curcumin, which several controlled trials have shown to be effective in treating depression.

Here’s a 2014 study about the efficacy of curcumin in treating major depressive disorder vs. and in conjunction with fluoxetine (Prozac). Spoiler: They’re equally effective

Here’s a 2017 study looking at turmeric and saffron.

Please Google for more of these if you’re interested.

I’m not part of a controlled trial, so I cannot say that turmeric is absolutely what treated my depression. I wasn’t even ingesting a lot of it—just as much as fits in a little tea bag. But it is the only thing I can attribute the change to, and since I’ve continued to take it, I’ve had no more depressive episodes.

My head is clear. My head has never been this clear, not for as long as I can remember. Things that would usually bother me are rolling off like rain on an umbrella. I’m not in a fog anymore. I don’t feel that second version of myself that always seems to be lurking, waiting to overtake me. I’m at zero. Even late at night, when it would usually creep up, there’s nothing there. I wake up happy. I got to bed happy. It’s not the false, skimmed-over happiness of a good day or a glass of wine. I feel this all the way to my core. The darkness is gone.

I’ve upgraded my turmeric ginger tea (which I’ve restocked, despite it being sad in the ginger category) to golden milk, which is a blend of turmeric, ginger (yay!), cinnamon, and black pepper (you can’t taste it) stirred into hot milk like a latte. I use almond milk. You could stick it in coffee. Stir it into rice. I buy DelighTeas Ayurvedic Golden Milk Latte, but you can make your own with a trip to the grocery store.

The stuff’s delicious, and I say this as a hot chocolate enthusiast. I’ve substituted this for my daily winter hot chocolate for two weeks and don’t care. I feel so good, you could take chocolate from me permanently and I don’t think I’d cry.

Turmeric is also available in supplement form, but I’ve never tried those so can’t recommend one versus another.

If you’re thinking about trying turmeric, I’ll give you the disclaimer that you probably shouldn’t take medical advice from a graphic designer. Talk to your doctor if you’ve been diagnosed with depression and are already on medication. Educate yourself about possible side effects.

I wouldn’t have discovered this if Walmart had had my regular tea in stock. Have you ever wanted to hug a website?

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