title changes

“Yeah, adaptogens are super hip right now,” I say to this, that, and the other person, my sarcasm regularly overcoming diplomacy. Now that wellness is in, they’re trending. And through no fault of their own, just by the nature of their popularity, I have begun to secretly hate them.

I find distaste in anything being touted by the mass media, especially brands – things with labels. An ongoing trend of my own: if it’s fashionable, upcoming, or current, it probably makes me gag. Not sure where it comes from, maybe it’s wanting to be punk, maybe it’s jealousy. And to other people, mostly, it’s just annoying. When I really think about it in the case of adaptogens, it makes me sad. It’s not rhodiola’s fault that it’s been bestowed this title, or ashwagandha or schisandra or poor sweet little reishi. It isn’t their wrongdoing that the well-trained little capitalists in this country slapped aesthetically pleasing, pastel stickers on them, and touted them as the next coming savior (at least in the wellness category).

It’s humans who do that. We’re the ones obsessed with identifying and classifying. We’re preoccupied with labels, identifying factors, diagnostic tools, shades of skin, sexual preferences and checkboxes. Self identity is everything – because without it, how do you distinguish the other? And without other how do we define what parts are us and what parts are them; what parts are good and what parts are evil?

The last two months have held, for me, a number of title shifts. In May I officially graduated from my three year herbalism program and on June 1st I signed a marriage certificate. No longer a student and now a wife, I’ve spent the past two months chewing on the meaning and value of these words. Is my ten year relationship now finally valid? Does no longer being a student grant me a greater sense of authority? To my chagrin, I’ve found that in a strange way, yes.

But I like to think it’s limited to those around me.

Example: we received our first piece of mail addressed to “Mr. and Mrs. Husband’s Name” a few weeks ago. In choosing to enter into marital bliss, I had absolutely no intention of changing my last name, and even less intention of sacrificing my entire identity to Mr. Husband. My partner and I still split finances in exactly the same way as we did a month ago, we still share the same inside jokes, we still argue in the same way. But for the addressor of said envelope, for some reason we are now understood to be one in the same person. As if I am now Eve, but actually still part of Adam. By marrying, we somehow have reverted to life in the garden of eden pre rib-removal.

Example #2: The admin at our school recently asked for graduates to send in their bio and headshot to include as a resource for community members seeking herbalists. In reality, in my work with clients I live in perpetual fear that I’m not good enough. Maybe I’m not seeing the situation clearly, or I’m not listening closely as I should. I always have more questions than answers, and I long to be able to call myself a student again.* But now that I hold a single piece of paper, my bio can be included on some sort of internet wall of those deemed worthy. 

In essence, the current popularity of adaptogens is a reflection of just how deeply depleted our culture is. People wake up exhausted, hardly able to make it through the workday. People are so tired, their bodies aren’t even able to sleep. Decades on end of perpetual low-grade stress, deadlines, and obscene florescent overhead lighting have rendered us unable to face life’s stressors with our own bodies. We have a country full of people seeking to feel whole again, healthy again, happy again, maybe even safe again. We seek something from the outside to help us adapt to this strange life we’ve created.

All my love to reishi, I don’t believe cozying up to the right adaptogen is going to solve the problem. To truly address the emptiness, the deep fatigue we’re facing, we need to turn these questions on their head. Why do we feel compelled to label this or that as the one thing holding us back from our best selves. Shouldn’t we be asking why we feel compelled to live life in that particular way to begin with? Why we even value the things, ideas, money, and lifestyle that for some reason we do? I wonder this: would we need adaptogens if we didn’t live in a culture that glorified work? Or wealth? Or lack of sleep? Or youth? Or physical beauty?

Even though the paperwork is signed, I still carry all three of my given names and even though I’ve officially graduated I still carry the anxiety that has always embodied my self. Yes, all these roots and berries and fungi might help to refill depleted resources, but that doesn’t make them all the same. They each have their own little personalities and quirks, their own unique way of interacting with each individual body who ingests them. To diagnose the problem isn’t the same as being cured, and I feel like inserting a title often just generates more questions.


*“Aren’t we all students of life?” A friend recently texted. It gave me a good laugh and also peace and hope.