A woman we shall call Elaine first came for a homeopathic consultation a number of years ago. A teacher and artist in her 50's, she had struggled with depression for nearly her entire life, along with bouts of severe insomnia when she would go sleepless for days. A few years earlier, she had seen another homeopath who had been able to help her to a certain degree. But since Elaine had moved out of the area and was still prone to frequent relapses, the homeopath suggested she consult with someone else.
As with any general diagnosis or condition, the term 'depression' in itself is too broad a term to have much value as a useful homeopathic diagnosis unless the underlying experiences, history and personal characteristics related to it are fully understood. Each person has a unique set of symptoms - in the case of depression, this means thoughts, triggers, behaviors and accompanying physical manifestation - that define the nature of this particular depression and points towards the most appropriate treatment.
That said, it took me awhile to fully understand Elaine's condition from a homeopathic perspective. As with her earlier treatment, the remedies I first prescribed, although definitely helpful, were not long lasting in their effect. She was still prone to frequent relapses of despair and sleeplessness.
But much to her credit, we persevered through these up and downs until a more deep acting remedy was found. Looking back in hindsight, the indications for this remedy were present from the very beginning - really from the very first words she uttered at the first consultation.
In fact, it is not unusual that a patient will offer the clues to his or her remedy in the first minutes of a consultation. Whether or not the homeopath has the insight to perceive that is a different matter. In this case, when we first began working together, she needed a remedy that at the time was somewhat unusual and not well known to me.
Although Elaine had an altogether pleasant, gentle demeanor, what came up over and over again in the consultation was a profound sense of loneliness and a desperation that it would never change. She had gone through her life feeling isolated from others, describingerself as an alien or a vampire.
Speaking through alternating smiles and tears, she related how "there is a way in which I just don't connect with others. It is impossible for me, a permanent state of being.... People ask me if I'm married or have children and it makes me feel like I'm from another planet... There is nobody I love or can be loved by...I'm shut off from the normal experiences of being a human being."
The loneliness extended to her professional life where she was unable to develop a sense of belonging or community. Elaine had moved numerous times, but no decisions on a professional or personal level ever seemed to work out. Repeatedly she expressed how she had screwed up in life and no longer had the self-confidence to move forward. "Something is deeply wrong with me."
As a child, Elaine recalled being a "good kid, maybe too good", trying to please her mother who had a propensity to scream and criticize her. "The people who loved me communicated I was bad... They were hurtful and unsupportive... I was so afraid of the anger and always trying to run around to fix things for them." She had vivid memories of waking at night in terror, not of monsters or the dark as many children might, but of an insurmountable sense of being alone, that there was nobody to go to and that it would never change.
In contrast, Elaine felt a strong connection to animals. Her favorite leisure activity was to be in nature and watch for them. She commonly dreamt of animals - birds that turned out to be mechanical, cats that follow her around causing her to worry whether they'll be able to survive on their own, helping a porcupine get safely across a road, and one where she wrestled an alligator. There were also repetitive anxiety dreams of racing to the airport but not knowing the way or of trying to figure out where she is in an unknown city.
She had a habit of overeating, 'to fill the void in my life', with a strong inclination for chocolate. Interestingly, this one sentence in a sense summarizes her entire case.
In the early 1990's, Jeremy Sherr, an Israeli homeopath who has done experimental research - what are termed 'provings' in homeopathy - on a number of valuable homeopathic remedies, conducted a proving of homeopathically prepared chocolate. Subsequently, it has become an important addition to the materia medica, that is, the body of knowledge related to homeopathic medicines. This is the remedy that has provided deep, sustained benefits for Elaine.
The main ingredient of chocolate, cocoa comes from a bean that is the seed of the tropical evergreen tree theobroma cacao, otherwise known as the cacao or cocoa tree. A relative of the cotton and okra, it belongs to the Malvaceae or Mallow family.
A common thread that runs through homeopathic remedies from the Malvaceae as well as the larger order of plants, the Malvales, to which it belongs, is a sense of separation from others or conversely feelings of love, warmth and affection. This is what is called an axis of sensitivity or action in homeopathy. The case of persons needing a remedy from this order will often focus on feelings of being separate, alone, isolated, lacking love and its opposite.
Chocolate, in particular, has the feeling of a child prematurely separated from her mother while the need to suck at her mother's breast was still very strong. This early separation from the mother gives rise to the experience of estrangement from the entire world. As in the case of Elaine, it lasts well beyond infancy, becoming a lifelong state of being.
People needing this remedy also exhibit strong cravings for chocolate and have an affinity for animals, often dreaming of them as well.
It is interesting how the homeopathic perspective parallels the popular notion of chocolate as a symbol of love and its commercialization as in Valentines Day. It also provides an interesting way of looking at the strong cravings or outright addictions for chocolate that has become so common. Sherr notes that more than the notion of romantic love normally associated with chocolate, it is the sensual experience of the texture, smoothness, warmth - the 'melting in the mouth' qualities associated with breast feeding and motherly love - that the true chocolate enthusiast values.
In the time since Elaine began treatment with Chocolate, her insomnia and depression have largely disappeared. Just as significantly, she has entered into a relationship that by all appearances is providing her with the love and intimacy that was so lacking before.