Looking back on all the consultations I’ve given over the years, there are some that stick in my mind as being especially instructive – where I learned something new or had a particular insight into the homeopathic process. One such case occurred about 10 years ago at a time when there was a great deal of excitement amongst a certain segment of the profession about some novel ideas about the relationship between the patient and the ‘simillimum’ - the remedy most reflecting his or her inner state.
When we met, the patient, a woman I’ll call Eliza, had recently been to see a physician complaining of feeling inordinately fatigued and subsequently been diagnosed with an underactive thyroid. There was nothing unusual about either the diagnosis or the main presenting symptoms. Hypothyroidism, especially amongst women, is common – one could almost say epidemic in the modern world, and, low energy is perhaps the premier symptom associated with it.
From the perspective of natural medicine, there are many reasons why the condition has become so prevalent. To one degree or another, everyone today is exposed to atmospheric pollutants, toxic chemicals, heavy metals and other endocrine disrupters that disturb thyroid function. Depending on the individual susceptibility and the degree of exposure, this can become, amongst other things, an obstacle to proper thyroid function.
From this perspective, removing the toxic burden of these substances and eliminating, or at least reducing further exposure is a primary therapeutic goal. To simply stimulate the gland to be more active, as is the case in conventional therapy, will not remove the underlying cause. As time goes on, as the toxic burden grows, greater amounts of stimulation will become necessary and other parts of the organism will also be adversely affected.
On the other hand, the homeopathic approach is yet again different because the objective is primarily to enhance the vital life force and reduce the susceptibility. The two approaches, while both natural in the sense that they are non-pharmaceutical, not suppressive and without toxic side effects, are in quite another sense the opposite of and quite complimentary to each other. One focuses more on external factors that burden the system, the other on an internal state that manifests in dysfunction.
This is not to say that external circumstances can be ignored by a homeopath. A careful history needs to be taken clarifying the timeline of the disease, what illnesses preceded it and what external causal factors such as physical or emotional trauma, medical interventions or toxic exposures - what homeopaths term ‘never been well since’ scenarios – may play a role in the case.
But the correct remedy is chosen according to the individual’s characteristic energetic nature and particular reaction to these influences. It will be effective because the entire organism, not just a particular organ or gland, becomes more vital.
It is with that goal of exploring the internal, homeopathic state that I began the consultation with Eliza. Since her symptoms, chiefly fatigue, were typical of the disease, they revealed little that was characteristic or her otherwise. So, almost the entire two hours we spent together was focused on eliciting the information to determine her individual state. Put another way, how was Eliza unique amongst persons afflicted with a similar condition?
She presented as cheerful, communicative person who was happily married with two high school aged kids and was a dedicated teacher of young children. It soon became clear her complaints went beyond fatigue.
From early in life she had suffered from allergies that mostly manifested as sneezing. In more recent times, exposure to animal dander and strong perfumes can compromise her breathing. This had led to a diagnosis of allergy-induced asthma.
In the last year, she had developed recurrent diarrhea as well, becoming lactose intolerant and most recently gluten intolerant. In addition, she suffered from migraines that accompanied her period.
But for Eliza none of these complaints were of such serious consequence. She could work around them, control the diet and the exposures, and keep on with her life. She explained how she didn’t expect life to be easy, that she had a high tolerance for pain but knew how to ‘buck up and keep going’. She remarked, “I was probably a peasant in my former life. If I feel like I’m coming down with something I just keep going…”
The fatigue though was different. It stopped her in tracks. She would become so tired that it was impossible to go any further. Interestingly, she literally would stop at a red light while driving and not move onward when the signal turned because she had dozed off.
The fact that her diagnosis was most likely autoimmune hypothyroidism bothered her even more. She felt the control of her own body slipping away and it was impossible to push thru by sheer force of determination.
Eliza then spontaneously recalled a time when she had a similar situation. . “I was in college and also almost working full time. I just kept going and going and going until I just couldn’t any more. I just fell apart and went to bed for about 2 days and just cried. I cry thinking about it today… So, maybe that was a point where that my will just broke.”
It was apparent by this point in the consultation that we had moved into a different phase, progressing from a description of the symptoms to how Eliza experienced these symptoms. This switch, though sometimes subtle, is crucial because it means we are exploring what is characteristic of her and not hypothyroidism per se.
The next step was to go even further into this emerging picture in order to grasp its homeopathic significance.
PART II - THE LITTLE PLANT THAT WASN’T SURE IT COULD
What was interesting for me, or to put it another way, what was characteristic or ‘homeopathic’ to the case was the way Eliza actually experienced her disease. She was a woman who had gone through life with great determination and was used to overcoming any difficulties by through sheer force of will or, as she put it, ‘bucking up’. But now she was confronted with this fatigue that was insurmountable.
It turns out that her sense of resolve had developed in childhood as a response to a domineering and demeaning father. Her response was to prove him wrong and prove herself capable. “I think my whole life has been that you can tell me I’m stupid but that’s not true.”
Eliza also understood that she had to achieve this on her own. She had to take care of herself to survive and expected nothing to be easy. This was her ‘peasant’ mentality, the opposite of the sense of entitlement of the royalty.
One of the peculiarities of the way Eliza spoke was that there were numerous referrals to what I will call ‘verticality’ (not her term). By that I mean in her language there were constant references about going upward or downward in one fashion or the other. She spoke of climbing trees as a child or mountains as an adult and the sense of accomplishment it gave her. She also recalled a recurring dream of climbing a stepladder that had a sense of climbing up and getting out of the darkness.
On the other hand, when she had difficulties answering questions during the consultation, Eliza was inclined to reply that she felt ‘shallow’ because she didn’t know what to say. When asked about her interests, she spoke enthusiastically about gardening. Asked to explain what it was about gardening that was appealing, she replied that it was being in the soil.
With a downward gesture of her hands that mimicked grabbing soil, Eliza spoke of the sense of being rooted, of being grounded and solid that it gave her. She described her hand motions as ‘roots going down’. Interestingly, her favorite plants were not the more ostentatious, colorful and upwardly mobile flowering plants but the more understated, ‘upwardly challenged’ mosses and lichen. Lying down in a bed of moss on a sunny day was, in fact, one of her favorite things to do.
On concluding the consultation, it was not immediately clear to me what remedy to prescribe. As is often the case, I took my notes home to review and reflect.
From the information in hand, it was apparent the correct remedy, the ‘similar’, would be found not via an analysis of specific symptoms or complaints, but instead through an integration of the various aspects of her physical & mental persona to understand what themes ran through the entire case.
Summarizing these themes, one could see that there was a central thread of strong will and determination that enabled her to survive. It was her life long habit to persevere, to ‘buck up’ in the face of challenges. This was the strength of her ‘peasant’ nature. Eliza’s motivation lay in her need to prove her own agency in the world, against the expectations of her own family and childhood. Her dream of climbing up out of the dark was a clear reflection of this theme.
On the other hand, underlying this drive was a type of insecurity or ‘shallowness’, as she termed it. Eliza was quite drawn to the earth, enjoying the sense of being rooted and grounded while working in the garden. In fact, her favorite plants were quite low to the ground, the humble moss and lichens.
Mulling this over, the remedy came to me all at once…
Lycopodium is one of the stalwarts of homeopathy since its earliest days. It is what is termed a ‘polychrest’, a well-known remedy that has been researched thoroughly and applied clinically for a vast array of illnesses that span all phases of life and body systems.
While there are often quite clear physical indications calling for its use, there is also a characteristic mental and emotional picture that is perfectly reflected in the evolution of the substance itself.
Lycopodium is commonly known as ‘club moss’. It is an ancient plant, the sole survivor of its plant family. Its ancestors once dominated the earth both in quantity and size. They grew 100 feet tall, in stark contrast to today’s plant, which reaches up only a foot or two. But these original ‘water guzzlers’ could not survive as the climate became drier.
This history is perfectly reflected in Lycopodium mental state. On the one hand, they have dreams of being giants and the fantasy of being a great person. On the other, within themselves, they know how small and weak they now are. To compensate for this, they often show a great determination to reach the top once again, to persevere by doing one thing after the next to reach their unattainable destination.
The basic feeling is that remaining small and shallow will make survival difficult, leading to defeat and humiliation. They have both a great ambition to grow bigger, to reach the top of the ladder as well as the need to grow strong roots that ground them for their climb upward.
From her need to keep going to her inner sense of humility and shallowness, her dreams of growing upward and her desire to root around in the garden all the way to her fascination with moss and lichen, Eliza exhibited a clear Lycopodium state. So identical was it that one might be tempted to say that Eliza was Lycopodium itself, manifested in human form.
Needless to say, she did quite well with a few doses of the remedy. Her energy improved dramatically while the thyroid returned to normal. We followed up for number of years and she remained quite well.