(reprinted from the American Homeopath 2007)
This client was a 46-year-old female when she was first seen February 1, 2005. Her dear friend and companion had recently died, and her affect was very sad and flat. Medications included Trazodone, Clarazapate, Toprol, Azmacort and Serevent.
Patient: I have asthma; it was first diagnosed when I was 32 years old. I also have problems with hypertension. I’ve had chronic depression since I was 3 to 4 years old. My ability to sort out the important from the non-important is difficult. I feel helplessness, frustration and anger. It impedes my joy, my ability to live fully in the present moment. It impedes my ability to experience gratitude, nature, and being in the present. It feels like darkness. My whole spirit wants to cry out; old memories come back up. It’s a loss of the divine presence. I’m sucked into the swamp and can’t get out. I’m slugging through. If I don’t keep slugging through my body won’t get out.
There’s a loss of self, a self-betrayal. It’s a deep sadness, a loss of joy. It takes away my passion to live within the earth. It robs me of that. It robs me of my personality when I’m in that swamp. It robs me of my ability to feel love. The fear robs me of my ability to work in something I’m absolutely passionate about. I live passionately, and when I’m robbed of that it’s painful. The energy that’s used to cope is misspent.
As a child, I didn’t understand what it meant to laugh. There was the fear of loss watching my mom receive radiation. There was the terror of losing her. I almost died from croup. That terrified me. There’s a feeling of loss of passion.
My strong personality can cover the early signs, and I have a strong community. I want to be in the middle of joy, not popping meds. There’s a fear of not being able to get past this. I have a responsibility for how the future pans out. I want to be a good role model.
I don’t want to be helpless, not for one minute. I don’t want to be sucked into the vortex of the swamp, a slam-dunk. The swamp is a very narrow world, not much wildlife. It sucks my energy. The energy is being squirted out of me. I get angry that I can’t get myself out. I get angry with myself for not having the strength to do it. The fear of going there is huge. It’s like the eye of the hurricane. I have to be still to be safe. There’s a feeling that I’ll hit the edge and be blown to smithereens.
The swamp is not still. There’s a feeling I’ll be obliterated, worse than death. There’s a total loss of control in that vortex. There’s a total loss of the ability to create. There’s total anxiety. My skin is crawling. There’s an inability to be still. In the vortex, I want to isolate. That’s an absolute antithesis to my personality. I’m a community builder, not an isolator. The vortex is dark, like in the bottom of a dark mine. No light, no spatial sense. There’s an inability to get out. No way out. I’m not convinced I’ll get myself out.
It feels like I have cement in my boots. I can’t let energy out of the way I want to. I love to dance. Time is of no essence. There’s a fear it won’t pass.
The swamp is not a creative place. It takes my breath away. I gasp for air, feel anxious, start trembling. ‘I’ve got to get the hell out of here!’ It’s like death. The walls are closing in. I can’t see past it, there’s no vision. There’s grief, exhaustion, tiredness. I must not have worked hard enough. I must not have done something right. I blame myself for being there.
Practitioner: What is the opposite of being in the swamp?
Patient: The opposite is that I live life to the fullest. I experience a full range of emotions. Right now I’m cut off from everything. I have no communication, no art, no music or movement. It sucks my energy, not being able to celebrate those things. I’m just going through the motions. It sucks my wisdom. I can’t tap into my own wisdom, my own self-knowledge. There’s a loss of energy to be compassionate. The swamp sucks too much. I’m terrified of going back there. I don’t want the joy to go away.
I don’t want to be in the swamp that robs me of my creative work. There’s a huge creative task ahead. I don’t want to lose that. The swamp is a loss of that. I haven’t had a time in my life when I haven’t been creative. The swamp robs me of what I love.
The most frustrating thing is that I’ve been taking all these steps and then I slide, have no control; my self-determination is gone. I’m robbed of being a creative person. All my senses are on high alert, ‘how do I survive?’ There’s a terror warning, ‘where’s the next tree, how do I get around it? What’s beyond what I can see? Is it for better or worse?’
Practitioner: Can you describe more about the slide?
Patient: I can’t rely on my physical body to stop it. It comes out of nowhere. There’s no warning. I’m walking strong, then all of a sudden sliding down. Good self-esteem goes to ‘how do I survive?’ I’m robbed of the joy of life. Something is taken unexpectedly; it doesn’t make sense. It’s nonsense. It’s a violation of everything I hold dear.
It’s like someone is breaking into my personhood. I’m left in the swamp. There’s a betrayal of trust. I’m not protected. I feel defenseless in the swamp. I’m blindsided. ‘Will this ever change, or do I just adapt? Do I just walk this balance?’ There’s a frustration. I constantly have to figure out the way to maneuver the changing terrain.
It’s like doing ballet on changing earth. I can’t have firm footing to do what I want to do, to live passionately. There’s a fear. Instead of creating something out of the earth, it’s fear for survival. It’s a question of balance. I want firm footing. I don’t want changing earth. I want my feet to go as deeply into the ground as they can. I don’t want the earth to move around me. It’s robbing me of energy; I don’t want to be sucked up by the earth. There’s an undercurrent of fear that that will happen. I just want to sink my roots so deeply into the ground that I can live with all the passion I have inside me.
Practitioner: What are you seeing when year describe that?
Patient: It’s like a tree. Its branches are gently swaying in the breeze (hand motion).
Practitioner: What kind of tree?
Patient: Like a willow. I want to be deeply rooted like a willow. When the ground is moving, that’s taken away from me. I want to feel rooted. It’s too good. I know what it’s like to feel rooted. At other times it feels like the earth is moving. I want to get rooted. There’s a lot of wasted energy.
Practitioner Observations: Because the words ‘swamp’ was used repeatedly to describe her experience of depression, and she compared herself to a willow trying to root itself into the earth, I was curious to do a search using those words. I was directed to the black swamp willow (salix nigra), an old homeopathic remedy described in many of the classic texts. The main indication relates to the genito-urinary sphere and associated problems with excessive sexual drive, with short mention given to fever, diarrhea and rheumatic complaints. Yet with only one strong indication and a few other non-specific uses, the list appeared to be incomplete.
Although not pursued in her history, I was aware she’d had a strong libido in the past, and yet that fact alone would not support Salix nigra. Neither could I dismiss the imagery in her history, which repeatedly revolved around ‘avoiding the swamp’, and culminated in her description of a willow. So I turned to reading about the tree itself, where I learned that the black willow’s root system is purposefully employed to control swamp erosion in delta areas. Because this description closely matched the ‘energetic dance’ she described throughout her history, and in spite of the limited indications in the texts, I proceeded with salix nigra, LM 2 daily dosing.
Follow-up March 29, 2005
Patient: There’s a definite reduction in anxiety. I’m noticing subtleties in anxiety. I’m able to move through the grieving process with a sense of stability. There’s a greater sense of well-being. It’s more consistent; there are moments of joy, and moments of deep sadness.
Today I went out in the fresh air. I smelled that and the earth. Everything’s changed in my house. There’s been a huge transformation. My friends have noticed that I’m less anxious. I’m in awe that I’m walking through the grieving process. Close family members have noticed the difference in how I’m handling the grief.
I’m really good about boundaries. My dreams have been very vivid and insightful. I’m feeling inspired again by art, writing and nature. I can play the piano again, and most of the time enjoy it.
I wonder about the future. I don’t know what it holds, but it’s not negative. There is a whole spectrum of emotions that come up, but no one emotion sticks. I may feel them intensely, but they don’t stick.
I’m feeling more stable. I’d forgotten about the feeling of instability. I don’t even see the swamp on the horizon anymore. I’ve been weaning down on the Azmacort. I’ve been feeling a sense of groundedness that’s incredible.
Practitioner: Over the past two and a half years, the client continued from Salix nigra LM 2 to LM 12, bumping up about every six weeks. I followed her in concert with her MD, who also witnessed the progress. Her MD helped her wean away from and ultimately discontinue all medications. She is now happily involved in a new relationship, something she hardly thought possible during her depression. She says, “Loving again has returned to my life. I didn’t think I’d be able to risk loving again after my partner’s sudden death.”
Follow up June 2007
Patient: I received a promotion in Nov of 2006, with the contingency of obtaining an administrators license in 10 weeks. Usually it’s a year-long process. I was able to focus and complete the course and pass both national and state law boards in the required 10 weeks. My ability to focus was crucial to accomplishing the task.
I’m once again living and experiencing joy in the present moment. The joy is gentle and helps me go through even the difficult times. Right now, my elderly mother is quickly declining into late stage dementia. Even in the face of her no longer recognizing anyone, I maintain an equilibrium.
Practitioner Observations: After the first few months when it was clear the remedy was helping her, the client was told the source. She then described how after her father died she often sat against a large willow while she was coming to terms with his loss.
The following is an excerpt from an article by Donald Peattie in A Natural History of Trees (1948):
Our great black willow, perhaps the largest willow in the world, occupies many habitats over its vast range, and takes on many forms. In the deep muck of the bottomlands of the middle south, it may be a forest tree with a single straight bole fairly thick and very tall and clean of limbs a long way up. But beside the father of waters and its mighty tributaries, the willow is a sprawling giant of a tree.
Water-loving at all times, the black willow is especially fitted for its life as a riparian tree of the great slow rivers, for its twigs snap off easily at the base, as every American with a country childhood knows, and are capable of rooting if thrust in the ground. Most of us have known a native willow, in some familiar dooryard, that was planted by this very means, and doubtless untold numbers of giant riverbank willows were once floating twigs.
No other wood is so pliant yet tough, no other is so cheap, nor so ready at hand. Right on the banks of the Mississippi, the Ohio, and the Missouri, thrives the tree that can hold in check the fury of their powers in flood. Probably no other American tree is worth so much in property that, thanks to it, has not been destroyed; none, it may be, has saved so many human lives.
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David Johnson, RSHom(NA), CCH, PA is a 1998 graduate of the Northwestern Academy of Homeopathy, and now is an instructor at the school. He practices homeopathy in Madison and Pewaukee, Wisconsin. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.