If this question were posed in a conventional doctor’s office today, one may receive an answer such as: Major Depression or Manic Depression or even Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), among other variations. But if you are suffering from depression and asked your Acupuncturist: ‘What type of depression do I have?’, you would get a very different kind of answer. Here, we will look at the ways depression can manifest from a TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) perspective.
If you or someone you love is dealing with depression, one or more of the “patterns” described may be relatable and help increase your understanding of the individualized approach an acupuncturist would use to help with recovery.
*With any TCM breakdown of patterns, it is important to note that we are all dynamic creatures, and pattern diagnosis is almost always not black and white. Our health experience represents an interplay of forces, so while we may lean towards one type of pathology, we may find ourselves in multiple categories and also changing patterns as we heal. In other words, it can be and almost always is intermingled and complicated, so it is ok if you feel you don’t fit into just one type or pattern. That is to be expected.
Liver Qi Stagnation
If your experience of depression has an overriding tone of frustration, your liver may be the main culprit. The liver has the important job of maintaining a smooth flow of qi in the body. If it is compromised and fails to achieve this, feelings of irritability and being ‘stuck’ can predominate. When taxed the liver will often ‘attack’ the digestion leading to stomach pain, belching, diarrhea and/or constipation. People exhibiting this pattern almost always say some variation of, “I just feel stuck and I can’t pull myself from my bad moods. It’s so frustrating!”
Qi Stagnation Turns to Heat
If qi stagnation is left untreated, it can become more severe. One can exhibit all the symptoms above with a few new symptoms added. One way we recognize this is when we see signs of qi stagnation with additional signs of heat. This can manifest as more extreme versions of the initial qi stagnation symptoms, such as irritability flaring to “hot-tempered” outbursts of anger, or digestive issues like heartburn or constipation becoming more disruptive. Also as ‘heat rises’, we may see a red face and red eyes accompanied by headaches and tinnitus. This pattern is where I typically see repressed long term anger coupled with chronic headaches and migraines brought on by stress and emotional upset.
Qi Stagnation with Phlegm Accumulation
If the qi can not move smoothly through the body assisting in the transport of nutrients, fluids, and toxins, we get buildup. This can look like what we call ‘phlegm accumulation’ and can feel like a lump in the throat, or a feeling of irritability with sluggishness. Other signs include weight gain, thick tongue coat, and growths such as lipomas. This pattern is commonly seen in those that tend towards a weak or sluggish digestive constitution. Phlegm can also disturb the ‘shen’, the consciousness or spirit that resides in the heart. In very severe cases, this can play out as manic behaviors, such as witnessed in schizophrenia or bipolar depression.
Heart/Spleen/Lung Qi Deficiency
We can look at these organs separately but also as a group when it comes to depression. The picture they paint together when depleted is one of sadness and anxiety, simultaneously restless and fatigued. Forgetfulness and insomnia point to more heart deficiency. Spleen signs could be more digestive with a tendency to worry a lot. Sadness predominates in Lung qi deficiency. The lungs are responsible for immunity so the more grief we carry the more immune issues we may face. These 3 deficient organ patterns often go hand in hand, and can make for a miserable day-to-day experience for a patient suffering with this type of depression.
Yin Deficiency with Empty Fire
Patterns of deficiency are often at the root of chronic cases of depression, and especially a deficiency of yin: the cooling, calming, restorative energy of the body. A lack of cooling energy allows for what is called “empty fire” or heat due to deficiency. This translates to
restlessness, anxiety, palpitations, night sweats, dizziness, and an achy weak back and knees.
To help break down your diagnosis further by someone who can appreciate the complexity of your health experience, schedule your next acupuncture session and enjoy treatment that honors your unique balance.
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