Depression is truly one of the most difficult conditions – both for those who struggle with it and their loved ones. Not only is there still a stigma associated with it (i.e. “just stop being so negative”, “just cheer up”, “you need to have more fun”), there’s also a limited amount of real help out there.
Also, because many depressed people feel isolated, they have difficulty even asking for help. It can be a very, very lonely struggle.
It’s also one of the most poorly-understood conditions in medicine today. The conventional care model for depression has, in fact, become so oversimplified that, in my opinion and experience, it does a severe disservice to those who suffer with it.
Essentially, conventional care for depression goes something like this:
- An interview to ask about symptoms. If X number of the listed symptoms are present, you are diagnosed.
- Referral to a psychiatrist for further evaluation and medication. You’ll try the first medication the psychiatrist recommends and, if that doesn’t work, maybe try a different one or a combo until you’re “stable”. Sometimes this involves several months of trial and error.
- Maybe some talk therapy to try and help you figure out why you’re depressed.
Science has theorized that people who are depressed have some type of imbalance with key neurotransmitters – mostly serotonin and sometimes norepinephrine. Pretty much all the medications prescribed for depression in some way attempt to alter one or both of these neurotransmitter systems.
It’s the typical “magic bullet” approach. Modulate the brain and nervous system by targeting this one small area (the neurotransmitters), and “cure” the depression.
Why Conventional Medicine Isn’t Getting It Right
I can tell you that – after helping hundreds of depressed patients who were taking medication and still not well – it’s simply not the answer for the majority of folks struggling to escape the pain.
Here’s the story I typically hear. A patient lands in my office, feeling fatigued, overwhelmed, not sleeping well. They’re looking for help with stress reduction and symptoms of chronic depression. I look at their forms, and they’re already taking one, two, sometimes THREE medications.
Sometimes they’ll even bring in tests from another wellness clinic. Nutrient tests, food-allergy tests, and blood tests. And, even after having these tests evaluated and being put on a regimen to try and fix the tests, they STILL don’t feel better. That’s because the doctor focused so much on the tests and fixing those, they lost sight of their patient. This is what I call “treating a piece of paper” and, unfortunately, it’s all too common not only in conventional medicine, but also in the wellness field.
They’ll tell me that prior to the medications, they were a lot worse. And, I believe it. I’ve seen severe clinical depression and it’s not pretty at all. So, I know how useful medications can be to get someone from that level of despair and non-function to a level of function and decent quality of life.
That’s the thing I want to make clear here… I’m NOT ANTI-MEDICATION. Not in the least. In fact, I think that many people do need to be on medication and there’s absolutely NO SHAME in that. Just as a Type-I Diabetic needs insulin, there are people who have very deep-seated mood issues that are better off being on – and staying on – medication.
The problem isn’t the medication. It’s the fact that conventional treatment pretty much ends there. There’s no attempt to understand the deeper roots of where the depression is truly originating from.
And this is why, despite being on medication, so many still feel depressed. Sure, they’re not in “shut-down mode”, they’re functional. But, they’re not THRIVING, they’re not feeling inspired, energetic, and alive.
TIME FOR A VERY IMPORTANT NOTE: DO NOT STOP ANY PRESCRIBED MEDICATIONS, ESPECIALLY HORMONES, WITHOUT MEDICAL SUPERVISION OR WITHOUT CONSULTING THE PRESCRIBING PHYSICIAN. STOPPING MEDICATIONS ABRUPTLY CAN CAUSE SERIOUS, EVEN FATAL, EFFECTS. EVERY SITUATION IS UNIQUE, THIS CASE INCLUDED, AND IT IS VERY IMPORTANT YOU NOT GENERALIZE THESE RESULTS TO YOURSELF. TO FIND OUT IF THE UNIQUE METHODS OF TREATMENT OUTLINED IN THIS CASE HISTORY MIGHT BE A GOOD FIT FOR YOU, YOU MAY SCHEDULE A FREE INITIAL CONSULTATION.
I’ll never forget the day Tina sat down in front of me for the first time. A young mother of two in her mid-30’s, I could see the exhaustion on her face. “A friend of mine said I should come see you,” she said. “You helped her so much with having her baby and she insisted I come.”
“So, you’re mostly here to just appease her?” I asked.
“Well, kind of… But, now that I’m here I might as well see if you can help.”
Her reply wasn’t completely foreign to me. I’ve seen many people in the free consultation who really aren’t sure if they want to work with me or not. They’re even skeptical of the whole “natural medicine” thing to begin with.
But, they’ve had a loved one or close friend who they’ve confided in about their situation. And, that friend or loved one has cared enough to push them a little bit outside their comfort zone and send them to…. (cue “twilight zone” music) THE ACUPUNCTURIST (me).
Going through Tina’s forms, I could see a pattern I’d seen many times over, and not just in people feeling depressed.
She reported difficulty staying asleep, severe mood swings around her period, and – TMI alert – very infrequent bowel movements. (Translated: She only pooped like 3 times a week).
This is why I love Chinese Medicine. The diagnostic model is able to take what are seemingly disparate symptoms in seemingly unrelated areas of the body, and create a holistic, simple, and profoundly accurate assessment of root cause.
In other words, using the diagnostic model of Chinese Medicine I am able to – in a majority of cases – understand what the real cause is.
I explained to Tina that I understood her skepticism but I was very confident I could help her.
“OK, how are a few needles going to help me feel less depressed?” she asked. “I mean, I’ve been dealing with this since I was a teenager.”
I explained to her that it wouldn’t be just the acupuncture. Our approach is multi-faceted and includes not only acupuncture but also dietary recommendations, targeted therapy with herbs and supplements, and… MOST IMPORTANTLY… mind-body coaching.
Holistic medicine of the variety we practice at The Axelrad Clinic means NOTHING is off the table. No matter the condition, we’re going to consider everything as part of the potential cause and solution. Yes, this includes chemistry, it includes diet and lifestyle. And it also includes THOUGHTS and FEELINGS.
When I work with patients who are depressed, the first and most important thing I focus on is the root cause and strengthening and reinforcing the involved tissues and glands in that root cause.
It’s amazing what can happen when your body is strong, when glands and tissues that were previously struggling to get by are suddenly full of life and vitality.
Sometimes, that’s all that needs to be done — strengthening and reinforcing the weak areas. As soon as there is strength underneath, EVERYTHING ELSE BEGINS TO FIX ITSELF.
That’s because you are a miraculous instrument of self-healing. YOU HEAL. It’s what you do. No matter how long you’ve been feeling unwell – or in this case, depressed – as soon as you start supporting and reinforcing your healing system you will feel better. I PROMISE YOU this is true.
So, with Tina I made sure she understood this. I told her we were going to use the acupuncture to help balance her nervous system and calm stress (acupuncture is insanely effective at stress-reduction – legendary, in fact). We would use herbs and vitamins to target specific areas of her body and strengthen the weak tissues and glands. We might also focus on clearing blockages of certain systems as well.
Finally, we would look at her diet and lifestyle and make sure we came up with a sensible, actionable plan that worked for her. I’m definitely all about setting my patients up for success, not giving them impossible regimens that cause more stress.
Tina’s Journey To Wellness
When she came back for her intake visit a few days later, I could already tell she was feeling a little better. And we hadn’t even begun treatment.
This is something I see often as well. Conventional medicine writes this off as “placebo”. To me, that’s sad.
Unlike conventional medicine, Chinese Medicine (and any other highly-evolved system of natural medicine) understands and fully embraces the fact that your body makes its own medicine. And, when your body is making more of its own medicine, IT HEALS.
The fact that Tina’s color was better, her eyes were a little brighter, her step a little “peppier” was REAL. She was REALLY feeling better already. Here’s what that meant…
Her body was already making medicine in response to something she hadn’t had in a long time. HOPE.
Whereas some conventional doctors would scoff at this and call me a quack, I know better.
This hopeful version of Tina was a living example of self-healing. It’s not that the healing wasn’t real. It was just a question of whether we could find a way to sustain it so her healing system could continue to express itself more fully over the long-term.
So, back to Tina’s situation. I’m going to explain what I saw as the root cause of her depression (which was proven correct by her recovery).
First off, Tina’s infrequent bowel movements, which it turns out had been an issue since she was a child, meant that her hormonal system was backed up. The bowel is one of the most important clearance pathways for hormones. Anyone with constipation and a hormone issue needs to get that constipation worked out if they’re going to have true healing.
When the bowel gets backed up, the liver suffers as well. It becomes overloaded with toxins the bowel is not expelling. The liver ALSO happens to be one of the most important processing centers for hormones and… you guessed it… neurotransmitters.
So, now we have bowel and liver being weakened and overloaded, sending her hormonal and neurotransmitter system into significant imbalance.
Our third issue with Tina – poor sleep – pointed to an out-of-balance circadian rhythm. Circadian rhythm is the daily 24-hour hormone cycle guided by the adrenal glands. Simply put, if this 24-hour rhythm is not smooth, energy levels during the day will be unstable, as will sleep. Mood is also affected by this rhythm.
Add to this the fact that over 90% of the body’s serotonin is manufactured in the gut – which in Tina’s case was functioning poorly – and we now have a complete picture of what needs to be treated.
So, we did several weeks of weekly acupuncture treatments along with dietary changes, herbs, and supplements to support healthy gut and liver function as well as help restore her adrenal circadian rhythm.
I also gave her a breathing meditation along with a visualization to do every night before bed.
The goal of these meditations, no matter who I prescribe them for or which one I choose, is to enlist the support of the subconscious mind in the healing process. It is a technique that adds tremendous power to the healing process and dramatically improves our chances of a positive outcome.
I’m sure you can guess what happened next. Tina’s healing system kicked in. Tina’s energy levels skyrockets. Tina’s mood improved because she had energy, focus, and she was sleeping well.
In summary, Tina no longer considered herself depressed.
I still see Tina from time to time. She’ll come in for an occasional “tune-up” and, if she feels her depression creeping back in she’ll come in for a few weekly sessions to ward it off. She’s also learned that when other health issues pop up it’s not a bad idea to come talk to me about it, too.
That’s because STRENGTH and CLARITY of function are the foundation of overcoming ANY health condition.
Miraculous? Nope. And I’m not trying to say it is.
You might think I’m trying to push this off as a miracle story or something. Far from it.
THIS IS WHAT YOU DO — YOU HEAL.
I tell this story to give you hope, to inspire you, and to remind you what is possible when you discover, then provide, the things your body needs to support its innate healing process.
Never accept “this is as good as it gets”. Never stop looking for ways to amplify the healer within. Don’t let anyone — myself included — tell you “it’s too late” or “you’re not going to heal”.
Myself and my entire staff are here to help. If you’re interested to see if our unique approach is a good fit for you, you may request your free initial consultation. We’ll get back to you within one business day to schedule.