Depression affects approximately 20 million adults in our country. The symptoms of depression; loss of interest in activities you once enjoyed, feeling worthless or hopeless, changes in sleeping or eating patterns, anxiety, low sex drive, less energy, poor memory, etc., don’t change depending on a Western or Chinese medical point of view. The difference emerges most in an understanding of how we become depressed and what we can do about it.
In Chinese medicine each major organ in the body has its own corresponding emotion. When I talk about major organs, it is important to remember that I mean the energetic system that relates to that organ. Plus, all the organs are paired. So, for example, the Liver is paired with the Gallbladder. Together they energetically control a variety of functions that go far beyond the western scientific description of them, and the emotion associated with them is Anger. The Heart’s emotion is Joy, which I also think of as love; the Spleen’s is Pensiveness, which is like over-thinking or worrying; the Lungs are related to Grief; and, the Kidney’s correspond to Fear. It is believed that all of our emotional problems arise from these 5 larger categories of feelings. All of these emotions are natural and healthy. The problem comes when someone is unable to release themselves from these feelings, when their qi, or life force energy, becomes stuck there. The Chinese say, “where the mind goes, the qi goes”. Truly, from a Chinese perspective, a vast majority of our health problems originate in our mental/emotional selves. When negative or self-destructive energy remains stuck over long periods of time they will eventually degrade the physical sphere they inhabit.
But I haven’t mentioned depression, have I? It isn’t one of the major feelings and yet so many of us struggle with it. Where and what is it? It is believed in Chinese medicine that depression is actually anger turned back on yourself. If you aren’t expressing your anger in a thoughtful and healthy way, then it builds in you. This stifling of anger can actually lead to many different problems and not everyone will become depressed, but it is one of the outcomes. Women tend to get depressed more. Perhaps this is partly because in our cultural setting it is less permissible for women to express anger. Anger turns into depression when the one who is angry is made to think that they are wrong to be angry, or their anger goes unacknowledged, or there are feelings of hopelessness attached to it.
Acupuncture is an excellent way to treat depression. The primary focus is on resolving and moving the stuck qi in your liver system, the internal system we can work on. This in turn helps lighten the whole body/mind/spirit. The external problems that contributed to your depression will have to be dealt with one piece at a time. That part is usually the hardest and takes time, but is much more easily surmountable if you’re feeling good and feeling like you can effect change in your life instead of being smothered under a thick blanket of despair and hopelessness. I just mentioned done or even something that’s supposed to be enjoyable, like all those holiday parties.