Our Life Stories Series installments are based on cases from our practice. Names and geographic details have been changed for anonymity. The purpose of this series is to share some of the wonderful healing we have seen take place with homeopathy and, perhaps, teach a little about it in the process.
~ The Little Old Woman ~
Ava was a bright, precocious child with big, doe eyes and an open (albeit sometimes impish little) smile. When I first met her she was just a toddler, but even then had some enigmatic behaviors that seemed to paint her as some adorable miniature octogenarian. I remember watching one evening while her grandfather handed her a crisp dollar bill as a gift. Her eyes lit up as she took it in her hands and thanked him earnestly. We all watched as she studied the bill, folded it up slowly and deliberately with her dextrous little sausage fingers, carefully took it in her right forefinger and thumb, and stuffed it down the neck of her shirt. She patted the outside of her shirt as if satisfied with her efforts, then folded her hands in her lap before finally looking up.
Needless to say we were all in stitches. "Where in the world did she get that from?" some wondered aloud. Her gestures were so seamless, like folding up her money and putting it against her skin for safekeeping was just, well, old hat. Given that she had no actual bosom, nor an undergarment to contain it, the dollar fell out of her shirt as soon as she stood up of course, but that's beside the point.
By 3 or 4 years old, that is, a whopping two-and-a-half feet tall, Ava had developed a tendency to cluck her tongue and sigh, sometimes rolling her eyes up or shaking her head, while chatting about the challenges of the day or the woes of life in general. She would sigh and talk about the weather, she'd sigh and talk about the congestion on the highway, all the while gesturing dismissively or shaking her head as if to say, "oh, you know how it is." She'd arrive with her family after the long drive north from home a few states away, and when asked how she was doing she'd first tell us about the "*sigh*... traffic on the I-9." We all joked that she was her late great-grandmother, reincarnate. The resemblance -- demeanor, mannerisms-and-all -- was uncanny.
She tended to hover around adults and adult conversations rather than play with other kids, unless she were encouraged to do so directly. She started to develop a growing level of anxiety that often centered around the the very adult concerns of her parents. She was overly responsible for a child her age, and by the age of 5 she was wound up pretty tight. She became very perfectionistic and had a lot of fears, as well as a tendency to focus on what was not going well. Her mother shared, “I usually get a rundown of playground drama, troubles in the classroom, etc. when I ask, 'How was your day?’”
One day in winter when Ava was 6 years old, her mother called in a near panic. I could hear Ava screeching and wailing periodically in the background and her mother said she had been like this for a few days. She had a low fever, was complaining of a "tummy ache", saying that her eyes hurt, and she was nearly hysterical with the pains. Her anxieties about her safety and her family's well-being, particularly around bedtime, had been through the roof of late, and it was all having a negative affect on quality of sleep for everyone in the house. Ava was obsessive about homework and "doing things right" and could become fixated on some little problem or other and unable to find any peace with it. This could be something as small as a wrinkle in her sock or a change in plans or as global as fearing for her health or safety or the financial security of her family.
Given that I had been studying homeopathy for several years at that point (and had become an eager scholar of the human experience in its diverse manifestations, as we homeopaths are wont to do), I was happy to have the opportunity to look into Ava's case. Over the course of the prior few years her mother had spoken with growing frequency about "Ava's anxiety," and my heart went out to the careful, concerned little girl. We talk a lot in the homeopathic field about how a feeling of freedom is one of the tenets (and/or signifiers) of health, and especially in the case of young children I ache for them to have it. Ava was easily and overly concerned with doing things perfectly, and had become very fearful anytime anything was 'wrong'. Despite all the efforts her parents made to be sure she was not informed of challenges in their lives that may arise, she always seemed to know all about them. She had developed insomnia, as well as a few compulsive habits like lip-smacking and nail-biting, and her parents were exhausted and exasperated.
I asked Ava's mother for specifics about her abdominal and eye pains, as well as more details about what it is that concerns her at night and how she acts as a result of those fears. Her mother painted the picture of an overwrought, anxious, unsettled child with some behaviors that have been increasingly interfering with her ability to enjoy herself at school or relax at home, especially in the evening and through the night. In addition, she currently had a fever that was higher in the evening, and she was complaining of sharp pains in her abdomen and "burning" behind her eyelids.*
*For those unfamiliar with homeopathy, that list of symptoms may sound like its filled with some overly-specific qualifiers. It is part of the homeopathic process, though, to get as many unique details as possible about a patient's symptoms. It is only with these details that we are able to find what remedy (among many thousands) is precisely the one that will help this unique individual in this particular moment in this particular expression of dis-ease.**
After doing some research**, I encouraged Ava's mother to get the remedy Arsenicum Album at her local health-food store and to give Ava one dose before bed and a second dose midday the following day. There are a few things I tell any parent new to using homeopathy with their children, and I shared these with Ava's mother at this point: 1) It is not unusual for a child to nap easily and/or sleep deeply soon after a good remedy, 2) We sometimes see a brief "aggravation," (a slight worsening of symptoms) before things get better. This is a sign that the immune system has been kicked into gear to work a bit more robustly than it had heretofore been able, 3) In very robust, vital children, there are times we see somewhat miraculous, immediate relief from symptoms after a remedy. Conversely, in more delicate children, those with lower immunity or vitality, or those with more worries and anxieties in general -- that is, a lot of symptoms on the mental or behavioral plane and not just the physical -- we often see a slower, subtler course of relief.
Her mother said she understood, and said she really hoped this would help. She said that though she was worried about the fever and the stomach pains, etc, it was Ava's anxiety that was putting her at her wit's end. She seemed to carry a backpack full of concern around so many things, and it had come to affect planning, daily movements, and sleep for the whole family.
I'll let the words of her mother explain what happened next:
Evening; Later that same day (Dec 18)
[Email]: [Ava] got this majorly stuffy nose just before bedtime, it was driving her crazy (frankly me too), then when she got into bed she was picking at her eyes, and seemed a little bit warmer, her fever. I gave her the dose of Arsenicum. I went to sit in the hallway (my bedtime post :) and got out something to do, and all of a sudden I heard her snoring, she was totally asleep! Usually she get's somewhat upset, is checking the clock, asking for me, missing Daddy, needing him to come in, list goes on and on, its such an ordeal. So I went in to look and she's totally out, I'm amazed. Let the healing begin!!
Dec 19, evening
[Email]: Wanted to let you know [Ava] was doing better this afternoon/evening. Actually 1 hr. after I repeated the remedy at noon (before which she wouldn't get off the couch, had a fever, lethargic, etc.), she was playing bowling in the kitchen with [little brother]! Fever seemed to stay down rest of the day, just a super stuffy nose but hopefully she'll be even better in the morning.
Dec 20, evening
[Email]: [Ava] was WAY better today. Even went sledding, which would have been way too much for her yesterday. No stuffy nose or fever. So happy...thank you Jane!!
Over the course of the next month, Ava had almost no anxiety around bedtime, she seemed to relax to some degree about her schoolwork, and in general she seemed to be happier and more easygoing. On January 25th her mother called and said for the past few days they were seeing a bit of a return of the anxieties and bedtime "dramatics", so I told her she could give another dose of the remedy. A few weeks later I received the following email:
Feb 12, 2014
[Email:] Been meaning to tell you, I gave [Ava] the other dose of Arsenicum and all of those difficulties I was telling you about when she would go to bed went totally away! She went from crying most every night and really working herself up to getting in to bed and saying happily, "Good-night mom." Then falling to sleep pretty quickly...THANK YOU!!
This new, easy-going version of Ava was the norm for the next year entirely. She was loving and excelling at her violin and piano lessons, she seemed age-appropriately aloof to troubles that might arise for her parents or other adults in her world, and she played goofily with her younger brother in imaginative ways that involved more than just her being 'teacher' or 'mom' and telling him what to do and how to do it. I felt she had lost most of the 'little old lady' qualities I had originally seen; she seemed more... like a kid. She was more likely to talk about positives than problems, and would skip around lightly while she talked of the things that excite her.
More than year after that 3rd dose, I received the following email from her mother:
March 18, 2015
[Email]: A few weeks ago Ava got a stomach bug turned fever. I know it felt awful because I got it a few days later, but it was over the top for her, rolling around on the floor, moaning, etc. (in comparison to [little brother] who also got it, and just slept it all off and was fine). Then the past week I think she may have tweaked muscle or something, or maybe growing pains but I had the hardest time getting her to school for the dramatics, leg pains, stomach aches, crying, etc., and then when she came home, all would be fine. She's also had a hard time getting to sleep the past few days since St. Patrick's Day. The school has been having "leprechauns" visit and they leave little things, turn the toilet water green, things like that… she had a lot of anxiety around one coming near her even though I assured her it wouldn't be happening. She has just obsessing about it, especially before bed and before school, talking about it constantly and asking quesitons.
I told Ava's mother that it sounds like its time for another dose. I got this email a few weeks later:
Apr 8, 2015
[Email]: I ended up giving her the first dose 2 Monday evenings ago b.c. I was at a training all weekend before that. That first night she was up until 10pm, rough day the next day, tough going to bed again, then each day a little better, then a little better. Thursday she got off the bus full of good news (her drawing had gotten picked as the winner out the of the first grade and she was the helper for a special concert). So I thought, maybe it could have been from a day of positive things, but each day after that has been all positive after school. Each morning she bops downstairs all dressed and ready to go early. This past Monday morning (granted she was also starting Day 1 of being "Student of the Week") but she was literally dancing around the house singing "Celebrate good times, come on!" This morning she was up early and she and [little brother] made egg shakers the entire morning before school. Bedtime has been a breeze, she gets right into bed when asked (we had gotten back to a lot of stalling and perseverating), relaxes (usually there was tons of chatter or questions, worries) and goes off to sleep pretty easily.
Ava has continued to do well since, and is undeniably more free and child-like (albeit still precocious and talented). She no longer seems to care or worry about the traffic, she no longer reports on the woes of the playground or the family or the home, and there is a welcome ease to the family's bedtime and morning routines.
We read and talk a lot in this field about how real healing is like a "grand forgetting" (of layer after layer of trauma and disease and suppression) and, in turn, a "remembering" of something (joy, purpose, creativity, total-awesome-weirdness-in-the-particular-flavor-that-is-uniquely-yours) that, after all, is the birth-right of every human.
**For more information on the history and efficacy of homeopathy, homeopathic philosophy, or the homeopathic process, see this post.