Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Acupuncture

I've had several people ask me about my experiences with acupuncture since I mentioned it in a recent post. In light of that, I thought I would go ahead and publish an exert from a very comprehensive email I sent to a friend recently about my experiences. It's lengthy, and very personal, so feel free to skip it if you want. I promise that there will be more knitting, spinning and general creativity coming very soon.

My journey with acupuncture began last fall when I read Dr. Christian Northrup's Women's Bodies, Women's Wisdom. I was impressed with her holistic approach to women's health as it was one that was very firmly based in medical fact. She frequently recommended acupuncture and several other alternative therapies. About that time I also read several new reports in major news sources about acupuncture's proven track record. I then found Lynn - my acupuncturist - quite by accident while looking into a local yoga studio. ( http://www.lynnmaloneyacupuncture.com/ ) I was curious as I felt it might be helpful with several of my health issues, but didn't think we could afford it.

Then in the spring I had a complete breakdown over my weight and size. It was a doozy. I cried on (my husband's)shoulder for hours, and the two of us decided it was time to make a plan. It came down to the fact that we could no longer afford NOT to do something about it. Counseling was out, as I felt it would amount to beating a dead horse, so I went back to Lynn's website and set up my first appointment for early July. (Which was as quick as I could get in to see her.) In the meantime, I started to work on the lifestyle stuff that was in my control.

Initially, I was going to see Lynn about the fatigue/lack of energy I've fought for most of my adult life. I also wanted help for my chronic anxiety and low-grade depression problems. Weight loss was the goal, but I knew enough to know that acupuncture works by correcting other problems which contribute to weight issues. My PMS issues were so bad before that first appointment, though, that I moved that to the top of the list.

As an aside, I had gone to see my family practitioner about all of this at the end of December. My blood work was completely normal, and she completely blew me off on all of the other stuff. She had me do a sleep questionnaire, which didn't indicate a severe problem (duh), told me I was tired because I had small children, and suggested a standard weight loss program. It was humiliating.

The first acupuncture appointment included a complete health assessment - aided by a mountain of paperwork I had done in advance. We discussed my health and emotional issues as well as some of my background. Then Lynn did an exam which included checking my pulse, palpating my tummy, and testing the temp/feel of my skin in different areas. We then proceeded on to the needles.

The treatments themselves have all been similar. Needles are inserted in various points around the body, with placement determined by what my body needs. Some are left in for a small amount of time (15ish minutes at the most) and some are just quick little pricks. Twice - at my first and last visit - little amounts of burning herbs were put on the needles on my feet, which gave off a rather pleasant smell and made my feet quite nicely warm. Throughout the treatment, Lynn checks my pulse points and does a type of acupressure or massage to determine how I am responding to treatment. At the first appointment, little wee needles were left in my legs and back to remain for 5 days.

Initially, acupuncture treatments are done once or twice/week, and as your symptoms improve you gradually start to space the visits out. I started at once/week for the first month and am now coming in every other week. Ultimately, I'll come in maybe four times/year for a 'tune-up' and can always set up more appointments if other issues come up.

What I didn't expect was any sort of immediate reaction. I didn't notice much after the first appointment, but was hugely relieved that someone had validated my concerns and had expressed such compassion towards me. At the second appointment, though, my body let go of all tension. Lynn told me that night that part of what we were doing was helping my body relearn what it meant to truly relax. (I now know that acupuncture works largely by triggering the body to release endorphins.) It was amazing, and I am quite happy that I have since had this type of reaction to every treatment.

Sometimes acupuncture feels like magic. I started to get a weather headache during one appointment, and mentioned it. As soon as Lynn put the needle just above my eyebrow, the pain was gone. She's treated a couple of those, and I haven't really had any weather headaches since - despite leftover hurricane type weather.

While I always feel better afterwords, and definitely more relaxed, the rest of the changes have been more gradual. By the third appointment my sleep had started to improve, and shortly thereafter I began waking up feeling refreshed and ready to get out of bed - something I don't ever remember feeling in my adult life. The naps which had been necessary before all of this started weren't needed anymore. About halfway through I started doing more fun things with the girls, and was taking time to nurture myself. I didn't really recognize what was going on until Lynn pointed out that I was no longer complaining about anxiety, and was not agitated as I had been when I first came to see her.

The big shocker, though, came with my first period after this all started. Sounds funny to say, but it took me completely by surprise...because I had absolutely NO PMS symptoms - and haven't since. I can't even begin to tell you what a huge impact that had. I'll spare the details, but I will say that my symptoms had been growing steadily worse over the last six months, with PMS taking over the better part of 2-3 weeks each month. It had been taking over my life, and to have it just gone was a miracle.

I've had a few emotional a-has during the process. My acupuncturist is not a therapist, but she is very gifted at asking just the right questions. For example, at our first visit, Lynn asked me what I do to relax, and I completely went blank. That was a huge eye-opener. I later determined that although I have lots of fun things I do, I never entirely relax, and that weekend during some journaling I was able to visualize a tightly wound coil in the pit of my belly that never let go.

Lynn has lots of good practical advice, too. She's suggested yoga, which I've started to do a bit again, and we've talked about sleep and exercise and all sorts of other things. Lynn has strongly suggested I see a hypnotherapist about the food/body-image stuff, as the issues are so very old (back to 12) and ingrained. (The cognitive therapy having been exhausted, and not having helped.)

I feel like a completely different person now, and it's starting to show in many ways. I'm getting up early in the mornings to enjoy a cup of tea on the porch while journaling before the girls got up. I've recommitted to my WW Core plan - this time in a more realistic way. I restarted my exercise plan, and this time it's actually fun. During the day I feel like I'm more plugged in to the girls. I started drawing again, and have rediscovered my true love for the handwork I do. I even wrote a love letter to myself, which I read out loud every morning as a way to recommit to a healthy life.

Honestly, I didn't really think this would work. I was just at the end of my rope and felt that modern medicine had failed me. This was sort of a last-ditched effort.

And to my amazement...it worked.

3 comments:

Lenny said...

This was lovely to read. I'm glad that your acupuncturist is able to help you and that you're seeing actual improvement. It can take a lot of courage to go see an alternative practitioner, and it's great that you took the chance.

By the way, as a going-to-be hypnotherapist myself I agree that hypnosis could be a big help to you in dealing with these deep-rooted issues and removing old patterns, especially if the somewhat "softer" cognitive therapy didn't quite manage it.

Best wishes for your further healing
Lenny

Bonnie said...

Such a heartening, positive post. It makes me want to look into acupuncture.

Kate (Cathy) Johnson said...

I am SO impressed, sweet thing. Thank you for directing me to your follow-up post! I AM DELIGHTED for you...esp. with the PMS issues. That can be SO debilitating.

Learning to relax can be a tough one, too...I'm so happy to hear that's come about too.

Hope to see you soon!