How Acupuncture Changed My Life

A few weeks ago on Instagram, I mentioned that I might want to write a little round-up about my acupuncture experiences over this last year and asked if there were any specific questions I could answer. There were actually tons (and that’s not social media hyperbole), so in an effort to be a thorough as possible, I decided to just make it a blog post. Feel free to comment below if I don’t answer your question here.

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I have to start with my queasy fear of needles, because that’s the only way I can demonstrate the desperation driving my decision to go to acupuncture. I’m the person who can’t watch movies that involve intravenous drugs or medications. I’m the person who requires an escort to a blood draw in case she passes out. I’m the person who has considered a myriad of tattoo designs but will never follow through, not for fear of pain, but just the knowledge of being repeatedly needled. I’m the woman who, after twenty hours of labor, had to be sedated first to relax enough for the epidural I needed to endure the next twenty hours.

There, you see? Needles were not a natural course of action for me in my health journey. But I was running out of options and my symptoms were worsening.

The first thing people want to know is what it was that was desperately driving me to face my fear of needles. Honestly, it was a combination of symptoms that I was, more and more, beginning to suspect were connected. The most obvious were my chronic sinus infections. What had once been a once-every-three-years ordeal, by early last year, I was suffering two or three sinus infections a year. They laid me up in bed for days at a time, with incredible pain, zapped energy, and delirious fevers. Not super conducive to my work-from-home-mommy lifestyle.

Perhaps the more debilitating symptoms, however, were bubbling under my surfaces, and they felt dark and terrifying. Since my first pregnancy, and especially after I was done nursing Edith, I began to experience deepening and crippling anxiety and depression at different points in my cycle. I’ve always been a high-strung person, and a little melancholic, too; but this fear and sadness was different. It was so disconnecting and dizzying that I hardly recognized it creeping in, especially in the earlier days of motherhood. Once I could finally name it, it took me even longer to correlate it with different markers in my menstrual cycle. I waited for my postpartum hormones to settle and for the problem to correct itself; but instead, quite the opposite occurred, and, with daughters aged eight- and six-years-old, I felt considerably worse rather than better.

I truly believe in holistic health and that mind and body are absolutely connected. What I was facing mentally and emotionally began also to manifest physically. Each month, my PMS symptoms worsened—tender breasts, extreme cramps, severe exhaustion, and body pain—until I was symptomatic for more of the month than I wasn’t. When a tight bra at the first of the month signaled I’d get my period three-and-a-half weeks later, I started seeking out help.

When it comes to systematic healthcare, I like to remain pretty hands-off. I believe in the body’s power to heal itself, I just had to nudge it in the right direction. I started taking some natural hormone-balancing supplements, primarily maca powder and chaste berry, along with a xylitol nasal spray for my sinus problems. Coupled with increased exercise and decreased sugar intake, I did begin to feel a difference. It was subtle, however, partially because, I believe, the problem was bigger than I understood, and also because I no longer possessed a baseline “normal”. I didn’t know what it felt like to feel good anymore.

Last summer, when I should have been at my happiest having finally come home, my mood took a steep tumble. Everything was fuzzy and overwhelming. This is when I turned to acupuncture.

Bless my acupuncturist, Lisa, for listening to me weep during our first session. I really needed to unload some emotional junk, along with the stress of my health problems; but even if I’d been willing to share nothing, Lisa would have gotten to the bottom of it. I highly recommend seeing a pulse-balancing acupuncturist for this reason. Lisa uses pulse diagnosis to evaluate how my internal systems are working relative to each other. When she felt my weakened kidney channel and my overactive liver channel, she said, “Well, all of your symptoms make sense then.” I was right about my sinus-problems and hormonal imbalances being connected in that both, according to Chinese medicine, are evidence of imbalances with the kidneys and liver. This identification alone relieved some of my stress, offering a glimmering hope that what I was feeling was not only real, but it could be fixed.

My treatment primarily includes dry needling, though occasionally Lisa incorporates acupressure and cupping as well. Remember my fear of needles? I’m here to tell you that, not only did I survive that first session, I’ve been back about once a month since then. It’s never comfortable for me knowing that I’m laying on a table to have needles inserted into my body for an hour; but it is manageable. Most of the time, I only know a needle is going in because of where I feel Lisa’s hand. There are a few spots that hurt as the needle enters, but no more (and mostly less) than a flu shot. Lisa chats to me the whole time so I’m distracted, and after about 15-20 minutes, the needles are in. I listen to music, close my eyes, and normally doze off for another 20-30 minutes.

I did not notice immediate and complete relief after my first session. What I noticed was movement. I felt my body going through a rigorous detox—my sinuses popped and drained, and I felt incredibly sluggish. When I began treatment, Lisa suggested we meet once a week for five weeks—a complete period and ovulation cycle. By my second session, I could pinpoint physical differences. My energy was up, my head was clearer, and my appetites regulated, from desire for nourishing foods instead of empty sugar to my libido. I had no cramps, no body aches, minimal bloating. That next period surprised me. At the end of five weeks, I felt like I had re-entered my own body, and that was when I understood that I’d felt absent from myself for so long.

Acupuncture was at the heart of my transformation, and so I do continue to make space for it. It can be cost-prohibitive to get regular “tune-ups”, as Lisa calls them. Someone asked about prices, which I expect will vary tremendously depending on where you are; but that said, Lisa’s sessions are $85/each, and at this point I go around every six weeks. (Full transparency: Trevor and I occasionally barter services through Wander Unlimited, and this has allowed me a more liberal acupuncture schedule than I may otherwise be able to afford.)

I’m not here to preach that acupuncture is a miracle treatment that will heal all that’s wrong. What it managed for me was my baseline health, jumpstarting my body to take charge again. I was able to adjust my diet with intention and self-control; I began regularly practicing yoga three times a week; and as one healthy decision begets another, so did other healthy choices become much easier. Facing my fears of needles empowered me in several ways: admitting how desperate I felt in my symptoms, even though I worried I should just “suck it up”; and taking control of my physical and mental health at once, giving them equal importance.

Please let me know if I missed any of your questions. I’d love to hear if you see an acupuncturist as well!