It's taken me a while to finish this post. I have been thinking about it for weeks, but have struggled to translate my experience into words. I don't want this to sound like a lecture or research paper, and I certainly don't want to sound too preachy. I think I know what writers block feels like now; maybe I need an editor.
So where should I even begin? I think I may just have to start with my medical history because there is no way to understand how I ended up laying on a table, almost naked, with needles tapped into all sorts of places (did I mention I hate needles?) without it.
If you are reading this, we are now close friends because only my close friends know this much about my inner workings.
So what's a girl to do?
Going to yet another doctor did not seem like a good use of my time, but just sucking it up and dealing didn't sound like a fun party either.
My stomach has been in flare-up mode for a few months now. Some days I feel fine, but others I feel so frustrated with the constipation, burping, bloating, etc. that I am on the verge of punching a wall. Adding a probiotic twice a day does not seem to have helped, although I will give it more time. Making additional tweaks to my diet may have some impact, but would also make me go crazy, as I already choose to omit certain foods (once again, you can read more about why here).
So in a moment of utter helplessness I researched my other options, and after some thought decided to give acupuncture a try. I spent a few weeks talking the idea over with family and friends, and researched clinics in my area.
I had heard other people rave about their symptom relief from acupuncture. Plus, I figured it couldn't make things worse.
What is acupuncture?
I am not an expert, but in short, and based on my own understanding, acupuncture is a modality of Traditional Chinese Medicine. The belief is that energy runs through the body through a series of pathways, or meridians. By stimulating different points along the 20 meridians with tiny needles, acupuncturists attempt to rebalance the energy in your body to alleviate symptoms. People try acupuncture for all sorts of reasons: acute injuries, chronic pain, migraines, stress, etc. I know not everyone believes in the positive outcomes of acupuncture, but my view is it's worth trying.
My Acupuncture Experience
To start, I did exactly what I tell my patients not to do: I made an assumption about my health insurance coverage. I started with the notion that I would not have any benefits for acupuncture, and as a single, private session can cost up to $150, I immediately looked elsewhere.
Living in a city has many advantages. One of them is the existence of community acupuncture clinics. These are organizations which offer acupuncture services in a group environment, at a sliding scale fee, and often do not even bother with insurance. I found Little Bird Community Clinic, which offers sessions between $20-40 depending on your ability to pay. I am not one to shy away from sharing more intimate experiences with others, so sharing a room with fellow seekers of relief sounded fine.
I hate needles, so I walked into my first appointment more than a little anxious.
During my first visit, I completed an extensive medical history and symptom form, and spoke to the acupuncturist about my reasons for seeking treatment. She then led me into the group room, which held eight lounge chairs; four on each side of the room facing into each other. Each chair had a pillow, blanket, and basket to hold your belongings. I sat down, removed my shoes, and rolled up my pant legs to above my knees.
Next came the needling. I stayed relatively calm while she placed needles into my forearms, legs, and feet, but had to take a few very deep breathes when it came time for the three needles right where my forehead meets my scalp. The best part, I learned, came next. The subsequent 45 - 60 minutes involved me, deep breathing, and a relaxing nap. While I did spend a few minutes calming myself down, I was able to find a very comfortable state.
I was pleasantly surprised at how quickly I forgot about the others in the room. Everyone else was also enjoying an afternoon nap, and a variety of white noise machines kept the volume consistent.
After a few sessions at Little Bird, a gut feeling pushed me to call my insurance company to "confirm" my lack of coverage for acupuncture, and boy was I wrong! Under my plan, I can receive up to 70 physical therapy and/or acupuncture sessions each year at only $25 per visit. Little Bird is an amazing facility, but having the option for private sessions sounded even better. I quickly researched and found a provider close to work. This morning I completed my fifth session.
Unlike the community clinic, a private session looks very similar to getting a massage, in the sense that I spend the time in a private room laying on a massage table. At the beginning of each session the acupuncturist asks me how I am feeling, checks my pulse in each arm, and sometimes asks to look at my tongue. Based on this conversation, she develops a plan for the session while I am getting situated. Private sessions allow for more options. Sometimes I remain mostly dressed, other times mostly not. Private sessions also give her the option of placing needles in my back.
I have now had needles placed up and down my legs, in my feet, along my back, in and around my stomach, and on the outside of my nose. This last one freaked me out a little bit, but I had mentioned experiencing symptoms from all the pollen, so she wanted to try and help out there too.
I would be lying if I told you I felt differences right away, but I also recognize that I've had these symptoms for so long, so fixing them could likewise take a while. I have noticed small, but significant improvements. For example, two weeks ago an annoying gnawing sensation in my stomach would not go away but subsided after a session and has not returned. I have also experienced less daily gas, and the night sweats that used to wake me up multiple times a week have magically disappeared.
So does acupuncture work? I'm leaning toward yes, but also know it will never be the 100% solution. I also believe in the power of deep breathing and relaxation. Acupuncture requires both of these, so it's difficult to separate out all the factors. Based on the long history of my symptoms, I was told up front that it might take time. I am optimistic based on the positive changes I'm already feeling. My plan is to keep it up for another few months. While I am lucky to have insurance benefits for it, I'm not made of money. If nothing else though, this is a non-invasive, and non-medicated option for treating my issues. Plus, who couldn't use a little extra nap time each week!
Walking enthusiast, and kitchen experimenter currently living out my dream in Mexico City, Mexico.
Get my open diary posts delivered straight to your inbox.