Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Acupuncture Part One:The Experience

I have had several people ask me about my new found love with Chinese medicine and I have had such incredibly positive experiences with it that I have decided to do a several part series on my different experiences with Chinese medicine. It is not intended to be a thorough explanation of Chinese medicine but rather just my own personal experiences and thoughts about it. I hope it is helpful!

I am not sure when I first started considering acupuncture as a potential treatment modality for a “yet to be named although we think it is Sjogren’s Disease” autoimmune disorder. What I do know is that despite having many more good days than I had originally when this whole nightmare started, I still had ongoing issues that prevented me from holding down a job, never mind trying to carry on with my life in a way that many people take for granted. I was sick of taking a cabinet full of medications and dealing with the oftentimes crippling side effects of them, all in the interest of getting me “well”.

I started doing some research on acupuncture to try and find out more about it. I was afraid of the unknown. I am a nurse by profession and still held some traditional views about health, healing and medicine, despite the fact that Western medicine was not living up to what I needed it to do for this chronic autoimmune disorder. I will be honest-I was not too big on getting multiple needles stuck into me. I started talking about thinking of going for acupuncture on Facebook and a friend of mine suggested a clinic nearby that had a sliding fee scale. She had some success with it and encouraged me to check it out. Since I was out of work, I was very concerned about the cost of treatments and I figured maybe the sliding fee scale might help with that. I made an appointment with The People's Acupuncture Clinic in Amherst, MA for a consultation and so it began.

I have been caught up in the medical system as a patient on a full-time basis for three full years now with this particular illness (I have also had adventures with heart surgery, cancer, and a few other less serious diagnoses previously) so I figured I had nothing to lose by checking it out and doing one treatment. I was pleasantly surprised by the whole experience. The acupuncturist I saw (Ben) reviewed a pretty extensive health history with me. I had to laugh though at the part where I had to list my top three complaints/symptoms. I mean really, just three??? I could rattle off ten right off the top of my head but in the end, I decided on the three that were keeping me out of work: joint pain, breathing difficulties, and fatigue.

So here I was getting ready for some guy I didn’t know (but who seemed very knowledgeable as well as nice) to start playing voodoo with me. Then I started to think, what if he puts one somewhere he shouldn’t? What if he hits a nerve or something? OK, in all reality they don’t go deep enough to do that but I didn’t realize that at the time.

OK, to start with, the needles didn’t hurt. I’ll admit that since my first treatment, I have had a few instances when because of some sensitivity, a needle has hurt; but it all depends on your definition of “hurt”. To me, feeling like someone is using a sledgehammer on my wrist joints “hurts”. Someone sticking a scope into my lungs “hurts”. A needle feeling sharp for like a nanosecond, doesn’t really qualify as pain to me. Sometimes it passes instantly and if it doesn’t he takes it out. It is quite different than a traditional needle though. They are thin and very flexible. Those few instances they have been uncomfortable are not actually from the needle itself, but related to the area itself where it is being put in. Sometimes it is sensitive because it’s that time of the month (I am more sensitive then) or because the point he is treating is particularly painful that day. My feeling about this is though that I have a history (until maybe a year or two ago) of being so needle phobic that if I can handle having 8-15 needles (depending on the treatment) put in, anyone can!

The acupuncture experience itself is surreal in a way. Everyone reacts differently but it is truly one of the most relaxing experiences ever. It’s better than alcohol and tranquilizers! I know many people fall asleep for the hour, but I never have. I remember the first few treatments, I seriously felt like I had taken a handful of Ativan or some heavy duty sleep medicine. And yes, I can draw the comparison…I’ve had experience with both unfortunately! OK maybe not with a HANDFUL but you get the idea.

I am aware of what is going on around me but I just melt into the chair at the same time. I have had treatments where I feel like I am floating. I have experienced vibration sensations in parts of my body and itching. I have felt my mouth watering which is significant since I was having a constant dry mouth. Sometimes I feel this warmth go through my body. Oh wait, that may be the heating lamp over my feet. Anyways, I can tell that things are happening to my body and it all feels good. For a whole hour, I am actually at peace with my body and trust me, you cannot beat an experience like that….

Monday, January 10, 2011

Life changes

"Just when I think I have learned the way to live, life changes." ~ Hugh Prather

It never ceases to amaze me how much my life is constantly changing. For so long, I thought it was changing for the worse; between divorce, illness, job loss, home loss, dog loss…it was all so much. After all these events occurred in one really lousy year, I had to learn to live my life again, differently. As many people close to me know, it was a life changing year for me and one in which I never expected to have so many positive outcomes come from but during the process, I found myself.

In the process of this finding myself, I reconnected with old friends and made new ones. I experienced the joy of living alone. I learned to rely on myself. I became more assertive and took more risks. I learned how to live my life and not let it live me.
In the midst of all this, I began dating again. However after more first dates than I care to recall and some poor decisions on my part which led to heartbreak, I decided that in the end, I was happier alone. I had no intention of getting close enough to a potential partner again to actually try and build a life with them. Who needed them? Not me. To be honest, while dating for about two years after separating from my ex-husband, I realized my life was full as it was. I didn’t need a partner to feel complete. And I definitely did not need the aggravation.

So of course when I was least expecting it, what do you think happened? I fell in love. Totally and completely head over heels in love to the point that I now doubt if I was ever really in love before. My boyfriend became not only my love, but my best friend. Being in love is wonderful. With it though, comes change and all of a sudden, my life changed yet again.

I had to learn to trust again, to think of someone besides myself on a daily basis again, and to shop with someone else while not going off on my own the whole time! One of the hardest things I had to learn though was how to lean on a partner. Don’t get me wrong; I have wonderful family and friends who I have been able to lean on often for support, but I have never had a partner who supports me the way my boyfriend does. I don’t always have to be the strong one in a crisis. I can cry. I can freak out. I can mourn. I can let him in. He won’t run away.

So where has this relationship brought me? I am now in the process of moving to his (OK “our”) home. Family and a few friends are surprised and I don’t blame them. We have only been dating for four months. If it was a friend of mine, I would probably tell them they are crazy. I would hate to tell them that we started talking about moving in together about six weeks into the relationship! But it is like they say, when you know, you know. The first time we discussed it, I wasn’t quite ready. I knew I would be eventually, but I wasn’t ready to give up my 2-3 nights/week home alone! As it was, I had to switch my “Friday night dance party” to a weeknight once my new love and I started spending the weekends together.

Yes, on a semi-regular basis (usually when I need to get some rest for the weekend and have to stay in), I crank up my IPOD on my stereo, open up a cold bottle of Blue Moon beer and dance/sing like an idiot with my dog in the living room. Then I open another Blue Moon and talk with friends on the phone or online. The dog loves it…she howls like a fool while I am dancing and singing away; quite a spectacle! But I digress…

About six weeks ago though, I knew I was ready to start sharing my precious living space. I realized that singing at the top of my lungs and dancing with my dog to very loud music would be more fun with my boyfriend. I was ready to give up my beloved apartment and work with him to make his home “ours” in whatever ways I needed to make it comfortable for me. More importantly, I also realized that he would give me the space I needed to keep my identity as a person, especially in terms of my other friendships. I wanted to share my life with him and not just a few nights a week and weekends. He wasn’t filling a void in my life, he was adding to the beauty of it.

I will admit, I am a little scared. Not of living with him. Although I am sure we will have our stumbling blocks, I am very secure in the knowledge that whatever difficulties we will encounter, we can work through them. At first I was concerned my “dark side” would send him packing but reality is, he is in it for the long haul ,as am I. Plus he has seen my dark side now and still has let me move stuff in!

No, the fear is that little voice in the back of my head that says this is too good to be true and moving in together is very symbolic of how serious our relationship is. Sometimes I just sit back and think “how did I get so lucky?” Not because I don’t think I deserve to be happy or deserve to with someone as wonderful as him; I do. But when you have experienced so much loss and heartbreak, it can make it difficult to sit back and accept that life does not always have to end up with loss and heartbreak. Sometimes life (and God) can bring two people together who were meant for each other and they can begin the journey of learning to live a new life…together.