Friday, March 6, 2009

Topic of the Week: Insomnia-- Acupuncture

Two nights in a row of good sleep! I think my acupuncturist's new herbal treatment might really be working! So it's the perfect time to talk about acupuncture, the treatment I finally found for my insomnia that has worked and is truly non-habit-forming.

My new doctor was the first one to mention acupuncture to me. She wrote me a prescription for Ambien since I told her it was all that worked, but I also mentioned that I wanted to get off of it and asked her for any ideas. I rattled off the list of things I tried and she told me quite honestly that Western Medicine doesn't know shit about insomnia. She suggested acupuncture and Chinese medicine. I was impressed and when I told my mother about it, so was she. We both agreed I'd found a pretty cool doctor.

I didn't pursue acupuncture until later that year though. I kept up my attempts at meditation. It wasn't until I was at a charity benefit for the Keep On Keeping On Organization (an amazing foundation based in Chicago that does so much for people with physical disabilities), going through their silent auction prizes when I saw one of the prizes was an acupuncture treatment that I decided the moment had come. Hey, I could try acupuncture and the money would go to a good charity. It seemed like a win win.

So I won the charity auction and set up my appointment for early January 2008, determined that 2008 would be the year I kicked Ambien and conquered insomnia. I filled out a fairly extensive form (immediately I was impressed at the holistic approach that acupuncturists take over Western medicine). We went over the form and the acupuncturist also looked at my tongue which is the big key in Chinese medicine. She ultimately diagnosed me with Heart Blood deficiency, Spleen Qi deficiency, some Liver Qi stagnation, and Kidney Yin deficiency. She put tiny needles in my legs, stomach and forehead and left me in a room with music softly playing.

It's hard to describe the sensations of acupuncture. The needles don't hurt. It's just like a little pinch. Of course I have a high pain tolerance and no real fear of needles. But I've had only two occasions in the year I've been doing it where inserting a needle hurt, and it was some strangely sensitive area near my right wrist. My acupuncturist avoids that area. Sometimes the needles itch a little bit, but for the most part I can forget them as I lay there. Acupuncture relaxes me; I've actually fallen asleep on a few occasions. Sometimes I get this strange sensation that is hard to describe. It's kind of like dizziness but not really. I almost feel like my whole body is rotating head over heels. Sometimes slowly, sometimes faster. The first time I did acupuncture it got really fast and I had to open my eyes because it was almost too dizzying. But I really felt things in my body shifting. Something was happening, I knew this right away. Of course, since I was still addicted to Ambien at that time when I tried to sleep without it, I slept horribly, but I left knowing I wanted to pursue further treatmetnat.

The girl I saw for that first acupuncture treatment was located in a neighborhood in the city pretty far from where I live, so I knew that unless I liked her tons, even if I liked acupuncture, I'd need to find a new practioner. Also as it turned out, she was pretty pricey and moving to the Bay Area in a month. She admitted to me that she thought my problem would take more than a month's worth of treatment and that it would probably be best treated with herbs as well and she didn't have as much expertise there. She seemed relatively new to acupuncture in general (though she was right about the heart blood issue, my current acupuncturist discusses that a lot), so I wanted someone more experienced. Fortunately I mentioned acupuncture to my pilates teacher and she'd told me she knew a woman who had been practicing in Oak Park, the town next to mine, for years and she was so experienced she even taught classes on acupuncture at DePaul (I think its DePaul... it might be Loyola, but anyway, very reputable universities). So I called Jackie at Turtle Creek Healing Arts. Sessions with her cost half as much as the girl in the city and she was a licensed herbalist as well, so it seemed perfect.

I was comfortable with Jackie immediately for a few different reasons. 1. Her office was filled with turtle memorablia. Turtles remind me of my friends Eryn and Jenny S. and also of my childhood pet turtle. 2. She had a stuffed ET poking his head out of an open ceiling tile. ET is also a fond childhood thing for me. 3. She noticed the scars on my arms and asked me about them. I told her honestly, when I was a teenager I cut myself. She said, "That must have been a very hard time for you. I'm really sorry you had to go through that." I almost cried. No doctor had ever, ever acknowledged my scars. They are pretty damn obvious when I'm sitting there shivering in a hospital gown, but no one mentioned them and certainly no one ever said, "I'm sorry." This woman is a keeper and I could be comfortable talking to her which is key because for acupuncture to work you have to be willing to talk about every aspect of your body from your sore throat to your shit to your period. They don't look at insomnia the way Western medicine does. It's not about having restless legs or apnea or else mental health-- something in your head. The whole body is interconnected in Chinese medicine and acupuncture. Your inability to sleep can be linked to your stomach upset, your sore shoulder, etc.

Jackie immediately made the connection between my insomnia and my period. You'd think it would have been a connection doctors would've made, but Jackie was the first one to say, "When did you start menustruating?" 13. "When did the insomnia begin." Oh... 13.  We also quickly realized that my sleep is always the most horrid the week before my period and the best immediately following. Jackie regulates the herbs she prescribes me accordingly 

Jackie varies the patterns of the needles according to my symptoms, what she sees on my tongue and my pulse which she takes on both wrists. I haven't studied acupuncture so I can't tell you how this all works, just that it does. She also sometimes heats the needles up (which I really like the warmth, I must say) and sometimes does cranial massage while I'm relaxing with the needles in. Cranial massage is basically very small movements that massage my head and neck. The types of herbs she prescribes have also varied depending on my symptoms.

As I mentioned back in June of 2008, I was being weaned off the herbs and regular acupuncture treatments and I was sleeping normally until my friend died. Everything got sort of screwed up since then, but in my last visit, Jackie and I discussed my grief, depression, and stomach issues and she came up with a new course of treatment that is really working. So, cross your fingers! I might be sleeping normally again quite soon.

I hope so since acupuncture is expensive and not covered by my insurance. My mom has been helping me pay for it since she sees how much it has helped me. At least I am no longer drug dependent. Also a nice side effect of the acupuncture is it has strengthened my immune system, which may by why I haven't gotten my fiance's cold... knock on wood!


Heather said...

I've suffered from insomnia since I was about ten years old (connected with a traumatic family experience). In the past five years, I've cycled through every sleep/anxiety medication my doctor could prescribe, with the end result being I still couldn't sleep.

Last year, when I was in treatment for my eating disorder, I met this amazing woman who was all about meditation and Chinese medicine. She directed me to a website with herbal remedies. Within a week of taking them, not only was I sleeping, but my depression had eased up quite a bit. I still think those herbs saved my life and significantly helped with my recovery.

Unfortunately, I later came to realize that the herbal stuff not only messed with my digestive system, but is made with gelatin. So, now I'm back to taking 3 Benadryl everynight and still not getting enough sleep. Back to where I started, I guess.

I've done acupuncture once in the past, when I was fifteen. I absolutely loved it and felt significantly better afterwords. I never went back though. I felt too much guilt for how much it cost. So, I lied to my Mom and told her it made me feel worse.

But now, I'm definitely intrigued by the idea of it... And after all the money that has gone towards my blood disorders, depression issues,and costs of rehab, I'm beginning to realize that my health is something I really shouldn't put a price limit on.

Eh, sorry for such a long comment. Your entry opened a whole new can of worms for me. :)

Sarahbear9789 said...

I do Acupuncture for headaches, pain, sleeping, and energy level. My doctor explained that the pluses tell them which "organ" to treat. The tongue shows if you are sleeping well. In my situation acupuncture is much cheaper then the medicine I have to get otherwise.
Good Luck.

Authorness said...

Fantastic to hear you've finally found a treatment that works for you, Stephanie! I've had acupuncture for severe headaches. My doctor tried laser acupuncture too but we found the good old-fashioned needles worked best.

Sweet dreams!

~ Vanessa

Anonymous said...

Thank you for posting your experiences. As an acupuncturist, it's good to hear that you find what we do helpful. There are many people out there who are quick to make judgements, without any real experience. It's good to hear of some positive results and I hope you all continue to do well. All the best. Matt

Anonymous said...

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Clare Bob said...

Were you able to continue your acupuncture sessions, Stephanie? I can see that your experience is very positive with the treatment, so I’m hoping that you remained committed to the therapy. I think acupuncture did more than just relieve your insomnia; it also improved your disposition and your overall health. I’m happy to know that you were at least able to share your problems. That’s definitely a load-off. Keep rocking, Stephanie!

Clare Bob