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!