Is Acupuncture Right for You?

When I bring up acupuncture to people who’ve never tried it, I get one of three reactions:

  1. OMG no!
  2. OMG hell no!!
  3. What’s it like? I’ve always wanted to try it!

This post is for you #3 people and anyone who is curious about what acupuncture is and why someone would do it.

I’ve been curious about acupuncture since the first time I read about it years ago in a runner’s forum where runners swore by its ability to help heal running injuries. Beyond that, I have health issues that have challenged me to look beyond traditional Western medicine for approaches that complemented my treatment plans. This includes lifelong asthma, insomnia, and an autoimmune thyroid disorder. I’m also a stroke survivor (thankfully). Everything I am sharing with you here is based solely on my personal experience, and it goes without saying that you should work with your doctor or treatment team for a plan that is designed specifically for you.

So is acupuncture right for you? Here’s my journey, which may help you decide:

Step 1: Know Why You’re Going

While I was battling running injuries the first time I went in 2015, I was also battling “I just went through a divorce, a layoff, a major health crisis with my child, and life is kicking my ass” fatigue. While I showed up thinking I was going for my plantar fasciitis flare-up, I also knew that I was battle-weary, and the stress of it all – plus the nagging feeling that Western medicine was missing something – was driving me to research a doctor and book that first appointment.

Some will say acupuncture heals everything under the sun. I don’t know about that. But I do know that it has worked for me to manage stress and anxiety, as well as help with pain management and healing of running injuries, including chronic bouts of plantar fasciitis that always surface when I am going through a particularly stressful time. But acupuncture is just one tool in my arsenal, which includes other more “conventional” treatments and medicine.

I have come to look at acupuncture as a way to hit the reset button for my body, particularly after a stressful time in my life. I’m a firm believer in the concept that our issues are in our tissues.

Step 2: Get a Recommendation

I went for my first treatment about a year after my divorce. Since running is my go-to for managing stress and anxiety, I was desperate for something, anything, that would help me continue to run. So after reading yet another rave review about the benefits of acupuncture in a running group forum, I decided to go for it. All other Western medicine approaches seemed to be failing me. What did I have to lose?

The most important thing for me was to get a recommendation from someone I knew. A sports massage therapist I trusted recommended a Chinese doctor who I worked with for several years before switching last year to Dr. Chen, also a Chinese doctor, also based on a personal recommendation, and someone I have come to trust immensely.

Trust me when I say that it takes a lot for me to trust someone. ๐Ÿ™‚

Step 3: Trust the Process

If you trust the acupuncturist, you can relax on the table and trust the process. The doctor will ask why you are there or how you are doing; they may ask you to fill out forms (my biggest pet peeve anywhere I go, honestly); they may ask you to stick out your tongue for an assessment.

My biggest piece of advice: be honest. If you just lost your job or a loved one, say so. If your back hurts, say so. If you’re sad, say that, too. You don’t have to tell them all the details. But you should be honest about what hurts, whether it’s your foot, your neck…or maybe just your heart.

Based on this consultation, the doctor will insert acupuncture needles in select locations on your body. I always stay fully dressed. Sometimes, they move a heat lamp over your tummy in the winter (I love that and always think of Winnie the Pooh for some reason lol). There is usually soothing music playing, and once the needles are inserted, they dim or turn off the lights as they leave and close the door.

And then – it’s all you. You get to relax. In a way you have never probably relaxed in your entire life. For an entire 25-45 minutes. It is absolutely delicious, I tell you.

Step 4: Enjoy the Stillness

For me, the first few minutes of acupuncture are like when I wake up at 3AM and can’t sleep. My brain is frantically going over every detail of my life, my day, my to-do list, my many failures and fuck-ups, the pizza I ate (again), how many glasses of wine I had with dinner, the stupid thing I said at the absolute wrong moment, the brilliant thing I should have said at the exact right moment…you get the idea. It’s like 27 hamsters in wheels in my brain at any given time. But I’ve come to learn that in a few minutes on the table, the wheels slowly stop turning. The hamsters get off their wheels to go drink beer and eat pizza.

My heart rate goes down.

I relax.

I see colors behind my closed eyes. Blue, purple, green, white, gold, orange, and only once, red. The colors come and go like pulses of energy. Electrical current. It appears in different patterns like bursts of fireworks. Often it’s concentrated behind my left eye. If you are interested in what the colors represent, read this.

During my first acupuncture session a few weeks after my stroke, all I saw behind my closed eyes was a black blob moving up and down, struggling to move around sluggish dark green and brown colors. Eventually the black blob was absorbed into the colors and disappeared. In the next session, the black blob appeared but was absorbed more quickly into the other colors, which were less muddy and more clear. By the third and final session, there was no black blob; the colors I saw were bright and clear, and I felt stronger and more at peace. I felt like my true energy was back.

Hello, me! ๐Ÿ™‚

During my session after the divorce (once a week for six weeks), I had what I can only call lucid dreams. In one, I was walking down a tree-lined path. I could see one of my children to my right, and the other to the left. We were all on our own paths, going our separate ways, but we could see each other through the trees. It made me sad but at the same time, I knew that this was what letting go looked like. It was coming and I had to be prepared, both emotionally and spiritually. I left that session feeling ready to accept what the future held for all three of us.

If you’re thinking – “This is too out there for me,” that’s cool! Not everyone sees colors or has lucid dreams. I’m a writer and have always been more on the creative/sensitive side, so it would figure that I would have a more “creative” reaction to acupuncture. If it happens for you, lean into it. See where it takes you. But don’t let my experience deter you from trying it, especially if it can help with your pain or anxiety.

Step 5: Take care of you afterwards.

Don’t plan anything the day you have acupuncture, at least for the first time, anyway. I do it on the weekends so that I have time to rest and recharge. You might feel extra tired for 1-3 days. You might feel energized. I have the BEST sleep of my life for a week or so after a session and I don’t run the day of or the day after. I usually leave feeling peaceful and a little out of it (until I get on the road, and then my road rage tendency sneaks back out. Note to self: Uber to and from acupuncture next time.)

Other tips: drink lots of water. Take a nap if you need to. Make homemade chicken soup and watch your favorite movies. Unless you’re energized, in which case you should follow that energy wherever it takes you. Clean your house, go for a run, write a book, broker world peace — if you’re feeling it, go for it!

I will say this – sometimes, I have emotional releases after acupuncture, usually within 24 hours. The very first session I had, as soon as the needles were inserted and before the doctor even left the room, silent tears streamed down my face. It surprised me and I was embarrassed, even though no one was in the room. (Emotions? Yuck!)

It was the first time I felt like I could release the sadness in my heart from the grief that I had been suppressing after my divorce and the ensuing life events so that I could get from one day to the next. After my father’s recent death, I had a session after many months of not going and the day after, I felt a release of pent-up emotions buried so deep, for so long, I didn’t even know they were there. After a good cry, I felt…free. I felt like I had more energy. I felt relieved.

I felt at peace.

Thinking About Giving Acupuncture a Go?

Although acupuncture is not for everyone, I have found it be to a wonderful addition to my “Feel My Best” tool box. What you’ll also find in there: journaling, reading, music, dancing, running, lifting, biking, yoga, snuggling my dog, and spending time in nature. I’m always adding new things that I discover as I go. I don’t do it all, all the time – I mean, I have to work and cook and do laundry and get my oil changed like everyone else. ๐Ÿ™‚ But I do commit time every day to one or two of these things, even it’s three minutes of breathing on the porch in the fresh air with my steaming cup of coffee and a two-minute snuggle with my dog.

Even if you’re not ready to book an acupuncture appointment today, why not think about the things that help you hit the mental “reset’ button? Make a list and prioritize the things that make you the happiest. Then book time for those things in your day, every day. Look at your calendar right now. Work in time for you and the things that make you feel your best, your happiest, and most connected to you – the real, authentic, wonderful you.

“But I don’t have time!” you say.

“Bullshit!” I say.

See what you can give up doing to make room, i.e., mindless TV, scrolling on social media. Even if it’s five minutes. Trust me. You’re worth it. ๐Ÿ™‚

I’ll leave you with you with that because my homemade chicken soup is ready, I have laundry to fold, and I’m going to build a fire and watch cheesy romance movies with my dog. Happy Sunday everyone!!

Make Your Creative Space Now

Everyone should have a creative space. It could be a nook under the stairs. A corner of a quiet, unused room or the basement. A covered porch. A quiet kitchen table when your people are away or asleep. Even a corner in a closet will do.

I would know. I’ve carved out my creative space in many places over the years, in dorms, apartments, houses, even hotels when I travel for work. I’ve made do with what I had and worked around running a mid-size business from home with two kids, two dogs, play dates, neighborhood kids descending on the yard, our union employees, babysitters, everyone coming and going at any given time. It was chaotic, but creativity thrives in chaos. You just need a space to process, harness and translate it.

Wherever this space may be, it should be sacred.

Your people should not be traipsing around in there, looking over your shoulder, asking what you are doing, poking around in your creative business. When you close the door or the drape or disappear into your space, you should feel safe to create. Think. Write. Paint. Dream. Read. With no interruption. Without fear of criticism. With no instruction or redirection. Just – you. For 5 minutes, if thatโ€™s what you can spare. Longer when you can. Even 5 minutes a day is enough to satisfy the soul. More is better, but some days you just have to make do with what you can.

As I have always told my kids, especially after the divorce, home is wherever your people and your dogs are. (And lizards and snakes in our case – no offense to cats, we’re allergic.) But your creative space – the place where you go to recharge, refresh, do creative work and thinking – this requires a different approach.

This is my space today:

My “food for the family” office. Need to figure out how to fix that drawer from opening. Book on my reading table is “”How to Win Friends & Influence People,” by Dale Carnegie. Re-reading for the third time. An oldie but a goodie if you want to understand people and how to be a better human.

Iโ€™m lucky now. I have a dedicated room with a door for my office/creative space. I work from home when not traveling, so itโ€™s essential if I have any hope of actually getting things done and conducting 4 million Zoom calls in a week. While my office stays here, my creative space moves around the house, depending on my mood, what’s going on in my life, and the season. My kids are used to it, they are on the cusp of moving out and have never known any different than a mother who moves artwork, furniture, and work/fun spaces on a regular basis to keep things fresh. They think it’s normal. They do the same. Yay?

My ex-husband used to joke/complain that he would come home late at night and trip over a couch that was in a different place than it was when he left that morning. Amuses me even more now. ๐Ÿ™‚

Where to start: Define your creative goals.

Listen, if you want to carve out your own creative space, first you have to understand your own process and what you’re trying to do. You have to know what environment works best for you. Some people like to work in libraries or coffee shops or bars. They need noise, people, activity. Hey, go for it! (Unless it’s COVID-19 times and things are shut down, like now as I’m writing this.) But if you’re like me, someone who needs quiet, private space at home, here are five ideas to help you get started. Disclaimer, I am a writer – not a photographer, an interior designer, or any kind of artsy person other than with words, so, it is what it is, from my heart to yours.

Lighting. I have horrible vision. I had one of the very first corrective eye surgeries back in the 90’s and while I had perfect vision for 20 years, ever since I turned 40, it all turned sideways. (Lesson learned, don’t be the “first” to get anything and for God’s sake don’t let anyone mess with your eyes!) It’s complicated but all you need to know is – good lighting is super essential forever, for everything. Evaluate your space and how you’ll be using it. Will you be reading? Painting? Playing music? Writing? Where? Where are the windows? What is the quality of light? At what time of day?

Try out different lighting to see what works best, at different times of day, given the light in the room at any given time. I rely on Target for task lighting because it’s inexpensive and 5 minutes from my house (I’m lazy and hate to drive and certain things I can’t shop for online, I have to see it in person and touch it). All the task lighting in my office – two near my computer and two on my writing desk, plus one on my glass table near my writing chair, have three-way LED lighting, so I can go super bright on dark Chicago winter mornings or nights when I’m reading or writing.

The Tiffany-style lamp on my office desk is a treasure found at TJ Maxx, one of my favorite places EVER. It’s like a garage sale on steroids!! When I was my most broke, garage sales and places like Once Upon a Child were my saving grace. While my kids are grown now, TJ Maxx will always hold a special place in my heart. I love this lamp for the gorgeous colors, the lovely design, and the fact that I paid less for it than I would have anywhere else. I turn it on after I’m done working, a symbol that it’s time to switch from “work” to “home” mode.

2. Seating. Right now, I have two desks in my office. One is my work desk (the first pic above). It’s all about function: task lighting, post-it’s for jotting down quick notes, a good camera for Zoom meetings, speakers, all the “functional” stuff. You know, fuel for what feeds the family.

My other desk is that which feeds my soul. It’s where I journal at 5AM or write early story drafts by hand (earlier if insomnia strikes – I’ve come to look at as “found time,” a term I saw referenced in an article that I can’t find now. I bet it was Tiny Buddha!) All I know for sure is that it resonated and I’ve made it my own.

I have a chair from Pier One next to my desk that is small enough to work in a tiny house and perfect for reading on cold mornings. Add a throw pillow and blanket – priceless and comfy! My favorite is when my kids, over 18 and almost ready to fly but still in the nest, come sit and tell me about their day, ask questions, or just hang out with me. <insert big heart here> I positioned it that way intentionally and bonus – I can look up from reading and see the windows, the light, the trees, and whatever weather Chicago is throwing at us that day.

I am super picky about my pens. That’s a whole other post. But the mug they are in is handmade pottery from a studio in Hayward, Wisconsin. The hearts say “believe” and “create” and came from an independent bookstore in my town. The book is “The 12 Secrets of Creative Women,” which greatly influenced and inspired me. I’m re-reading it now. I’m also working through the 12 Secrets Journal, which inspired this post.

3. Objects. Objects have special meaning in stories and in real life. They should in your life, too. Sprinkle them into your sacred space where you can. Move them around from time to time. We tend to stop “seeing” things when they are in the same place 365 days a year. Here are a few of mine to get you going:

My candle, my journal, inspirational books, great lighting, and stone artwork purchased at a farmers market a few years ago. The colors spoke to me. I often stop writing to look up at this piece of art and appreciate the detail and the colors.
I can never find my glasses. But apparently my son listened when I shared the touted philosophy that everything has a place and there is a place for everything, as he gifted me with this giraffe for holding glasses. It always makes me smile no matter how crazy my day becomes.
This is a ceramic bird from Chile that a friend brought back for me more than 20 years ago. It is for good luck, from what I was told. When I see him, I think of my friends Becky and Barney, who brought it back for me. How lucky am I to have this love and positive energy in my writing studio. #grateful

4. Scents. One word: candles. It goes without saying that your creative space should not smell like a dirty sock that was buried in the backyard with the dog’s bone and leftover fish dinner from 20 years ago. Make it smell yummy, like you want to lick the air and actually want to be in there, doing important creative work. And make no mistake: any work that you do in there is important. It doesn’t matter whether it’s published or shown, sold, shared – it can be just for you, to make you happy. I prefer Yankee Candle. I’m not getting paid to say that, I have allergies and their candles are the only ones that don’t trigger asthma attacks that take me down for days.

5. Privacy. Shortly after I moved in, my elderly, retired next-door neighbor, who is very bored with a front door that faces my office (it’s unincorporated where I live, so some pretty goofy house setups and property divides around here), told me he saw me sitting at my desk typing, and added some exaggerated typing motions to reinforce his story. Apparently I type like Patrick from Spongebob SquarePants on crack?

So I invested in Wallpaper for Windows. You can see it in my first photo. I found it at Lowe’s and Home Depot. There are a lot of different patterns and types, all very pretty, and it’s easy for people like me with no mechanical ability to apply.

As mentioned early on, a door, a drape, boundaries (“When the door is closed, stay the hell out!!”), incense, whatever you can add to your space to keep it quiet and private, is essential. Unless you like to be interrupted nineteen times with questions like, “Is there milk in the fridge? Where are my pants? How do I set up my retirement fund?” or worse, big stuff like, “The (100-pound dog) is puking everywhere in the house again!”

Establish a rule: when the door or drape is closed, when you are in your creative space, unless there is blood or bones protruding from skin – it can wait. Even (gasp!) for the dog.

Get your creative space together now or refresh the one you have

Whether you’ve been eyeing up your living space to find a dedicated spot for your creativity and solitude or just need a creative reboot for the space you do have, it’s so worth it to commit the time and thought to building a spot that work for you, your process and your creative work. Have fun with it and kick your creative mojo into high gear!

So there are five things you can use to build your creative space – so get on it! ๐Ÿ™‚

What My Stroke Taught Me – Part 2

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May is National Stroke Awareness Month, so it feels like the right time to talk about what I learned from having a stroke – someone with zero risk factors. In part 1, I shared the moment the stroke happened. Here in part 2, I’ll share what came after and what I learned from being a stroke survivor.

So where were we…

I had a stroke in the parking lot of Whole Foods 42 minutes after a great 10-mile run on my favorite trail. I had been training for a half marathon. I painstakingly made my way back to my truck. The symptoms seemed to subside. I drove myself home. In hindsight, not the brightest idea of mine but we’ll put that in the bucket with the rest of them.

I walked into the house feeling out of sorts but keenly aware that my kids were home. My 19-year-old son was on his way out the door to work. I waved bye and told him to have a great day with a new lopsided smile. My 17-year-old daughter came around the corner and asked how my run went. I said, in what was I hoped was a neutral voice, “I think I had a stroke. I’m going to call an Uber and go to the hospital. Just to be safe. Nothing for you to worry about. But I have to shower first.”

Needless to say, she said absolutely NOT to the Uber and insisted on driving me. I didn’t argue with her. But I did shower. I’d just run 10 miles in 65-degree weather. I figured I had time, I remembered reading you had 3-4 hours to get to the hospital and get the “stroke drug.” Rightly or wrongly, as a runner, I am extremely dialed into my body and trust my instincts. I knew and felt in my bones that I had at least time for a quick shower. (If, in fact, I was even having the stroke that every fiber in my being told me I was having, which seemed inconceivable, given that I ate healthy, ran 30 miles a week, and did all the right things.)

Taking time to shower was a bad idea, as I was later told by the healthcare professionals who treated me. If you even THINK you are having a stroke, get your ass, no matter how sweaty, to the hospital ASAP. Call 9-1-1.

Duly noted.

The Hospital

It was a reality TV montage of moments forever seared into every fiber of my being that I can never run fast or far enough to forget.

Continue reading “What My Stroke Taught Me – Part 2”

What Having a Stroke Taught Me – Part 1

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Grateful to be here with these goofballs

May is National Stroke Awareness Month. The COVID-19 pandemic is at the forefront of the world’s concerns at this moment, rightly so, and all the more reason to highlight how important it is to listen to your body when you are not feeling well or right.

As they say, life is what happens when you are making other plans.

It was Saturday, August 10, 2019 and my plan was training for my half marathon in October. I had just finished a 10-mile run at my favorite trail. I had been traveling a lot for work domestically and internationally. I had a million things to catch up on now that I was home for a whole week before I had to fly out again. I was elated to be home with my kids and my dog, out running on a beautiful sunny day, surrounded by trees and blue skies.

It was the bestest day. ๐Ÿ™‚

I sat in my truck afterwards, like I always do. I drank the right amount of water, consumed my favorite gluten- and dairy-free Evolve chocolate protein shake, ate my banana. I was doing all the right things. I was happy with my run. I even posted this on Instagram:

Twenty minutes later, I drove to Whole Foods as I always do after a Saturday long run. It’s my reward – once a month I splurge on my favorite organic vegetables, fruit, salsa, and pre-prepared meals like grilled rosemary chicken. It’s nice to have someone else cook for me. ๐Ÿ™‚ย  I had a craving for organic oranges that day.

I parked, put my glasses on, got out, and began walking toward the store entrance. The sun was so bright it hurt my eyes. I felt like I was standing in a lava lamp. The world shifted and morphed in goo. If you’ve ever had vertigo, it felt kinda like that. But different. Worse. Sickeningly worse.

I thought – oh. Maybe I put my glasses on too fast and the change in perception is making me nauseous. I went to take my glasses off. But nothing happened.

“My arm won’t move. That’s weird.”

Continue reading “What Having a Stroke Taught Me – Part 1”

New Year Wishes and Other Lamb Tales

sheep-1822137_1920As the year draws to a close, I find myself not thinking about the usual things: resolutions, themes, goals, expectations, things I’ll do or change, things I’ll give up, lose or find. I am thinking instead about acceptance.

While I’ve focused a lot on letting go in previous years – letting go of a marriage, a job, behaviors, things and people that no longer work for me – I’ve found that this year, I’ve had to learn to accept a lot, too.

This hit home for me recently as I sat on the couch across from Yoda (code name for my trusty therapist). I was lamenting why I couldn’t be tougher in a particular situation, as tough as the others in it seemed to be. Yoda resorts to his lamb/wolf analysis – that some people are lambs, more gentle and sensitive in nature, hating to let others down or see them upset, while others are wolves, more driven, aggressive, direct, challenging, not caring as much about others as the lambs, etc.

The conversation went something like this: Continue reading “New Year Wishes and Other Lamb Tales”