Thursday, December 13, 2012

adventures in appointments.

Over the last nine years or so, ever since a grandfatherly professor--noticing my distress at a private meeting during office hours--took me by the hand and walked me to Northwestern's psych services building, I've been a bit of a marble in a psychiatric pinball machine.

I've been through a number of diagnoses (depression? bulimia? bipolar II?) and a larger number of medications, including those that, in hindsight, were absolutely unsuitable for a young woman not in need of major psychiatric intervention (e.g. the anti-convulsant drug that made me put on twenty pounds and thinned my hair).

All of this led to a lot of confusion on my part. What am I? What's wrong with me? And more importantly, why are none of these things working? 

Acupuncture Needles illustration by Mark Kelly

Over the course of the last several years, I have: done traditional talk therapy, done dialectical behavioral therapy, joined a dialectical behavioral group, done cognitive based therapy, ran, done yoga, got consults with an MD specializing in integrative medicine, gone on a gluten-free diet, taken multiple supplements each day, visited a hypnotist, seen a dermatologist (stress hives!), gotten acupuncture, charted my moods, read stacks of self-help and psychiatry books, bounced around from medication to medication, and finally (finally!) began therapy for trauma.

It wasn't until that very last activity that things started to make sense. Oh! This is why I am how I am. Of course I'm anxious and sad! All this ick from the past is alive and well and making decisions for me on a daily basis.

So while finding a source (sort of) is a relief (sort of), finding that magic combination to make it all go away has been considerably more difficult (hint: because it does not exist).

But I'm working on it. I can tell you that.

Over the weekend the pain from tension in my shoulders reached a peak, and all week I've felt achey and stiff and uncomfortable both sitting and laying down (part of the reason I have not been posting as regularly). So in addition to the four doctor appointments I already had scheduled for this week (two regular therapy; one with a new therapist for a skills-building group I'm joining; one with my psychiatrist), I went ahead and scheduled a few more. One is with a neuromuscular therapist that I'm seeing today.

The other was with an acupuncturist. The first time I got (did?) acupuncture was two years ago after finding out that community acupuncture is a thing. The acupuncturists treat each patient individually, but while you receive treatment you're in a (quiet, soothing) room with other people. The lack of individual rooms brings down the cost, making it treatment more affordable.

For awhile I was going once a week to help me deal with stress. I had standing appointments on Fridays after work. Until one Friday I was so stressed at work that I decided there was no way I could leave and I skipped my appointment. And then, like every other good-for-me habit I've attempted during my years at this job, I let it fall to the wayside because I didn't have the head space to see it through. Which brings us to now.

Yesterday I visited another community acupuncture center here in Lincoln Park. If you've never had acupuncture, here's a brief overview of what to expect. I am pretty squeamish, but the needles are so thin that they don't hurt at all. Once they're in, you sit back and close your eyes (in community rooms you stay fully clothed, but wear loose items that can be pulled up to your elbows and knees). There's flute-y new age music playing in the background, and it's actually quite easy to relax quickly. Some people fall asleep; I usually do not. The only way I can think to explain the sensation is a heaviness, like the protective blanket they put over your chest when you get x-rays at the dentist. It feels like a weighted blanket like that is covering your whole body, and for me it becomes much easier to ignore that constant tickertape of worry that runs through my brain. It's still there--I can tap into it if I consciously try to--but it's much quieter and in the background. I would walk around with needles in me ALL DAY if I could experience that effect consistently. After thirty minutes or so, the acupuncturist comes back, removes the needles, and you're all done. I'm going again on Saturday, so we'll see what the cumulative effect is if it's done regularly.

If you're in Chicago and are interested in trying acupuncture (for everything from pain to stress to allergies and more), here are a few low-cost options that I have used:

Lincoln Square Community Acupuncture

Pacific College of Oriental Medicine

People's Community Acupuncture

None of these places accept insurance, but with sliding scale fees, you can expect to spend $20-$40 per session.

Up next? I'm kind of considering floating in a sensory deprivation tank after reading about it in an issue of Whole Living (which Martha is shuttering). And seeing it on the Simpsons, obviously.