Why did you become an acupuncturist?

I’ve had a few new folks and a few regulars ask the question lately, so here’s a revisit for y’all who don’t already know the story.

Like many people, I had it done, got great results, and was totally fascinated by the process. Half my school was referred by their acupuncturist, I think. For me, I ended up moving away to Texas to figure out my life, and it’s just what I ended up doing.

What were you getting treated?

I made the appointments for side effects of antidepressants. I took several different kinds in my 20s, and whatever boost they gave me, they all had a bit of a breaking-in period. My appetite and sleep were almost always affected, whether increase or decrease. This particular drug was a doozy; I couldn’t keep my eyes closed, I could barely swallow, and I shook like I’d drunk a pot of coffee. I was desperate, but I was also curious. Would this be better than sedatives?

I bought the 5 treatment package and made a few appointments. I was shocked at how relaxing it was. Even when one of the pins was triggering a reflex, I laid on my back, bemused, as my right leg kicked the air until my acupuncturist returned to the room to take them out. It didn’t take two weeks for me to start having dreams, which meant I was sleeping. Preparing food and eating also was no longer an impossible chore. And I actually felt happier and more hopeful, which was usually why I was taking drugs!* For me, better than sedatives, but I was also unemployed, so 3+ extra hours in my week to go more than once for extra long sessions didn’t phase me one bit. And as I tried to think of what to do next, studying this seemed like a good thing to do.

So acupuncture isn’t just for pain?

I kind of consider mental imbalance a sort of emotional pain, and there is often physical pain involved! It’s funny you ask, since I often have people say they didn’t know it was for pain! I wonder if those people think there is a reason for acupuncture at all. I think people mostly consider acupuncture when something hurts. I also see people who have digestive disorders, Bell’s Palsy, reproductive issues, allergies, or just need to relax. A lot of times people ask if I treat [x] and it’s something I see multiple times a week. Other times people ask if I know anything about [y] and I have literally never heard of it. Better to ask in advance so we’re on the same page.

What did you do before you were an acupuncturist?

My undergraduate degrees are in computer science and math. I was in software development, which was lucrative until it wasn’t. (Times were pretty tough in the dot bomb era for a junior engineer in a niche field.) It is again, but I’ve figured out how to do this now. One of my favorite teachers also had an engineering background. His needling patterns often represented a strut. Not always (usually not, actually) needling in the area of complaint, but there was a logic behind the chosen points. Zeroes and ones, yin and yang, optimizing circuits, it’s not the job that changed, it’s the medium.

What are some examples of when your patients have had their lives changed?

The question I was actually asked was have I saved anyone’s life. Not in that sense, that I can remember. I lost my father last year, so I can say with some stoicism that everybody dies. But in student clinic, we had the mostly blind old man who started to look people in the eye when conversing, who could look out the window and count the cars in the street, who said one evening on being called to dinner by his wife, “Can I sit here and look at the Christmas tree some more? I can see it!” Early on in my career, there was the man with terminal cancer who couldn’t smell or taste from the radiation treatments. He got those senses back and really enjoyed his last Thanksgiving meal. Now, would I say I treat anosmia and blindness? Of course not! There are other conditions that I am extremely confident about being able to help, but I still say, “Let’s try it a few times and see what happens.” Those are just the most outstanding stories of when something cool does happen.

*There is nature and nurture, and some people are going to be really helped by exercise, community, meaningful work, etc. Some people have a chemical imbalance, are doing all of the above anyway, and need drugs. I think, personally, I am somewhere in between, as are a lot of people. Never shame people for their broken brain chemistry or whatever disease. My career is in natural medicine, but I wince at the term “Big Pharma” and conspiracy minded talk. Prescription drugs are another tool in the box, often more powerful, sometimes with more side effects, but if they are a necessary net good for a patient, they should be used.

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