I started seeing an acupuncturist in my early twenties. I felt very sick.
My cycles were 40+ days long, and when I did bleed, it was extremely heavy. I soaked through those extra large pads with wings in two hours. I was bloated all the time, and had a lot of indigestion. I would sleep all day if I could. At the time I was working part time at a doctor's office as a receptionist. I had a Saturday shift from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m., and after I closed up the office I ran straight home to bed, where I would sleep until 5 p.m., wake up to eat, and then go back to bed.
And mentally, I was not well. I had terrible OCD that manifested in strange tics. Before my period the OCD would get worse, and would be accompanied by intense crying jags and bouts of either deep depression or extreme rage. I was convinced that I had some sort of hormonal imbalance, and saw an endocrinologist for help. I did lots of bloodwork, peed in a few cups, and had a thorough consultation. The result? I was a perfectly healthy young woman. According to the endocrinologist.
So I turned to acupuncture. My mother was seeing an acupuncturist at the time for hot flashes, and she had nothing but good things to say. I was weirded out by that first appointment. The acupuncturist looked at my tongue, took my pulse, and asked me a million questions - about my sex life, my libido, the color of my period blood, my diet - everything!
But the treatment room was so relaxing, with dim lighting and soft music, and the subtle scent of lavender. I steeled myself for pain when my acupuncturist pulled out the needles, but besides a few brief pinches, I didn't feel a thing. And when she left the room, it felt like the entire world was spinning furiously outside the door - but in here it was peaceful, still, and wonderfully quiet. I felt safe. And I promptly fell asleep. After the treatment, I was given herbs to take every day. They smelled funny and tasted unpleasant, but I took them anyway. I was desperate for relief.
After a few more treatments, my cycle was 30 days long and the bleeding was not as heavy. Emotionally, I felt a little more balanced. I finally asked my acupuncturist: how did she do what the endocrinologist couldn't? What was the acupuncturist's secret?
She explained that women can have slight hormonal imbalances that not even tests can detect, but these imbalances often make women uncomfortable and feel like they cannot cope well with daily life. I was the perfect example of someone who appeared healthy, but was struggling. She said she was using acupuncture as a way to stimulate my body into healing itself. She was working to nourish my blood, which was extremely depleted. "How can that be true?" I asked. "I was bleeding so much during my periods!"
She explained that much of the blood in my body was going towards my reproductive organs, which was leaving the rest of my body - including my brain - in dire need of nourishment. This was why I was so mentally unwell before my period. We need blood for good circulation, energy, and even emotional health. Without good blood circulation, we feel a sense of malaise. She pointed out signs that she saw when I walked into her clinic. Bruises on my body showed that I bruised easily. I had dry skin and brittle hair and nails. I complained that I needed eyedrops, especially in the spring. I was cold all the time, even in the heat of summer.
I was fascinated by her methods of diagnosis, as well as her simple explanation of my disease state. At that time I had already begun to think of going into nursing school or becoming a physician assistant. But those first few treatments changed my mind. It took me 8 more years of hemming and hawing before finally starting acupuncture school.
It is not uncommon for menstrual issues to be accompanied by fierce mood swings and myriad uncomfortable physical symptoms. The less regular a woman's period is, the more likely she will struggle with severe PMS. While I always recommend that patients also see their doctor or a therapist for comprehensive mental health treatment, acupuncture is a wonderful, minimally invasive way to balance the spirit and body both. We believe that the body and mind are not separate entities. They are dependent on one another for stability and nourishment.
Think about the last time you were really hungry. You may have also been grumpy, irritable, and overall unpleasant to be around. Or think about the last time you felt anxious. Did you have to pee a lot? Did you have diarrhea? Or maybe your stomach hurt, your palms got sweaty, and you felt like passing out. These are simple examples of how the body and mind seamlessly interact.
I am forever grateful to that first acupuncturist for healing me and guiding me towards my life path. It didn't mean that my healing journey was over, but it felt like a step in the right direction. And because of how much that acupuncturist helped me with my periods and mental health, I am committed to passing on the healing to other women struggling with their menstrual cycles or reproductive health.