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Don't Read This if You're Afraid of Needles

Mar. 23, 2018 at 4:56PM

Acupuncture is a thing, right? Technically, it’s been a thing for thousands and thousands of years, it’s just experiencing a moment right now. Western culture has this gross habit of taking ancient knowledge from the world over and making it trendy. I even learned about acupuncture in nursing school a few years ago as an alternative modality with evidence to back its efficacy and in healthcare, evidence is everything. I’ve heard about it enough to try it to seek relief for chronic pain because I spent my youth treating my body like a garbage can.

Photo via
Photo via

I heard good things about Milwaukee Community Acupuncture and as it’s in my neighborhood I opted to walk down the street for my first treatment because parking in this city is a nightmare and I’ll just not if given the opportunity. I didn’t really know what to expect and I should note I’m not afraid of needles, so any nerves were merely anticipatory. A lovely soft-spoken lady acupuncturist brought me back to a squishy chair where she took a brief medical history and asked what I’d like to focus on. After I mentioned my raging anxiety and where I experience pain, she explained the needles would be inserted in areas known to relate to my afflictions. She said she would check on me throughout my session and she brought her reassuring presence every time she did.

When she inserted the first needle into the webbing between my ring finger and pinky finger, I felt a jolt of tolerable electricity. I definitely didn’t expect that. I then felt warmth travel up my entire arm like when the sun comes out from a cloud and cascades across your bare skin. I felt *gasp* relaxed. As somebody skeptical of pretty much anything and a huge advocate against the plethora of snakeoil out there, I felt something with this needlework. I didn’t even mind that there were other people in the room with me, which is kind of their schtick to make the treatment accessible and affordable. I left with a slightly diminished pain level and another thing to believe in.

I think it’s easy to fall into avoidance when you have anxiety, to disappear from the world.

I went back a second time. A third time. I haven’t been back since. The last time I went, I sat in a far corner away from any other patients and within a few minutes of the needles being placed and the (different) soft-spoken (there’s something really soothing about a whisper in this context) acupuncturist going to check on her other patients, I felt a wave of dizziness come over me that would have knocked me off my feet if I had been standing. My heart started pounding in my chest. I couldn’t breathe. No. I could breathe, I just had the sensation of tightening in my throat, of suffocation. My palms started sweating. I was simultaneously too hot and too cold. I had a panic attack. While receiving treatment for...panic attacks. The irony is not lost on me.

So, I took a few months off. I believe in what acupuncture has to offer us. I felt it. So, at risk of having a panic attack again, I’m going to sign up for another session. Today. I think it’s easy to fall into avoidance when you have anxiety, to disappear from the world. I won’t let that jerk, anxiety, stop me from incorporating community acupuncture into my heart and my life. And neither should you. I know anxiety is common today and barely a day goes by that I don’t hear somebody reference having it, but you and I both know avoidance only serves to feed the fear. So let’s all collectively make a pledge to do things that send ripples through our bodies and minds because unlike one of those “apple a day” things, facing fear is actually, deeply good for us.

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About the author

Caitlin Knudsen

Propagator of succulents, hobbyist baker, healthcare by day, pug wrangler always.