Getting Sick to Get Better

I’ve come to a point in my life regarding my health where something has got to give. I am sick more than I am well, and even when I am “well” it’s not that great. I don’t really remember what it feels like to feel good since the formaldehyde poisoning.

I missed nearly four weeks of work in a two month time period this winter due to illness. I miss out on events and gatherings with friends and family, industry related commitments (which affects my professional life) and just your average good time. It’s hard to commit to plans because I never know how I will be feeling. I plan my weekend then end up stuck at home unable to get out of bed. When I am at work, I spend so much of the time focusing on how to not feel sicker than I already do so I can make it through the day, instead of focusing on just how much I love my career. I leave the house feeling relatively decent, and come back feeling like I was hit by a train.

At this point, no one in the medical field has been able to offer me solutions. Chemicals, more medication, that won’t help me. My body has been sensitized to the point where every thing I am exposed to has the potential to make me really sick, or at best very uncomfortable. I feel toxic on the inside – probably because I essentially am.

It started to make sense to me that in order to try and get well, I would need to take a more alternative, natural approach. There were so many signs all around me, and I had been doing a lot of research on detoxification for chemical exposure. With a referral from a client, I decided to try acupuncture. I had always been interested in the notion, but never fully committed to actually giving it a try until now.

I met with Anna, the acupuncturist, in her place of practice on east 11th street. I immediately felt like I had made the right decision upon meeting her and stepping inside. She already had my history from previous conversations, so we talked a little further about my circumstances. She decided the best course of action for me would be to focus on my liver for detoxification.

I was going to a fashion show for a client that night (it was Fashion Week in NYC) so I changed from my dress into the gown she left for me. New to this, I totally put the gown on backwards and waited awkwardly for her on the table.

The room was dimly lit with the smell of freshly burned incense. The music was soothing and the ceiling was covered in pretty colored scarves to transform the room from looking too much like an office space.

I should mention that Anna practices esoteric acupuncture, which for me, is a good fit. As someone who smudges her apartment on a regular basis, collects crystals, burns incense and attends meditation groups, I find her approach to healing more ideal for me. Regardless, acupuncture in any form will work toward the same goal. I just personally prefer the additional element that is incorporated into her practice.

When Anna came back into the room, we laughed over the incorrect placement of my gown, which she graciously worked around. After re-positioning my rigid legs and sharing a laugh over how tense I am even in a relaxed state, I was ready for the appointment to begin. She went to work, conversing with me as an old friend would. For the most part, I could not really feel the needles being strategically placed on various points of my body. The only ones I could feel were in areas that of my body that are particularly tense, such as my upper shoulder area and my right hand. Since I use my right hand at work rather vigorously doing blowouts and other salon services, I would say that area was the most uncomfortable, with a dull aching pain that Anna explained is to be expected given the circumstances.

Once the needles were placed, she performed a technique known as “Moxa,” or “Moxibustion” to warm two of the needles over areas that would best stimulate the detoxification process by burning an herb over the needle to heat it up. The smell was relaxing and there was no pain or discomfort.

When I was left alone for a while, staring at the ceiling, she encouraged that I practice my meditation to really relax and reap the most benefit out of the appointment. I was able to drift off and be calm – which, for those who know me, is very difficult. I felt so relaxed and happy just to be there.

The next part of the session I was on my stomach. The needles were placed strategically, and she noted the incredible tension in my upper shoulders and neck region. Again, I was given time alone to meditate and relax while the various needles were in position, in my head, along my back, legs and arms. I nearly fell asleep and when she came back she asked if I would be okay with her doing a technique for further detoxification based on how tense my neck and shoulders were.

The present state of that area indicates stagnant blood in my muscles, which suggests the presence of toxins. She performed “Gua Sha,” a traditional Chinese healing technique where the skin is stroked with pressure in a long and deliberate manner to remove stagnant blood from the muscles. The toxic blood comes to the surface and is dispelled from the body over the course of the next several days.

Anna told me that for a few days my back and neck would look as though someone had beaten me, so that I would not be surprised when I looked in the mirror. She explained that I may feel different side effects from the detoxification during the week, and that once I left her appointment I may feel a little dizzy and out of sorts.

Once she left the room, I got up slowly and felt dazed. I stumbled around trying to pull on my tights and clumsily zipped up my dress. I buckled my belt and glanced up in the mirror on the door. My hair was mussed and my black eyeliner was smeared around my eyes. I looked like I had been out partying all night. It was pretty comical.

I barely remember walking back to the salon to join my colleagues for dinner before the fashion show. I felt as though I was stoned and calm. It was amazing.

Then things became interesting. I noticed that I did not want to drink. I nursed my beer at dinner, which I hardly ate. At the party for the fashion show I still hardly drank. Hours later, I started to get a headache, and by the time I got home I slept better than I had in the longest time.

In the morning as I sat down with my cup of tea, I did not have much of an appetite. Anna advised that I drink a lot of water, which I already always do. I sipped my tea and immediately spit it back out. It tasted awful! I made a different cup with a different mug thinking it would somehow be different. But it wasn’t. All I could taste was metal, like blood.

During the day at work, I was not as hungry and I noticed I was craving different food than usual. Better food. I had finally grown the nerve to glance in the mirror at my bruises and was amazed at how intense they looked. They did not hurt but they looked horrific. As the day progressed, I began to feel very sick. I felt uncomfortable and my head was really cloudy. Suddenly, I realized I felt as though I had spent a day at my old salon, surrounded by Brazilian Blowouts! I started re-living all of my symptoms as my body expelled the toxins. I was symptomatic all over again.

The definitive moment for me was later that night, as I sat in my meditation group. I suddenly noticed a strong smell. Then I realized it was coming from me … and then I realized I smelled the Brazilian Blowout. The smell stayed with me for the rest of the night. I had not experienced that awful odor in two years until then. I was absolutely amazed – and in that moment, I knew that this is the route I need to go right now if I want any chance of feeling well again.

Several days passed before the metallic taste in my mouth left. My menstrual cycle was incredibly difficult during this time, and I was pretty sick with various symptoms similar to when I was exposed to the Brazilian Blowout solution (formaldehyde). But being symptomatic all over again, while it scared me, it also encouraged me. I felt as though, finally, something was working, something was being done to help me.

At my second appointment, Anna noticed that I still have a large amount of toxins, so she performed more Gua Sha on me. My detoxification process has to be done slowly, gradually, or I could become really sick. Seeing as each time I go, I become symptomatic again, my body needs for the process to be gentle. Re-living the symptoms each time is very uncomfortable, yet it also feels like a step in the right direction. I have to feel sick to feel better as my body expels the toxins that have built up and taken over my health.

I realize that acupuncture alone may not be the one thing that helps me. There are other avenues of detoxification that I plan to seek and incorporate into my lifestyle. But I do think that acupuncture is playing a crucial role in the task of trying to improve my health right now. I don’t know that I can ever get back to where I was with my health before the formaldehyde exposure. But I do know that now I have hope. I have hope now, and it’s an amazing feeling throughout this arduous journey.

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