“What made you decide to become an acupuncturist?”
A lot of my colleagues love to share their stories, the journeys that led them on the path of becoming an acupuncturist. Sometimes it has to do with their own healing through Chinese medicine, or the illness of a loved one. Sometimes it’s a spiritual calling to help others. Sometimes it’s just a natural progression of being a kombucha-swilling hippie who breaks out in hives at the thought of an office job.
The truth is, I have always HATED being asked this question. I usually deflect it and change the subject, while silently thinking, “Do you ask your accountant what made her decide to become a bean counter?”
But...I started to wonder WHY I always felt vexed when someone asks me this question.
Some of it has to do with the fact that I tend to be a little private, and I try hard to maintain good boundaries with patients. Your session is about YOU, and I don’t want to spend our time talking about me. Some of it has been that I really don’t have a dramatic story of profound healing and messages from my guides to go forth and heal the world, so what’s there to tell?
Well, here it is, friends....here’s the story.
What I REALLY wanted to be was a damn DOCTOR.
The first answer I ever had as a child to the question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” was DOCTOR. My mother started nursing school when I was about 3 years old, and I can remember pouring over her textbooks for the years she was in school. The family joke was that she never had to have the birds and the bees conversation with me, because I had gotten hold of one of her OB/GYN books and looked up at her and said in horror, “OH. That’s where babies come from.”
Despite my passion for medicine and having started studying anatomy & physiology before kindergarten, it would turn out that medical school wasn’t in the cards for me, for a variety of reasons. I tried to make peace with it, and even though I had shifted my focus and completed undergrad school in an entirely different field, that drive and desire never totally left me. I tried a number of different things to try and quench that thirst. I completed my training as an Emergency Medical technician at Northeastern University. I took classes in psychology at UMass Boston, exploring the idea of becoming a therapist. Finally I gave it one last all out, and enrolled in the post-baccalaureate pre-med program at Harvard University.
You guys, I failed Physics.
I’ve never worked so hard and failed so miserably at anything in my entire life. It was clear to me that medical school wasn’t happening for me.
I was about 27 at this point, and was totally floundering. I considered joining the Marines. I took the exam to become a firefighter. I became a manager at the restaurant I had been waitressing at, and sunk into a bit of a self loathing, aimless depression.
Restaurant management is a tough job as it is, but it’s made all the more difficult when the head chef regularly goes on cocaine fueled tirades that terrify the staff. One night, his temper tantrum was aimed at me. It was a Saturday night and the place was packed. I forget what set him off, but he absolutely exploded. He tore off his apron, threw it on the ground, and stormed out, leaving me to man the saute station in a suit and heels for the rest of the dinner rush.
The next day, he gave me a half-hearted apology and a gift certificate to the shiatsu school clinic down the street. I didn’t buy his act for a second, but the shiatsu session was AMAZING. On the way out, I picked up a brochure for a year long class in Ayurvedic medicine that they were hosting. I signed up and fell immediately in LOVE. A year later, having completed the program, there was just one problem...there were no licensing standards for Ayurveda in the U.S., so if I actually wanted to be a practitioner, I’d have to get a license in something else.
As I weighed my options, I settled on acupuncture school. Although the New England School of Acupuncture was nearby, I didn’t love their curriculum. I had also just gone through some major personal upheaval. I found myself on the outs with all 3 of my best friends, and broke up with my boyfriend, who then proceeded to stalk me. Time to get the hell outta Dodge. I quickly settled on Pacific College of Oriental Medicine and packed my bags. See ya later Boston, San Diego here I come!
PCOM was an incredible experience and I’m SO glad I chose their program, but Southern California just wasn’t for me. Not enough foul weather and traffic, I guess! I came back to Boston 2 days after my last exam, and nearly 20 years later, here I am, with a thriving acupuncture clinic on the South Shore. Today, I’m grateful that I’m NOT an MD, because I have so much joy and freedom by NOT being being a practitioner entrenched in the mainstream medical model. Every single day I walk into my clinic, I get to create exactly the life I want, the way I want to.
So, there you have it. Failing physics and having a screaming match with a narcissistic cocaine addicted chef is what made me decide to become an acupuncturist.
It’s March in New England, and that means the weather can go from spring thaw to thundersnow in 24 hours or less. Here in Quincy, we got about 18” of heavy snow overnight this past Monday. That morning was a beautiful, bright winter landscape, and it was warm enough to make shoveling out almost pleasant, but…
It’s now two days later. Every muscle in my body hurts and I’m so fatigued it was a struggle to get out of bed today.
Now, I’m no delicate flower here. For most of my life, I’ve been genetically blessed with vibrant health. I’ve run 5 marathons and set records in my age and weight class as a competitive powerlifter, all after the age of 40, so strength and endurance are not something I generally lack.
So what gives??
Well, I often joke that I’ve had to admit to myself that I’m not 25 anymore. As I creep up on 50, I can’t really hide from the aging process, but it’s something more than just getting older. It’s something that’s really far worse.
I haven’t been taking care of myself.
Now, I generally bristle at the whole “self care” pablum that’s been floating around the media for some time now. For me, all the shallow recommendations you see out there about mani-pedis, bath bombs and essential oils, with pictures of white women laughing at salad while wearing $100 yoga pants smack of frivolity and privilege. The way the media presents “self care” is a whole other rant I could go on, but that’s for another day.
The thing is, self care IS truly important.
Over the last 5 years, I’ve had a lot on my plate. (Don’t we all?) Stress, working nonstop, people and events that, in the moment, take precedence over my own immediate needs have all slowly taken their toll on the healthy habits that were once at the center of my life.
I’m feeling the effects for sure. Weight gain, fatigue, brain fog, joint pain, poor digestion...the list goes on. This is all new to me, and I don’t like it one bit! Once I realized what was happening, I sat down and thought about how my habits were different five years ago, when I felt healthy, fit, and mentally clear. Wow, have I gotten off track!
It seems that as we get older, and our lives grow more complicated and hectic, that we put ourselves on the back burner in favor of “more important things.” Everyone else needs us to be there for them...children, aging parents, colleagues, and responsibilities. It seems almost silly or selfish to spend the time, money and energy on this mythical “self care” everyone’s always on about.
Here’s the thing though…
As we age, it becomes even MORE important to take the time to do these things. In or 40’s and 50’s is when things start to break down. Disease processes begin, aches & pains from old injuries start to surface, and we aren’t quite as resiliant as we used to be. NOW is the time to invest in ourselves, and create a “care team” that you can rely on to make a plan to be healthy and well. This is something that goes beyond your yearly visit to your primary care doctor. “Wellness” is not just the absence of physical disease, it’s being in OPTIMAL health, mind, body and spirit. When we reach this stage of your lives, it’s important to create a plan to keep ourselves well, and a team to help you implement it and stay on track.
If you want to preserve your health and to be able to use your body well for your whole lifetime, you need to stop problems BEFORE they start, and that means taking time to do the things that keep you healthy. Regular acupuncture, hypnosis, body work and nutrition should all be a part of your preventative medicine.
Where have you neglected your own self care? What things are your non-negotiables in terms of taking time for yourself?
Those who know me well, know that I LOVE my work, and I am ALWAYS either studying medicine or working on the admin and marketing aspect of running a busy Acupuncture clinic. I thrive on working long hours and I will admit to being “just a little” Type A. I like taking charge of my life and my business, and over the last five years, I have built a thriving Acupuncture and holistic health clinic and excellent reputation by being in control of 99% of every aspect of my business.
The 1% that I was NOT in control of was my physical, brick and mortar space. Over the last five years, I have watched as my original location in East Boston evolved. Massive real estate development and construction, noise, heavy traffic and lack of parking became a major disruptor for every business and household in the area. Commuting from my home in Quincy to my clinic was not making things easier, but…..I still wasn’t really looking to relocate.
A couple of weeks ago, an unexpected set of circumstances set some wheels in motion. My world turned upside down, literally overnight. The Universe had spoken! It was time to move and to grow. In 48 hours I went from business as usual, to a completely new Acupuncture clinic in Quincy Center!
This is a HUGE deal, for a lot of reasons.
This move meant coming up with much more capital, taking on more overhead, and to a certain extent, starting over. It is only a difference of 7 miles, but with Boston traffic, that can become a 90 minute drive. It also meant that I’d be taking the month of July off (with no income), as the new space won’t be officially ready until August 1st.
While moving my clinic was a challenging choice to make, it was not the most important one.
The moment I signed the new lease, I was faced with a choice. I could choose to panic and be fraught with anxiety over the change, and angered about the circumstances that were out of my control and that had led me here. This is the type of reaction that would usually lead to not just negative emotions, but could also have implications on one’s physical health. Insomnia, muscle tension, heart palpitations, tension headaches, and “knots in your stomach” are all physical manifestations of stress, anxiety, and anger.
Spending a month panicking and stewing didn’t seem too appealing, so I made a different choice.
You see, the only thing you truly can control in the world, are your own actions and RE-actions. You are in control of your own perceptions of the events in your life. So, what did I do?
I chose to embrace the risk. Instead of being worried about increasing my overhead by more than 50%, I chose to get excited about having a larger space that could accommodate 100% more patients! Instead of worrying about my existing patient base not following me for Acupuncture in Quincy, I was thrilled with the possibilities of being able to become more involved and invested in the community in which I live. I was never able to do that while commuting to and working in Boston 5 days a week. Instead of experiencing those negative physical symptoms I mentioned above, I’ve woken up every day bursting with enthusiasm, creativity, and a sense of peace that this move to Quincy is going to be the best decision I’ve ever made.
This is more than just “looking on the bright side” though. To override the natural reaction of fear and anxiety takes training and effort. I’ve studied stoic philosophy and meditation for years now, and I suggest that anyone facing a potentially negative situation that they can’t control, to consider the following strategy:
First make a list of anything about the situation that IS in your control. Don’t take action just yet, just make the list.
Sit in a quiet area. Take a few deep breaths, and consider what the absolute WORST outcome to the situation could be. Feel how terrible it would be. What would happen, and how would you handle it and move forward? It may seem counterintuitive to focus on the negative, but this exercise is how I have successfully inocculated myself against adversity. It is the way to cultivate fearlessness.
Next, close your eyes and visualize what the BEST POSSIBLE outcome could be. Imagine every minute detail of a successful conclusion to the situation. You have to get very specific! Really FEEL that in your body. Do a scan and see what physical and emotional sensations you are experiencing.
For me, I saw the sun beaming through the windows, happy patients in all of the treatment rooms, getting treatment with acupuncture, cupping, massage and hypnosis, green plants in the waiting room, and a full event calendar of workshops and classes. My body felt relaxed and energized. Emotionally I felt peaceful, happy, and most importantly, free.
Now, compare these two outcomes, consider the list of what you are in control of, and only after should you decide on a course of action.
My mantra as I wait to reopen my business will be:
I embrace unexpected change and new opportunity. I am resilient and resourceful.. I possess great power and and ability to weather any storm, and to create abundance from adversity.
In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), summer is the season of the Fire element - a time of busy activities, growth, warmth and joy. This season rules the Heart, Pericardium, Small Intestine and San Jiao meridians. Here in Quincy, MA, most everyone looks forward to summer, and relief from our often brutal winters, but sometimes...Summer can be a little TOO...well, summer-y.
We’re in the midst of a heatwave and coming up on the 4th of July holiday right now. This usually means beach time, barbecues, beer, ice cream, fried seafood from our favorite clam shacks, (I’m planning to head over to Wollaston Beach for some fried clams as soon as I finish writing this!) and other indulgences. While we all LOVE these things, sometimes, they can throw us out of balance. Too much time in the sun, alcohol, fried, greasy, sugary or cold foods can leave us overheated, fatigued, and experiencing headaches, indigestion, reflux, or other gastrointestinal issues. In TCM we have a term for this is “Summer-Heat-Damp,” and we use certain herbal medicines and nutritional strategies to combat this!
The Watermelon & Feta Salad recipe below is one of my go-to favorites for summer barbecues and pot-lucks. It’s a perfect dish to serve or bring to a party when you want to have something healthy on hand, but don’t want to seem like the clean eating police.
One of the first foods we think of in TCM for the summer season is watermelon. Watermelon is cooling, hydrating, and naturally sweet. We also add a healthy dose of fresh mint, which is also cooling, and is naturally soothing for any tummy troubles. This is a super simple recipe that you can make in minutes. You can adjust any of the ratios of the ingredients to your personal taste preferences. Try our recipe below and let us know how you like it
Watermelon & Feta Salad
One whole seedless watermelon, chilled, cubed, and drained.
½ a red onion, diced (optional)
½ cup extra virgin olive oil depending on taste
Juice of 2-3 limes
1 cup fresh mint leaves, chopped, save a few full sprigs to use as garnish
1-2 cups crumbled feta cheese, depending on how much cheese you like
Salt & pepper to taste
Remove rind from watermelon and cut into cubes. Drain excess juice so your salad isn’t soupy! You can save the juice to add to sparkling water or summer cocktails, if you wish.
To create your dressing, blend the olive oil, lime juice, salt & pepper in a small bowl or jar.
In a large bowl, combine waterrmelon, feta, mint, red onion (if you use it) and dressing and gently toss. Garnish with a few mint sprigs to make it pretty and serve!
It's officially fall, and cold and flu season is right around the corner. Many patients ask me what they can do in addition to their regular Acupuncture treatments, to stay healthy. Here's a few easy tips!
Drink Enough Water
Water makes up nearly 60% of your body weight, and is critical to a healthy immune system. Proper hydration helps all of your body’s systems function at optimum levels. Drinking adequate amounts of water will help your body’s own, natural detoxification systems function at peak efficiency, and help carry nutrients to your cells. Sugary or caffeinated liquids do not count toward the basic requirement of 64 ounces of per day. If it’s hot out or if you’ve been exercising, increase your water intake. If you find it difficult to drink plain water, spice things up with a wedge of lemon, slices of cucumber, mint leaves, or even a couple sliced strawberries for flavor.
Get Enough Sleep
When sleep suffers, the immune system suffers. Studies show that when you are sleep deprived, our levels of T-cells go down, and inflammatory cytokines go up, leading to an increased risk of contracting colds, flu, and other illnesses. Aim for 8-9 hours of sleep a night, and if you are among millions of chronically sleep-deprived Americans, try to get yourself a little extra sleep one night a week.
Get a Massage
A recent clinical study published in the Journal of Complementary and Alternative Medicine showed that a single massage will significantly decrease the body’s levels of stress hormones, and increase the body’s production of cells that boost the immune response. Seriously, who doesn’t love a great massage therapy session?
Among the many ways chronic stress can wreck your overall health, it lowers the immune response and makes you more susceptible to catching every little bug that you come in contact with. Choose healthy ways of managing your stress levels. Take a 20 minute walk, listen to a guided meditation at the end of the day, inhale a calming scent like lavender, or do a few simple yoga asanas to bring your attention back into your body and off of the day’s responsibilities.
Take Immune Boosting Herbs
Most people know to take some vitamin C when they feel a cold coming on, but what other supplements can you take to keep your immune system performing at its peak? As an acupuncturist and herbalist, I have a few favorites from the Chinese Materia Medica. As always, consult your healthcare practitioner before adding any new supplements to your health care regime.
Astragalus is an adaptogen which helps the body cope with physical, mental and emotional stress. It has been used for thousands of years in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) to fight colds and flu.
Reishi mushroom, known as “Ling Zhi” in Chinese medicine, has strong antiviral, antifungal and anti inflammatory properties.
Cordyceps has been shown to boost production of ATP,increase levels of strength and endurance in athletes, and also promotes the adaptive immune system, including cellular and humoral immunity.
Studies have shown that many essential oils have strong antiviral and antibacterial properties. Diffusing oils into the air will purify the air and help relieve stress or boost your mood. You can also put a few drops of essential oil into a glass spray bottle filled with water to make your own sanitizing spray. Some great oils to choose for this purpose are Thyme, Lemongrass, Melaleuca (Tea Tree), Lemon and Rosemary.
Allison Blaisdell, MSTOM, Lic.Ac. is a licensed acupuncturist and herbalist in private practice at Fitchburg Acupuncture, and also at Massachusetts General Hospital. She offers Acupuncture, Hypnosis, Nutritional Response Testing, and Frequency Specific Microcurrent, as well as online holistic health coaching and consultation. Her mission is to educate and empower her patients to achieve their best possible health.