“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?
As an acupuncturist and hypnotherapist in a large city like Quincy, just outside of Boston, I see a wide variety of issues come through my door. What I’ve learned in nearly 20 years of practice, is that when a patient comes in with what may seem on the surface to be a simple issue, many times we need to dig deeper, and find the hidden blocks that are contributing to that problem and preventing that patient from making progress.
Recently I have been working with a patient around using hypnotherapy to break some unhealthy addictive habits. While hypnosis is tremendously effective at correcting negative thought patterns and behaviors, it’s not always the miraculous overnight success it’s made out to be in the movies. For many patients, it can take between 4-6 sessions, and if what we are working on is a particularly stubborn, lifelong pattern, we may need to add other treatments like acupuncture, herbs, meditation, behavior modification, and spiritual work.
This particular patient is progressing toward her goal, but more slowly than she’d like. She’s frustrated that this particular bad habit is so tough to break, and mentioned that she felt like a “loser” that she’s been unable, after only 2 sessions, to put a stop to this habit altogether. Coming in for a third session, I asked how things had gone over the past week, and was greeted with a “Meh.” She was once again feeling really down that she had been unable to 100% eliminate this behavior, and she was beating herself up so badly that she’d not noticed that she had made a TON of healthy progress in identifying the triggers for the behavior, using other strategies to cope with these triggers, and that she’d actually made a lot of progress toward reaching her goals in only TWO SESSIONS.
This really made my heart hurt for her. Here she was, working SO HARD to create change in her life, and she was so frustrated, that she was only able to see the parts where she’d stumbled. She was so focused on the moments when she’d “blown it” that she was unable to see her overall successes and progress toward her goals, and this outlook was only serving to reinforce the negative behavior.
Think about it for a minute. If you had a child who was a poor student...let’s say they got all D’s last quarter, and this quarter, they had worked really hard and brought home a report card with C’s on it, would you berate them for not having straight A’s, or would you congratulate them on their improvement thus far, and encourage them to do even better this time around? If you were to tell that child that they are capable of success and that they’re great at working hard, then they’ll internalize that they ARE a hard worker with great potential. If you were to tell that child that the C’s weren’t good enough, and clearly they were either lazy, irresponsible or stupid for not bringing home all A’s, then you’ve just programmed them to see themselves through exactly that lens.
We all screw up. We all blow it sometimes, but it doesn’t mean that we’re terrible people and it damn sure doesn’t mean that we throw in the towel and just give up. Think about it...If you went out right now and saw that you had one flat tire on your car, would you go and slash the other three? Would you just shrug your shoulders and have it towed to the junkyard?
Is there a time and a place for tough love? Absolutely, but tough love needs to come from a place of positivity. Shaming and berating is an entirely different matter. If you wouldn’t talk to a child the way you speak to yourself in your own inner voice, you should probably take a close look at learning to reframe your narrative.
What tone of voice do you speak to yourself in? What negative internal messages can you let go of RIGHT NOW to make space for more gentle nurturing of your true potential?
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.