Wow, it’s autumn in 2020. Back in 2017, I was thinking about social determinants of health and mental health and I’m still thinking about them, endlessly.
While I focus my post- licensure self-guided education on learning about them and how we respond to them and mitigate the risks on a public and on a personal level, I know my acupuncture practice is about that personal level.
We are all under a lot of stress, even if sometimes it blends so seamlessly into ambiance that we no longer notice. (Ever think you’re feeling fine until someone touches your shoulders and exclaims, Whoa! You’re shoulders are as tight as boulders! and you realize that um maybe you are stressed after all.)
Lucky for us, treating the stress in our body is a separate process than treating the stressor that is triggering the stress. And if you can lower your body’s stress levels you can become more resourceful and responsive to your environment, participating more fully and seeing more broadly and engaging more with mutuality and care for your family, friends and community.
There’s lots of ways to complete a stress response cycle, and I think that getting a great acupuncture treatment with some aromatherapy is one of them.
For most of my life (2/3rds) I experienced undiagnosed social anxiety and general anxiety, which would often collapse into occasional depression when it was too overwhelming. I missed out on a lot –grades of school, trips, extracurricular classes, friendships, healthy romantic relationships, sometimes even food, and definitely developing social skills– until I realized what was going on and sought treatment. And even now I am still undergoing treatment and self-improvement and deeper understanding.
Many folks in my family have experiences and symptoms and challenges that can be categorized under mental health diagnoses. Many friends have them as well.
Some people don’t like labels and official diagnoses because those words are stigmatized, have very severe negative connotations. That is true; in this society, it’s very true. In other societies, it’s even more true. Having a mental health diagnosis can change the health care you receive, the jobs you can get or keep, the relationships you are invited into… It’s a sign of weakness, of imperfection and possibly moral failing.
On the other hand, having a schema (a word or phrase that is an anchor for a large amount of qualities/descriptions) that is a launching point, an explanation, a rationale, a self-description, and a thing that insurance or schools will deal with to help you get help, can be incredibly freeing. Having two words that encapsulate the sense that you don’t deserve to take up space because your needs would discommode others, that people despise and scorn and resent you as soon as you’re out of their presence, that making eye contact with strangers on the street or making phone calls is certain to result in you attacked or ostracized when you inevitably make the wrong facial expression or wrong stammered phrase, when you don’t go to your class or your dining hall because you’re taking up someone else’s deserved place in line or in the conversation by existing and so you eat nothing but oranges bought from the convenience store for a month… It is freeing to have two words to start to disentangle that bundle of sensation and experience from your self identity and daily behavior. It’s relieving to have words to describe the people you grew up with that shaped these responses.
And I’ve treated this social anxiety with CBT and internal family systems and Jungian dream work and homeopathic remedies and pharmaceuticals and acupuncture and vitamins and Western herbs East Asian herbs and targeted amino acids and elimination diets and they have all of them helped. All of them.
The experience of living with the amorphous dread of some unnamed wrongness for most of my life and then the upward climb of self-understanding and then understanding of my family and friends has been so enriching.
In July I’m officially starting a residency where I primarily treat mental health and it’s interlaced presentation with physical experience, by way of Naturopathic medicine and East Asian medicine, and I am so excited because this is the calling, this is what I want to do with my life. I want to help people who are going through the Wrongness to find understanding and progress and ease and relief, that I am still seeking myself.
I was just doing a meditative/spiritual practice about connecting with whatever our version of The Everything (commonly called God, or in this leader’s Sufi practice, Allah). I was getting stuck, because as the exercise was about taking responsibility for what mistakes I have made about a situation that doesn’t sit right, I then pray for Forgiveness from The Everything.
I was stuck, because (1) I’m struggling with my connection to, opinion of, relationship with Divinity and therefore the corollary of (1a) does The Everything have the power to bestow forgiveness? and also stuck on (2) why do I deserve forgiveness?
When you don’t trust that there is love and forgiveness for you and that you deserve it, it can then seem as though everything out there sees the lack of worth that you feel.
Then I calmed myself down, went over to the internet for a little distraction, and saw that the author of XKCD is also feeling inundated with judgement.
Clearly from the alt-text, he’s aware of the desire to just shut down that perception, to avoid it and get even further away. No comment on whether that works or not.
I don’t have a solution to this. I think you can work with a strong sense of your own worth to mitigate that, for an internal locus of control, or belief and trust in a higher being that has the power and inclination to forgive, for an external locus of control. Maybe starting with behavior modeled by parents and mentors loving and forgiving our mistakes and helping us to acknowledge them safely and empowering us to move forward. Not that all of us receive that modeling…
I think that, but it seems I don’t know that or feel in my core. Like many of us (evidenced by webcomics), I struggle.
What does this have to do with acupuncture, or even the general practice of medicine? How do I dare to reveal my struggles with self-worth here in the open?
Firstly, just as I was heartened to see that I’m not alone by reading a webcomic, I want to let you know that you’re not alone. I don’t –and can’t– understand your full lived situation, but I understand what it is to struggle with guilt, remorse, being cut off from or cutting myself off from loving connection with others, and the actual physical heartache that comes from facing that lack.
But secondly, the lineage of acupuncture I was drawn to (Worsley 5 Element, if you’d like to look it up) isn’t just about relieving back pain or quelling nausea. (It does that too, of course. Acupuncture is powerful.) This style of acupuncture is about finding how we are vulnerable, and gently and persistently removing blocks to that connection with The Everything, with our worth, with our deserved love.
And oh, my dears, we do deserve love. And we deserve forgiveness when we realize our mistakes. And we deserve a space where the grass supports us under our feet, and doesn’t echo the blame and shame we feel about our various mistakes.
Though it is difficult to manufacture forgiveness for myself (unless I wronged me), I can be a part of transmitting your deserved forgiveness, and standing as a conduit for your connection to The Everything and with your own sense of peace and safety. We humans can do that for each other.