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Mental Health Awareness Week 2018; My Story

It was May 2013.  The Boston Bombings had happened a month before.  I was sitting in a restaurant with a friend, a new trendy eatery in Somerville, and we were psyched that we finally got a reservation.  

Talking and catching up like we normally do, I suddenly felt sick to my stomach and unable to eat anymore.  My heart raced, throbbing into my throat, I felt light headed, and tears flowed down my cheeks. The floor was sinking below me and I was having difficulty breathing.  What followed was what I now know to be an anxiety attack. I felt trapped, like I was scratching to get out of a windowless, locked basement.

Although I had been under the care of a psychotherapist since my late teens on and off, this moment in the restaurant was the most pivotal in my mental health journey.  I was 41, married 1.5 years, thriving in my Copley Square Acupuncture practice. From the outside, things appeared great.  But inside, I was scrambling, trying to make sense of what was going on with me. I would be driving home from work at 8:30 at night from Boston, and I would feel helpless, like a dark shadow had enveloped me and robbed me of air.  Or I’d be washing dishes and would start crying ‘for no reason’.

The bombings happened a half of a block from my office.  I wasn’t there that day, because working on Marathon Monday in Copley Square was a menace for my patients and myself.  My husband and I did enjoy a yearly tradition of taking the day off and going to watch the marathon, often meeting up with friends along the way.  That year, we discussed going to the finish line, since we never did it before. I always felt that I got my dose of marathon energy simply by working there everyday, observing the metamorphosis of Copley Square from a bustling business district to an even busier hub of excited runners and tourists in a two week time span.  When a friend asked at the last minute if we wanted to go to Killington that day for some inexpensive spring snowboarding, we quickly hopped on that opportunity, because...snow!

We spent the day in Vermont, blissfully trying to link turns in sticky spring snow and sun, taking pictures of our happy faces with our phones that had no reception.  After the lifts finally closed and we absorbed a little more après-ski sunshine at one of the outdoor pubs, we left the mountain. As we got reception back on our three phones, they started blowing up.  We each had several texts asking, ‘Are you ok?’, ‘Are you safe?’. We learned quickly what had happened in our city, just hours before.

What followed for 3 years after that was me trying to figure out the answers to those questions. Am I ok? Am I safe? Even though I was not physically there, like so many Bostonians, I felt unsafe, and I was not ok.  The Marathon Bombings also triggered a bomb that exploded inside of me that said, ‘Deal with me, now. You cannot ignore me anymore’.

What I know now is that we are packaged into these very smart bodies.  Our body will let us know exactly what we need and what we need to pay attention to.  My body had been giving me clues for a long time, at first in faint whisper, then crescendoing into a loud explosion, inner pain being the shrapnel, scraping my insides until I paid attention.  

I found a new therapist that spring, and worked with her weekly for almost 2 years.  She referred me to a psychopharmacologist, who prescribed me two meds that I didn’t enjoy and stopped taking.  I knew there had to be a better option that worked well for my sensitive system, and ended up finding an Integrative Psychiatry office in Waltham, run by Dr James Greenblatt. Through extensive functional testing and intakes, I was given a diagnosis of Bipolar 2, and received a very comprehensive treatment plan that I felt good about. I was given many supplements based my test results, and I put myself on herbs.  My self care included a very busy schedule of going to many appointments, including chiro, reiki, massage, acupuncture, and craniosacral. You name it, I did it. For the first time in my life, I was committed, to me.

Through the years, I have experimented with diet, eliminating things here and there to figure out what works the best for my body.  I find that I feel best on a paleo(ish) diet, with a little grain here and there for energy, and free of gluten, dairy, caffeine, and processed sugar.  I know it the next day if I have one alcoholic beverage, because it kicks up the depressive symptoms. And if I don’t exercise or practice yoga for a while, I have trouble sleeping, which spirals into other problems. Meditation has become a staple in my routine, the glue that keeps me centered and aware of my reactivities. I’m not perfect, so please don’t assume I’m doing all of these things all the time. I love red wine, margaritas, coffee, and chocolate.  I love to live life and have been known to get a group of women together for the ultimate gastronomic experience in Boston. But I am now aware of what these foods do to my mental emotional health if I consume them, and I plan for it. A green smoothie and a yoga class, for example, work well the day after a glass of wine to get that lymph fluid moving and toxins out of the bloodstream.

In the last two years, I really have been tapping into my spiritual life and exploring new ways to be more present.  I stopped working with my therapist, did EMDR therapy for a while, and then started working with a Shaman, which I love.  I have been more aware of my inner dialogue and how I treat myself. I’ve learned that that voice in my head can be really harsh, often times at a whisper so low, that it took months of getting quiet to really hear it.  Although I don’t doubt that I had Bipolar 2 at one point, I believe that with really good, steadfast self care and mental conditioning, I am cured. I do notice symptoms reappearing sometimes, and now, instead of reacting, I use that as a message from my body and mind that I am out of alignment, or that I need something.  I’m pretty good at keeping up with my chiro, acupuncture, and massage appointments, but sometimes I find that I need to get something off my chest with someone, get outside, laugh, or simply, have a protein-filled meal. Going inward through meditation and asking what is needed has been very helpful.

What I love about being a Wellness Coach and Acupuncturist is that in order to best serve my clients, I need to be in full alignment with myself. I need to practice extreme self care and not waiver in order for my business to be successful.  When my energy is off, my business is off, my clients shift, and they reflect my imbalances. For example, if I am having concerns about money scarcity, a client will show up and try to negotiate my pricing. I used to feel obligated to give discounts to these people, but now I know to say ‘No’, and go within and clear this block.  In order for me to succeed authentically, I need to tune in and find out what needs attention. If it sounds like a lot of work, it is. And often is feels cruddy and is tempting to take the easy route and ignore the signs. But doing the work, and staying consistent, has a much bigger reward, which is extreme growth. Growth!   And, let’s be real--having a mental illness is much more work and expends much more energy, am I right?

I realize that this story may come as a surprise to many of you who know me personally. I have not shared it openly or with too many people. It took me a long time to wrap my head around the diagnosis, and oversharing can become overwhelming when trying to navigate a plan that is going to work for you.  I share this story not because of the label, but because of the process. The process of healing, and growing, and learning. I am grateful for what I’ve been through because of being diagnosed with Bipolar 2. It made me go deep and do the work, and it’s that work that has made my life richer. I now have a life that I don’t take for granted, and the experience has given me the power of discernment when it comes to making decisions, what to say yes to, and who I spend time with.

I share this story because I hope that someone will be able to see the light as a result of my experience.  Please know that my journey is the result of trial and error and learning what worked, for me. The choice to not take medication was not one I took lightly, and as a result it took me longer to find out what supplements, foods, and alternative treatments were going to work for me as an individual.  I also had a family of loving souls surrounding me during this entire process. Even though I wasn’t openly sharing with everyone, I had so much love and support throughout and couldn’t have healed without it. Please find support, please ask for help. People want to help you. People love you. But also, learn what is best for you.  Learn how to listen to your body and follow your intuition, because what works for some may not work for all. But most importantly, learn to surrender and find Grace. Surrendering from my monster mind has made all the difference.

With love,

Angela xo


Testimonial: We can have amazing, restful, happy and abundant lives.

I received a voicemail this morning from a patient who just started coming last week.  Hearing about her progress already is what makes my job so rewarding.  

Reduce Stress Using Acupuncture and Healthy Sleep

I'm very excited to offer today's blog post, courtesy of sleephelp.org

Feeling stressed? You're not alone. Stress afflicts eight in 10 Americans according to a recent Gallup poll. Often women, parents, younger generations, and those with lower household incomes experience stress at a higher rate.

Although stress is a natural reaction designed to help you face short-term threats, feeling stressed on a regular basis can have a negative effect on your health. Fatigue, heart disease, and slower recovery from illness are just a few of the consequences of chronic stress.

But reducing your stress levels can offer relief and alleviate some of the health risks of stress. While it's not always easy to stop stress from entering your life, you can better manage your reaction to stress and focus on stress-relieving measures.

Sleep and stress often go hand in hand. When you're stressed, you may find it difficult to fall asleep. And when you're sleep deprived, you may struggle to manage stress healthily. Research indicates people who are sleep deprived experience greater subjective stress, anxiety, and anger than those who are well rested. In other words, your threshold for dealing with stress is lower, and you feel more stressed out when you're short on sleep.

Healthy Ways to Manage Stress

Alleviating stress can help you sleep, which may further reduce your stress levels.

 

  • Identify and avoid stress whenever possible. Keep a journal and highlight the times of day and activities that make you feel the most stressed. Consider whether you can eliminate these activities, or plan ahead and take steps, so they are less stressful. For example, if you struggle with getting to work on time, consider shifting your bedtime earlier so you can wake up with enough time to leave.

  • Seek acupuncture treatment. Acupuncture treatment can be a good choice for treating stress you can't shake off, so talk to your practitioner about alleviating stress with acupuncture. In a meta-analysis of acupuncture for anxiety disorders, researchers found acupuncture can be used to treat anxiety and offer fewer side effects than conventional treatment such as medication. Acupuncture was also found to improve sleep, depression, and stress in the elderly.

  • Make sleep a priority. Sleeping well puts you in a better position to manage stress healthily. Be sure you're making time for adequate rest every night, and talk to your doctor if you struggle with sleep disorders such as insomnia or sleep apnea. Carefully consider your sleep environment, choosing a mattress that contours your body, and making sure your bedroom is a calm, relaxing environment free of distractions that could keep you from sleeping well at night.

  • Focus on relaxation throughout the day. Acupuncture can help you mitigate the effects of stress, but it's not the only option. Consider other activities that can help you shake off stress, such as exercise, yoga, meditation, and reaching out for support from friends and family members.

  • Talk to a mental health professional. If you're unable to manage your stress or you feel overwhelmed, a mental health professional can help you better deal with stress.

Stress happens, but it doesn't have to affect your life negatively. Use acupuncture, sleep, and healthy stress management techniques to alleviate stress and improve your well being.

Spring and Yin-Yang Balance

Springtime has arrived!  Here in New England, spring is gradually making its’ presence known, between the warmer temperatures, greener trees, and the increase of bird species at the feeder.

For many, spring is a time of anticipation and fondness for warmth after the cold winter season.  The energy of spring brings an excitement for getting outside and back to our gardens.  The sunny, longer days give us motivation to fire up the grills or meet friends for an evening stroll or an outdoor dinner on the deck.

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