Sometimes Gratitude Leaks from my Eyes (or An Awkward Visit to Community Acupuncture)

In my very first article I confessed to crying at the doctor’s office. This is a recurring event, but not the only public place in which I find myself with a wet, salty face. Migraine can cause spontaneous tear duct overflow in all kinds of awkward situations. Here is one time where it caught me completely off guard:

Early on in my adventures with chronic migraine I went to community acupuncture several times a month. The jury is still out on whether acupuncture is a promising treatment option overall for people with migraine, but I was lucky to find a specific practitioner whose treatment helped to quell my nausea, calm my anxiety, and reduce some head and neck pain. The effects were usually temporary, but since the acupuncture was delivered in a communal setting with all patients resting on comfortable recliners in one large room, it was much more affordable than most other integrative medicine treatments. I was desperate, and temporary relief was better than none at all.

One time, on a particularly difficult day where the pain started to come on around lunchtime (usually I could keep it at bay until late afternoon), I forced myself to walk to the acupuncture studio anyway. This was before I had found a triptan that provides me with somewhat reliable relief, and by the time I got to the studio, the pain, nausea, and full-body exhaustion had ramped up to severe levels. I found a chair and waited as the acupuncturist made her rounds, and instead of thinking carefully about how I would communicate my symptoms and needs, I just worked hard on holding back the tears.

When she finally made her way to me, with her kind gentle demeanor and carefully recorded notes at the ready, all I could do to mumble something unintelligible about pain. Pain everywhere. Please help. Thank you. As she inserted the needles into many points in my ears (the same points used on severely wounded soldiers during combat she explained), pushed my recliner back to a horizontal position, and covered me gently with a soft blanket, I had an overwhelming feeling of being cared for.It seems insufficient to call this feeling gratitude, because I feel gratitude all the time, but it has never been quite this potent. Perhaps it was more of a storm of feelings: gratitude mixed with mild pain relief; mixed with the sense that I had been given permission to let me body go; to feel what I was feeling and just sink into the chair. I felt safe. When this acupuncturist focused her attention on my body and what she could do for me, it washed away the feelings of self-blame and hatred. I was just a person with a body in pain, who needed help, probably just like most of the people in that room.As my acupuncturist walked away and the torrential downpour made its way into my ears and all over my neck, I started to feel more okay than I had when I walked in. The pain was still intense. The exhaustion was still total. I was still in the throes of a severe attack, but the tears were not making my usual migraine puddle of despair and self-pity. They were helping to create a sense of peace.My takeaway was not that I should strive for a repeat of that situation (crying in public is not generally on my todo list), but that on a less-dramatic level, I should work hard to ask for help when I need it, and to give it to others when I can. Simple acts of kindness can make a person feel worthy and valued where before they felt hopelessly alone.Also, always carry a healthy stack of tissues in your bag, because you just never know.

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