“What time do you go to bed?” the acupuncturist asked while monitoring my pulse.
“Like, midnight?” I said.
“And what time do you wake up?” she asked, examining my tongue.
“Um, 6:30,” I said, proudly.
I’ve always thought of excessive sleeping as a sign of weakness. Just for myself, not for others. It’s too closely related to depression, so I try not to do too much of it. I didn’t say this out loud, of course.
We sat there, staring at each other for a silent moment.
“You need to sleep more,” she told me. “You don’t take good care of yourself.”
That’s when I started to cry.
“Let her out,” she said. “Let the real you out.”
I decided to get acupuncture for two reasons: a couple of my friends claimed that it “changed” their lives and, more importantly, even though I exercise and eat right, I haven’t been feeling so hot. No need to go into TMI detail, but I have chronic neck and shoulder pain — partially from a car accident a while back, and partially from sitting at a laptop all day writing — and I’ve suffered from digestive issues since I was 19 and they’re just getting worse. Beyond the physical ailments, I’ve been more tired than usual for about a year. Not tired, like I need to take a nap, tired like completely burnt out. No fuel in the tank. This is because, like most women I know, I do too much.
I have somewhere “important” to be seven days a week. Monday through Friday, I’m at my computer from 9:30 to 6. By 6:45 I’m usually at yoga or meeting a friend or my boyfriend for dinner. On Saturdays and Sundays I’m up no later than 8 for yoga teacher training. Did I mention I’m also in two writing groups and occasionally teach writing on the side? As I look at my schedule laid out before me, it sounds absolutely insane. I know that rationally. But irrationally, I don’t know how to make it stop. There’s nothing I want to give up, no one I want to disappoint.
It’s been this way for a long time now – saying yes to everything and every one, not having the proper instructions for how to pull the emergency brake on my life. If I enjoy all of the things I’m saying yes to why should I stop? I rationalized. What I didn’t realize was that you can’t enjoy anything at all when you’re running on empty. I thought, mistakenly, that having a regular yoga practice and eating lots of kale equated to refueling the tank. I was wrong.
When I left the acupuncturist’s office after our first session, I felt like a balloon without a string. I didn’t know who I was or where I was going. I was literally holding onto my boyfriend’s arm as he pulled me through the New York City streets and up and down the aisles Whole Foods. It was New Year’s Eve day and we were shopping for the dinner we were going to make. I stood by the organic eggs looking off into the distance, practically drooling on myself. My phone was ringing. I didn’t even have the energy to reach into my purse and answer it.
“Are you OK?” he asked.
I nodded vacantly and when we got home, I fell asleep for two hours on the couch and when I woke up, I did feel OK. Weird and different, but OK.
The following week was a process of spewing — ideas, feelings and mucus. I wrote a lot and came down with a nasty cold (my acupuncturist called it “the healing illness”) that forced me to stay in bed and sleep a lot more without judging myself for it. I drank tea, took herbs, watched Netflix and read books. I barely spoke to anyone, even my boyfriend who was on a work trip. I felt isolated and strange, but more like myself than I had in while — full of vivid dreams and fresh ideas.
On my second visit, last night, the acupuncturist tried to put a needle right in the center of my heart and I squirmed.
“No, never mind, I can take it,” I told her gritting my teeth, “I don’t want to get in the way of my own healing.”
“You can always say no,” she told me, “there are other things I can do that work just as well.”
“OK, NO,” I said finally, but only because she had given me permission. “I can’t handle it.”
As I lay there in the dark with a crystal in the center of my chest and the needles that I could handle up and down my body, I realized that refusing to say no was getting in the way of my own healing. I asked myself why I felt the need to let her stick a needle in my chest when I didn’t want one. What was I trying to prove?
At the end of our session, she gently reminded me about the importance of changing the ergonomics of my desk so my shoulders and neck wouldn’t hurt so bad. If you asked me why I didn’t take care of this ages ago, I’d tell you that I tried to, but “nothing worked.” That’s not really accurate. I only kind of tried to help myself.
I asked our office manager, “Hey would it be cool if I got an external keyboard?” instead of telling her I needed an entirely new desk setup because I was in pain.
And when my external keyboard arrived, I plugged it in, but then the screen wasn’t at the right height and it hurt my neck more. So I gave up and decided to be in pain. I did some variation of this like four times, which makes me feel idiotic to admit.
Today, I came into work and instead of kind of asking for help, I stated my needs, determined to get the job done without wilting halfway through. I am pleased to say that I am typing at you from a comfortable desk. My new chair with lumbar support should arrive by Monday. This seems like an insignificant thing, but it’s huge for me. This is the taking better care of myself that I’m starting to understand — not just the healthier desk setup, but prioritizing myself enough to ask for it. It’s also going to yoga, and sleeping more without beating myself up about it. It’s saying no to needles in the heart. It’s clearing my schedule so I can take myself out for a steak tartare dinner because my acupuncturist says it will be good for boosting my energy level. It’s starting to listen to my real self and say yes to what she needs.
[Photo from Shutterstock]