FOR THE LAST TEN YEARS I have suffered under that ancient curse. The Curse. The monthly affliction of women. My period pains have been beyond bearing. Every four weeks I would be bent double, on hands and knees, screaming in pain and vomiting. If I was caught unexpectedly at work, I'd end up laid out on the floor under desks clutching hot water bottles, colleagues stepping over me. I became for a day or two, a complete zombie to pain. I know that many women suffer from period pains, but mine were otherworldly compared to most. My face would turn green and I'd lay writhing in pain in a hallucinatory swoon. There was nothing that would help, I have been to many doctors, who prescribe either the pill or lethal painkillers, neither of which is an answer for me. I was sent for scans and investigations which all came back clear. I tried homeopathy (which helped briefly), yoga, cramp bark, agnus castus, raspberry leaf tea, black cohosh, endless ineffective pain relievers.. and I was desperate, clinging to my hot water bottle as the only slight relief I could find, knowing I'd have to go through all that again in four weeks' time.
I am generally a very healthy person, but this one thing rendered me useless for at least two days a month, which if you work it out would mean at least a whole two years of my life spent in pain. And that excruciating pain, I thought, had got to be treatable. It was not normal that I should experience it so badly.
Some months ago I wondered about acupuncture .. but didn't know anything about it. And here in blog land met the lovely Diana Moll, a Chinese medicine practitioner based in California. Over some time she diagnosed me via email the Chinese medicine way. She asked all sorts of questions about my health, life and things, questions about temperature and temperament, and I had to send her frightful photos of my tongue! From this information she gleaned that something was stuck as I had always thought. Something needed to get moving in my lower abdomen and it was stuck because it was cold. She told me Chinese medicine looked at things in terms of a weather forecast, rather than a diagnosis, therefore leaving the door open for a more changeable outcome. The body and its energy is affected by cold and hot, wind, wet and dry. And pain or illness is seen as an imbalance of these things, an imbalance of your energies.
The idea of yin and yang has always made sense to me. I have always thought of things in a dual way: life/death, day/night, male/female etc, and we are very dual beings with two of many organs and limbs. However, to a western medical sensibility this meteorological view of my problem probably seems like codswallop. Diana set me instructions for massage to get the energy moving (including twice-daily ear massage!), recommendations for dietary adjustments and herbs. She also suggested I buy moxa sticks (the mugwort herb packed dried into a black smokeless cigar-like stick). To use a moxa stick you must light it just like a cigar and hold the glowing end over the acupuncture points on the body, in my case on my belly. It is warm, and smells pleasant, and the ash has to be tapped off as the stick burns. The practise of moxibustion is an ancient one, and relieves coldness and dampness in the body, even being used to turn breech babies.
Diana's help made sense and I started to notice a slight difference in the pain, but it did not remedy it, so she advised I find an acupuncturist to see me in the flesh and assess my situation. This I did. On walking past a Chinese Medicine centre in Glasgow one day, I walked in and asked.
There followed a strange and wonderful three months of weekly visits to Dr Mae who gave me acupuncture, which I had never had before. The needles don't hurt much, and were placed in my inside wrists, lower legs and just below my navel, whilst I lay there with a heat lamp over my belly.
Meanwhile Dr Fu would package up a special selection of dried Chinese herbs into seven paper bags to take home and boil up as tea, to be drunk twice daily.
These herbs are a wonderful collection of what looks like devil's toenail clippings and fossilized cat poo, and the evening boiling ritual, which took an hour and which somehow became Tui's job smelt intriguing to say the least. The drinking was another matter altogether.. I had never tasted anything quite so vile. The result of an hour's simmering of the sinister looking barks and roots and who-knows-what-else made a strong dark brown liquid that tasted bitter as the bitterest roots and sweet too in a strange way. It was hard not to gag, but I had to gulp down a pint and half of this stuff daily .. with sediment at the bottom.
Oddly though it got less disgusting as the weeks went by, now I almost enjoy it. I found it hard to afford the weekly visits to the Chinese Medicine centre, but was determined that I would try, because Dr Mae had promised that after three months of this treatment the pain would not come back. This was like a holy grail for me, and so I scrimped to find the money each week. On arriving there I would sit down and have my pulse read, on both wrists, for some long minutes whilst we asked how each other was in a very basic English. As far as I can gather, the pulses felt by Chinese Medicine practitioners are not the one heart beat a western doctor can feel. Amazingly hidden there are evidences of my inner workings, and each week Dr Mae would take my pulse to see how I was progressing. She concurred with Diana ~ my abdomen was too cold and damp, and things were out of balance. In traditional Chinese Medicine, the body is a whole map of lines ("meridians") along which are the hundreds of acupuncture points where the needles are inserted to effect change in the flow of energy through a particular part of the body.
I even once had the strange experience called cupping, where a small glass jar like a heavy light bulb is placed over a flame for a second before being plonked onto your flesh, which slurps up inside the vacuum inside the jar and looks most unsightly indeed.
I would often lay there with my needles in listening to the Learn English CDs on in the background as the drawers of herbs were opened and closed and scoops of dried barks and roots were measured into bags for me.
So no doubt you are wondering ~ did it work? ... YES! I am at present drinking the last week worth of nasty brew and this recent full moon brought a mercifully painless period! The pain got gradually less over the three months and now I am able to lie with my hot water bottle and no writhing whatsoever. I still experience the strange floating swoon, but it is wonderful to be free from that terrible wrenching pain.
Thank you to Diana for showing me this wonderful medicine. I must say I am completely converted. I like the thinking behind the system, and have proof that it works. If I need to seek medical help again for some other ailment, it will be to a Chinese doctor, not the GP that I'll turn.
Do give me a shout if you live in these parts and would like details of where I went for treatment.
And just think, a few hundred years ago, women used to jump broomsticks coated with the hallucinogenic mandrake root to relieve period pain and in so doing caused themselves to fly.