Friday 14 November 2008

The Curse

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.

Woodcut from "The History of Mother Shipton"
published at Aldermanbury around 1750


Gretel said...

That is wonderful!!! I ouched and grimaced through your description, I mercifully have never had (really bad) probs like that but I can imagine...I am pleased to hear it's sorted out now.

I have always held the belief that if men suffered this they would have found ways to make it bearable...

tut-tut said...

Amazing what "nontraditional" (at least in the West) treatments can do. I can readily sympathize with you; when I was in my twenties I was often found under my desk, trying to work through the pain during a workday. But it gradually lessened the older I got. And now, it is a thing of the past.

d. moll, said...

Blush, you are more than welcome :~) This is a lovely testimony to the efficacy of Chinese Medicine. Now you can be off in your rolling home and not be haunted by wretched pains every month ! But you know that you may have traded one cruse for another; now you will telling people you meet about that. Chinese Medicine really works.

Kim said...

You have my full sympathies, I still suffer, although not to the extent that you do, but it's bad, all the same. It's great that this has worked for you, and I have a lot of faith in alternative medicine.

Kim x

Kay said...

Sympathy from me too Rima. I've no faith at all in the NHS at the moment, and your tale of alternative medicines has at least shown me a glimmer of light. It's just all so expensive isn't it? Hope the beneficial effects continue. Best wishes.

Jean said...

So the mandrake didn't work? Did you try a different broomstick? "D

Seriously, I'm glad it's helped. I've seen those concoctions and smelled them--such a mix of gag and pleasant in some strange way--at a place I go on retreat. Their doctor is the author of Fourth Uncle in the Mountain. He's Vietnamese but uses the same system. Read that book for a fascinating story of his training. It's like magical realism, but for real.

I'm enjoying your blog. Such beautiful art!

Anonymous said...

Oh, that's wonderful Rima! It must be such a relief. It's funny the kinks our bodies will get into. I have never had trouble like that, but over the last year or so I've been taking thyroid replacement, and now I feel mittleschmerz each month! I've always felt that the Chinese way of looking at illness makes sense.

Ciara Brehony said...

Oh I hear you Rima! I too spent my teens and twenties in similar straits. Since having children though all has vanished and I am no longer 'cursed'.
And as for the drinking of the pond water! When I was first diagnosed with candida I had a similar experience and the most amazing thing for me, apart from the fact that it worked, was how I weirdly came to 'almost' enjoy it! I still have a long road ahead of me there though, but it's wonderful to have hope!

Anonymous said...

i, too, had the worst of the cursed for most of my younger life. i was diagnosed with endometriosis, and was told take "the pill" and accept your fate. this was not comforting.

happily, with child 1 i was curiously less wretched. child 2 brought back a bit of a twinkle in my eye, and with child 3 i am happy to say that my monthly woes are no more. at least i assume they are no more than normal...whatever that is.

i guess for me my babies have been my strong magic...
but i am still known to hop on a broomstick with very little prodding!

Shelley Noble said...

I know the pain you speak of exactly, Rima. But I mean exactly. I have also suffered the way you describe it to the letter all my life. I call it my trips to hell.

Your write up of your experiences with Eastern medicine are charmingly beguiling as is your usual. I have had my share of the strange brewed tea and needles, etc. etc. etc. I think it takes more discipline and readiness than I have to allow Chinese medicine to work. I congratulate you for using that for yourself.

I am thrilled for you to have the relief from the hell that is those cramp pains/imbalances. I feel like I'm watching someone escape a death camp, run, run and be free for always.

May your pieces and parts never know pain again for all the world's good.

Pamela Terry and Edward said...

Bless your heart, Rima. I am so very sorry this has been your plight for so long. And doubly glad that the Chinese route is working so well. There are more things in heaven and earth....

I have suffered with migraines for years and years, and only recently found a tiny little pill to take every morning, and haven't had a migraine since last February. Miracles are still to be found!

But, I still would love to fly, wouldn't you?

Yoli said...

I am glad you found relief Rima. My sister suffered the same as you. It went away when she had her child. It happened the same way with my mother. I am not suggesting you get pregnant, just illustrating what happened in my family. I was fortunate not to have inherited that pain. I do get migraines before my period.

jude said...

having had personal experience with this sort of thing and also this kind of healing, i am right there with you. love the witch reference.

Anonymous said...

Hi Rima,
I'm so happy you found acupunture as the remedy! When I started to read this post I was thinking "Yes, and me and me! Acupucture's the answer!" I've been to the same place every step of the way, the needles, the moxa, the dreadful smelling dried poo herbs, and it works like magic doesn't it?! :)x

Anonymous said...

Wow! I'm glad you found something to help. I used to have such pains when I was in my late teens. Only a couple of times where I was vomiting and hallucinating, but it was generally very painful and I had to miss classes once a month.

In my case acupuncture didn't help but maybe that doctor wasn't as well trained as yours. The only thing that helped me at the time was taking the pill. That really saved me.

But I still believe in acupuncture, my mum got her hepatitis under control thanks to it. And my collegue is slowly getting rid of her horrid migraines

Sido said...

I have been enjoying your beautiful blog and artwork. I've had similar experiences with the monthly pain and frustration with doctors that roll their eyes, even the females, and suggest the pill. So this is something to consider... although needles, for me, can be somewhat problematic. I wondered if you experienced mood swings and if this treatment helped with that particular beast as well.


Griffin said...

Ow! Poor you. Still, now that it is all gone you will have to find another curse... I recommend chocolate...!

"of what looks like devil's toenail clippings and fossilized cat poo"... leaving aside how you know what fossilized cat poo looks like... it's funny you should say that because....!!!! :)

I am impressed at your courage at having acupuncture. I don't allow anyone near me with sharp objects - especially needles. Very especially needles.

I wouldn't dismiss orthodox medicine out of hand tho'. Look at it this way - whatever helps is worth having. There are some things orthodox medicine can help with and there are some things alternative medicine can help with. I'd say, try both - at least one or both of 'em has to work.

The Dutchess said...

Very interesting and happy for you that you found this..:)

Emily said...

Thanks for the link and wow! The feeling is mutual! This is one fiercely delightful blog you have here!
cheers from Sweden!

Vinara said...

Awww! Glad you're feeling much better now :) *hugs*

Enelya +++

ArtPropelled said...

What a relief. I was holding my breath throughout the telling of your malady. Don't know that I could have swigged that concoction.

Nao said...

Woooohooo!!! This is wonderful news. Oh the intensity of moon pains, they can really take you out, I hear you sister! I also bow down to the Gods of TCM. My menstrual life has also been greatly improved from this ancient and powerful healing tradition.

Anonymous said...

Yea! I'm glad that worked as that sounds horrible. While I haven't had occassion to use alternative medicine I believe it can be just as effective.

Ruthie Redden said...

So happy for you Rima, To b whisked off into a world full of pain such as that is not a thing i would wish on anyone, many days i too lost in that way. May your pain freeness last ever long as you begin your travels in your little wheeled home. (thank u so 4 the books, inspiring indeed) x

Julia Guthrie said...

As a 'past' sufferer of pain I can sympathise. My Mum even went to my teacher at school once to apologise for all my time thought I was exagerating! Hmm...not at aged 13 I wasn't!
I did go down 'the pill' route, but I am so pleased to hear that Chinese medicine helped you! I have often considered trying it for various ailments, but it does seem so expensive. Well worth it in your case I guess!
Thanks for writing about's good to know!:)

mama p said...

:) Congratulations!! That is wonderful news-- I'm glad the treatments worked. I had a similar issue, which was diagnosed "tentatively" as endometriosis (where the uterine lining grows on organs outside of the uterus). The cost for Chinese medicine is great; I ended up working as an assistant to the woman I saw for tx, so my sessions were for trade. But WOW what a difference. And I'll echo another commenter up there-- having a baby somehow kicked things back into gear, and AHHH no pain no mo'!

There are too many of us suffering from this; all the better to hear of healing!

Maj said...

So glad you found TCM, and that it helped you! I have gone along the same path, and I hated that vile, black brew. Luckily, my chinese doctor got me some herbal pills made from the same ingredients, cat-poo and all, and they worked wonders! I see my TCM-doctor for other ailments too, and I so enjoy the deep relaxation I get from the needles. And I have come to asociate the smell of moxa with that feeling, so I must find some to have in my pocket, for a quick sniff, if I get in distress ;))

Rima Staines said...

Hello folks, thank you for all your well wishes.. and interesting to hear of many other similar tales, and remedies with pregnancy :)
To answer Kimberley's question about mood swings - I do get a bit low and clumsy a day or two beforehand, but not very noticeably, luckily I don't have that particular thing! I do think chinese medicine can help with moods and madnesses too :)
And the needles aren't like the usual sort - they only go in a tiny bit, and I would never have thought I'd let anyone put a needle in my wrist before now!
I don't dismiss western medicine outright, it does a great job too.. I just like to have another choice, where illness is looked at another way.
Cheerio for now :)

Elizabeth said...

What a wonderful outcome.
Diana is a delight on the blogosphere and I'm so glad she managed to find a remedy for you awful problems.
Our daughter often has terrible period pains as a teenager.
We once found her writhing on the grass in the garden and wondered if she had taken some sort of awful drugs.
So, so happy things are getting better.

Karen said...

Hi Rima'
Glad to hear you have found something which has helped you.
I suffered as a teen, sickness and migraine sometimes accompanying it.
It is horrid.
Like others mine has disappeared after having children.
One consolation I found was, when I did have my babies, I was able to manage any pain much more easily than I heard friends had. And I had a really easy time with both of them.
There could be an advantage for the future?

Vita said...

Rima I am very very glad to hear that it helped!
I have long come to conclusion that the ancient medicine ways like Chinese of Tibetian makes much more sence that our traditional way of thinking.
My Mom who has a brain tumor now, has been treated by a Tibetian doctor and is doing fantasticly well!

BT said...

What a terrible time you have had Rima. I am lucky in that I rarely suffered biologically with 'The Curse' but boy, did I get PMT!!! Still, all in the past now thank goodness.

I'm so glad the Chinese medicine has rendered a cure and leaves you free to enjoy your lifestyle.



Half-heard in the Stillness said...

Hello Rima I'm so sorry that you've had such trials but thankfully you've managed to overcome! I admire your bravery and perseverance. Hopefully your story will help give others suffering the same way to at least venture along routes other than traditional medicine. My brother has a really ancient herbal book, the covers are broken and torn, the printing all higgledy-pigledy yet fascinating to read all the old herbal remedies that people used way way back.

ArtSparker said...

I had a reading as cold and damp from a Korean monk (same medical system) who worked nutritionally and gave me a list of good and bad foods - for instance, cold and damp types should avoid pork,beer,and melon, and of course chiles and peppers are recommended.

Lady Lavona said...

I'm glad to hear the medicine worked! Here in Chicago we have and area of the city called China Town! I was having skin problems on my upper arms...too much heat. I also took a nasty tea...but I'm cured!

I avoid Doctor's whenever possible! My daughter Maya was delivered at home by mid-wives. It was an amazing birth experience. I was able to soak in the tub for hours, drink tea, use the toliet, enjoy massage. Not to mention the birthing chair and other awkward positions the allowed me to try. They told stories and said prayers...I had my daughter in my own bed in the was so comforting.

That was 10 years ago...but two years ago I had my son, Solomon at the local hospital. Finding a midwife was almost impossible. The laws have's a Modern Witch Hunt! The Medical Industry is making it impossible to practice. Something has to be done!

Luckily, my son is safe and healthy...but my birthing experience was nothing like my first. I was immobilzed, hooked up to a fetal monitering machine, I was not allowed to drink anything, they gave me an I.V. instead. ect...I won't even go into the details about interns, being probed strangers, it was a nightmare. The doctor's don't want to be inconvenienced by waiting for the baby. The doctor's shift was almost over and he wanted to go home. If he didn't deliver my child he wouldn't get he order an emergency C-Section. I was devestated...the next 3 days the had me doped up on a Morphine drip. I could barley sit up to nurse my baby, plus I worried about the morphine passing through my breastmilk! Nightmare I tell you!

Sorry for this Epic comment! I probably don't need to preach to the choir...but we need to make sure our rights to natural medicine aren't taken away! I'm not sure about your area, but this is becoming a problem in the United States!

Wish I didn't miss out on your book sale! That's what I get for not checking in! Hope all is lovely with you!

xo Lavona

tlchang said...

I'm so glad you had success at treating this Rima. (I love acupuncture). My daughter has it almost as severely. I've got her scheduled to see a naturopath (who is also an acupuncturist) in a week or so to see we can help. She's only 16 and I'm not anxious to start her on the pill or other drugs, so am really hoping she is as dedicated as you were to seeing an alternative form of treatment through! (And isn't Diana great?)

Anonymous said...

Glad to hear you have found something which has worked for you Rima.
It's interesting that you mentioned the full moon. I was told that if a woman's cycle fell at the same time as a full moon it would be harder on her with more blood loss.

I've tried acupuncture for my back and was amazed at how pain free I felt afterwards. I think the body gets used to a background level of pain. He did mention my bad circulation too. I'd recommend accupuncture too.

Jolanda said...

I have the same experience as you did with chinese medicines... hurray for old knowledge!!

Laura J. Wellner (author pseudonym Laura J. W. Ryan) said...

Hello Rima!

I love your blog, it's so beautiful here, and I'm glad your ordeal with period pain has become better with Chinese medicine...I took angelica for mine for a long time, it can be really awful stuff if not done right (a dollop of honey always cuts it nicely), but you do get used to it...however, my womb has become more troublesome of late, and my lovely GYN lady doctor has recommended endometrial ablation, which does sound scary, but it takes no more than 5 minutes and I'll be in "twilight sleep" for it. She says that at 46, I'm too young for a hysterectomy, so this should help with my erratic bleeding and cramps, I've been miserable for years with this and I completely sympathize with your awful pain and the "green" feeling. I'm already dealing with Fibromyalgia symptoms, this added grief has just made my life more interesting than I care to experience. My general practitioner says that everyone loves the procedure, and wished me good luck with it. I'll either never bleed again, or if I do, it will be very very little from now's a wait n' see what happens next, my surgery is in two weeks...

Please visit my websites Upstate Girl and Follow Your Bliss, I straddle writing and artwork and love every bit of my creative life...

Best wishes,


Anonymous said...

It sounds like you may have endometriosis

I hope the Chinese remedy cures it for you, but if it doesn't keep on looking.

I LOVE your home. What an amazing adventure!!!
And you are so talented, I admire you so much.

aminah said...

glad to hear that the chinese medicine worked for you. I am in my last year of my acupuncture studies and hence it was uplifting to hear the treatment was a success!

Solvay said...

I've neglected to comment on this wondrous posting. SO HELPFUL to many women, surely!
And, I love that you have pursued relentlessly relief from this curse. I admire your persistence and open-heartedness to receive healing, here!

Michelle said...

What a story! I'm so glad to hear you're finally able to get through a month without agony. :-(
I had accupuncture in South Africa to help a pain doctors couldn't get rid of. In my case it was a chiropractor who learnt accupuncture from a mad genius of a doctor in our home town. By then he was more mad than genius, sadly (his neighbours found him up a tree once, pretending to be a grasshopper), but the chiro was brilliant in his own right. I missed him so much when I moved here to Scotland!

In very recent years I've started doing chakra readings and I've wondered if they match up to Chinese energy or not. I don't do it for money, just to help friends/family. I don't heal, just tell what I see, which can relate to emotional or physical health.

Unknown said...

Hi Rima,

I am also under this kind of chinese medication now for 3 days. I am trying to figure out what are those dried/almost fossilized things but I cant. I am hoping that like you I will come to love the taste of the bitterest herbal concoction I ever tasted.