How Alternative medicine changed my life
On a particularly ill-feeling day, my mother and I hopped on a train to New York City. We were to visit a Chinese herbalist on Canal Street. I’d never been to any type of Eastern doctor previously. Instead, I grew up on cold, stale waiting rooms and busy doctors- ones who were too busy to listen to me.
Prior to this endeavor, I was suffering from debilitating anxiety, migraines, and a raw stomach. It was hard to hold down food and even when I tried, I’d have this burning sensation run through my abdomen. The best I could do was apply pressure and stay still to help dull the pain. I was shaky and in knots- on edge and tired. It felt better to not put anything in my body at all to avoid what I was feeling. I spent months switching doctors to figure out what was wrong. They ran tests. Did blood work and gave me ultrasounds. I even visited a gastroenterologist, but left with the discovery that I had high blood pressure, which is strange for someone who’s ‘young and healthy’. I waited weeks for some kind of response, but there was never anything returned or that they could find. Still, I knew something was wrong, regardless of if I had something to base it off of.
It had taken some convincing. My mother has a strong distaste for the city, but I could tell that upon entering the building, there was an excitement between the both of us. A ray of light. Three flights above us held an office-like space with dull lighting. It was decorated generously with Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) books, calendars, notebooks, and acupuncture tables- which at the time was a sight to marvel at. I didn’t even know what acupuncture was exactly and the sight of needles in people was a bit unnerving, but at the same time interesting.
Dr. Fu Zhang’s waiting room was warm and welcoming. Quiet with the permeating scent of herbs filling my senses. I vividly recall the soft face of his daughter waving us over from behind a wooden panel divider. I sat down, pulled up my sleeves, and laid my arm across his empty desk. He placed his steady fingers on my pulse and asked me to stick out my tongue. In my head, I sort of wondered why he needed to see my tongue to diagnose, but I was far beyond the point of questioning- I saved that for later. I didn’t have to say much, only answered a few questions. Before I could settle, his daughter was concocting a set of powdered herbs from the wall shelves.
A cold stomach, or an invasion of yin. Our bodies work on a balancing system of energies. They work tirelessly to keep everything equal, but not without our help and effort. It works in a balance between yin (cold) and yang (hot). When too much of one is present, it throws off the balance, overwhelming the other. This can lead to physical symptoms. And where it comes from just depends. Anxiety and worry happen to affect the stomach/spleen. The stomach is where your digestive fire lies. And those emotions weaken the corresponding organs and make them more susceptible to illness. What you consume also greatly affects your organ function- eating iced, cold, or raw food/drinks in excess can deplete your digestive fire and make it more difficult for your body to perform digestive function (more energy is used to digest those kinds of foods).
I was instructed to eat warm, cooked foods and to avoid any dairy, cold, and greasy foods. Then, I was given the set of herbs to boil into a tea every night for twenty minutes. Within weeks, I regained my strength and started slipping back into myself.
But that wasn’t without the internal work too. Before my visit to Dr. Fu Zhang, I wasn’t taking care of myself properly in any aspect of my life. I didn’t even know how. And for a while after that, even after getting better, I still struggled. I do now. Though, this did mark a major point in the way I looked at myself, my lifestyle, and health as a whole. It was just the beginning.
Around the same time my anxiety was at its worst, I started getting a rash on my face. It was mostly under my nose and around the sides of my mouth- red and irritated, only getting angrier the more I tried to cover it up or use over the counter remedies. So I decided to visit a dermatologist. The minute he saw me he knew what it was. Perioral Dermatitis. He handed me a pamphlet and said he’d have a prescription sent to my local pharmacy. No questions asked.
With a bit of time, it went away. And I thought I was good, but it came back with vengeance. I used the cream again. And it went away and came back. Again. And again. And again. This happened for years to come.
So I started to experiment. First, I tried just leaving it alone, which yielded no result. Then I started doing my own research on its causes/the root of the problem- beyond what I’d been told. I read other peoples blogs and experiences with this form of dermatitis. I tried different creams and essential oils. I dove into nutrition and gut function and explored different foods/their effect on my body and skin. I discovered how important what I was putting in my body was. And began taking internal supplements and herbs to help eliminate whatever was going on inside my body. Then realizing that even things like toothpaste and detergent had an effect on my skin- so I changed all the products I used previously. I started actually reading the labels of everything I use.
I then discovered the wonderful gift to this Earth that is acupuncture. I found someone I could talk to about what was going on with me, whether it was big or small, whatever I thought was relevant. And he listened and understood at a deeper level. He took everything into account when treating. In turn, I was able to learn from the knowledge of another. There’s only so much you can get from the internet and just plain reading. It helps to be able to discuss your findings, get some sort of validation, and learn further. It showed me that any type of physician or specialist should truly care about the wellness of their patient and also everything that goes into what caused the trauma/illness/disease and the healing process. It’s not all cut and dry.
Everything began to come together. I began to understand my body and that it needed certain things, attention and treatment, that it wasn’t getting before. And that other things I was doing hurt it. My emotional health carries so much weight. With a lot of patience and time, I eventually discovered a ‘No BS’ skincare brand specifically tailored to people with skin conditions like Perioral Dermatitis- that focuses on healing the skin/protecting it and nurturing it with the use of herbal salves. Within two weeks after using their products, my skin cleared up. And has stayed that way as I’ve focused more on identifying my emotions, switching products that are harmful to my skin, and paying attention to my diet.
Alternative Medicine is basically any method of healing Western medicine considers unconventional. But these practices are ancient. They’ve been around much longer than the modern world has. It includes Traditional Chinese Medicine, Ayurveda, Acupuncture, Homeopathy, Herbalism, Naturopathy, and much more. Their methods of healing recognize you are not just a hollow body. Everything is both physical and non-physical. It recognizes that there are different pathways to explanations and answers. The remedies work with your body’s natural rhythm to get the job done.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t born with a perfect body or perfect skin. I have to be very careful when it comes to most things because I don’t know how it’ll affect me. It’s frustrating to say the least. On a daily basis I ask myself what’s feeling off, what can I fix, and how. Everything I put in my body has a consequence sooner or later (positive or negative). Everything is so seemingly easy for everyone else. There are things I used to be able to do that I just can’t now. But I am still grateful because it has opened me up to this world.
I am so lucky to have been able to have access to this community. To have it revealed to me at a young age- through a mother who chose to use homeopathic remedies whenever she could, teaching me indirectly. And through the many, many people I’ve come across who share the same interests, who have also taught me. To have had the jobs I did that exposed me further to herbs and horticulture and nutrition. To have been open to the love they have to offer. And to be able to explore as I please at whatever pace I’ve chosen. I’m grateful to even have this interest and feel my heart grow every time I gather a piece of information. It’s the gift that keeps on giving. It gave me the opportunity to focus on my wellness and to know myself, to be in tune with my body and soul. It gave me hope. It was there for me when nothing else, or no one else, was, and taught me how to deal with my emotions in a healthy way- to build healthy habits and to dig deeper. Not everything lies on the surface. And I’m not saying I don’t slip up, I do. But I try.
I’ve learned that plant vessels are not silent. They do speak and each has its own beautiful, unique voice. So much is offered when being a part of these forms of medicine- whether it’s what you grew up on, if you’re a teacher, a student, or someone who receives this kind of care or are just discovering it. This knowledge is acquiring a greater understanding of everything encompassing you- to learn it is all intertwined and purposeful, flowing together. It’s learning the knowledge of eternity on this planet. Plants were here long before us, hold more information than even the most acknowledged scientific journals. All you have to do is listen and pay attention. Let them speak and show you. It would be a crime to discredit all that came before you were even a seed on this humble Earth. The one that gives and gives and gives until there is nothing left. The one that has everything you need to live and breathe.
What I’ve learned is there are things modern medicine cannot do. There are bounds it does not reach. But what I’ve ALSO learned is- there are things alternative medicine cannot do either. There isn’t supposed to be a constant battle between the two and neither should be invalidated. They are to work together for the sake of wellness and betterment of humanity.
While there have been more experiences since, and run-ins with Western medicine, where I was unable to figure out what was happening to my body- these two experiences jump-started my fascination with ancient medicine and native healing practices. Each moment has only left me hungry for more. It has even pushed me towards studying Western Herbalism. But if I wrote about each and every one this post would be endless. Perhaps I’ll share in the future. 🙂