Acupuncture Tamed My Temper

One Reader's Sucess

My premenstrual syndrome was so bad that I often lashed out at my husband and children. Fortunately, I got help.

AT THE AGE OF 36, BOTH my emotional state and my menstrual cycle became erratic and unpredictable, and my doctor initially couldn't find any reason for the change. For two weeks of every month, I suffered bloating, severe fatigue, headaches, and intense mood swings. I retained so much fluid that I had designated “period bras,” which were a cup-size larger than my other bras. And something as ordinary as a child's refusal to eat dinner was enough to enrage me.

A typical month granted me a meager two weeks of good health after my period, and I tried to limit family excursions and any situation that might be stressful to those days. But planning was difficult because my cycle varied from month to month, ranging anywhere from 28 to 40 days. I was delighted when my careful scheduling of my son's birthday party worked out and I didn't have to manage my premenstrual syndrome (PMS) along with 10 shrieking toddlers.

While I struggled to survive the bad days, I constantly worried about the effect of my erratic moods on my husband and two children, ages 3 and 5.1 was acutely aware of my husband's growing astonishment, which mirrored my own: Who was this irrational woman?

Depressed, perplexed, and desperate for a cure, I finally returned to my physician, who diagnosed me with premenstrual dysphoric disorder. He explained that I was not a candidate for birth control pills (which can control menstrual problems) because I was over 30 and had cardiac arrhythmia. Then he scribbled on a tablet of paper and handed me his solution—a prescription for an antidepressant. I didn't like the idea of using a pill to manage my life, so I never filled it.

Conquering Fear
I confided in a close friend, who suggested I try acupuncture, something I knew nothing about. I didn't like the idea of needles being inserted into my body. But I was determined to improve the quality of my life and my family's, so I decided to give it a try.

I looked through the yellow pages and found the New England School of Acupuncture in Watertown, Mass., not far from my home. The school referred me to one of its professors, and I called her and asked if acupuncture would work for my problem. She immediately said yes, and went on to tell me how acupuncture had saved her uterus by shrinking her fibroid tumors. Her candor and success story gave me the courage to make an appointment.

But when I entered her office, I was still fearful of the needles. She asked for a detailed account of my medical history. Then she took my pulse at my wrists, examined my abdomen with her hands, and studied my tongue—techniques acupuncturists commonly use to diagnose a problem. She said I had “liver stagnation” and that this was the root cause of my PMS. (According to acupuncturists, qi, or vital energy, should flow freely through your body; they believe that ailments occur when qi is blocked.) She explained that she would insert needles at specific points to unblock my qi.

She had me remove my socks and wristwatch and lie down on a soft elevated massage bed. I tensed my fists and toes, clenched my teeth, and braced myself to withstand the agony to come. She leaned over me and gently inserted hair-thin needles into my feet, wrists, abdomen, and forehead, and I was astonished that they didn't hurt at all. Each insertion felt like a tiny pinch and lasted only a fraction of a second.

Within five minutes I was sleepy, which I later learned is the feeling of qi flowing smoothly through your body. She left the needles in for almost an hour, and after she removed them she noted that my pulse was noticeably more even and that my abdomen felt less tense.

She said that some patients probably improve not because blockages in their qi are removed but simply because going to an acupuncture appointment forces them to make time for themselves. She said that regular sessions help people establish a routine of entering a quiet, restful meditative state.

A Nicer Mommy Now
On her recommendation, I followed the standard acupuncture regimen for PMS: I had weekly hour-long treatments for the first month and then hourly treatments once a month. Amazingly, after the first month of acupuncture sessions, my period returned to a dependable 28-day cycle that lasted just five days. And my mood swings, painful cramping, headaches, and depression melted away. I experienced a newfound sense of wellbeing in the two weeks before I got my period, as if all the turmoil in my body had been quelled.

My remarkable transformation was confirmed one day when my 3-year-old son spilled a plate of pasta on our living room rug and I calmly set to work to clean up the mess. “You are a nicer Mommy now,” he said, squatting down to help me.

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“You don't yell anymore.”

I still receive acupuncture treatments once a month, and my cycle has remained regular for the last year. I am delighted to say that PMS no longer dictates my life.

At a Glance
Karen Dillon, 38
Arlington, Mass.
Problem: The symptoms of my premenstrual syndrome, like headaches and irritability, were so severe they interfered with my daily life.

Obstacle: My physician suggested an antidepressant, which I didn't want to take.

Solution: Regular acupuncture treatments solved my menstrual problems.

Consider This My Tips For Curing Premenstrual Syndrome
Solicit the Advice of Others. A friend recommended acupuncture, an effective treatment that I wouldn't have thought of on my own.

See an Acupuncturist. To locate one, contact the National Commission for the Certification of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (610-266-1433; www.acupuncture.com).

Find Ways to Relax. To feel calm, which is key to avoiding my symptoms, I listen to the same music at home that my acupuncturist plays during our sessions.

I felt as if all the turmoil in my body had been quelled.

PHOTO (COLOR): We all rejoiced at my remarkable transformation.

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By Karen Dillon

Karen Dillon is a freelance writer in the Boston area.

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