By Diane Majeske
I’m lying on a padded table in a quiet, restful room, but I can’t quite relax. I look up at the woman standing over me.
“The needles... are you going to, you know, put them in my face?”
The woman is Dr. Julie TwoMoon, a naturopathic doctor and acupuncturist based in Plymouth. She gives a confident nod. “You’ll hardly feel it,” she says.
Almost before I know it, a long, slender needle is inserted along the side of my nose, then near my hairline, in my cheek, in front of my ear, on the top of my head, near the inner crook of my arm, and in about a dozen other areas of my body.
The needles are light and thin — they don’t hurt when they’re inserted. In fact, after Dr. Julie has checked me over and covered me with a light sheet, I start feeling a little tingly and even slightly sleepy.
I slide my eyes to the right, and with my peripheral vision, I can just see the tip of a needle sticking out of my cheek. I start to stretch for my phone.
This would make an awesome selfie, I think to myself. But as I move, I can feel the needle shift, just a hair. Hmm. Maybe not.
Needles? Sure — Whatever Works
Why acupuncture? Because nothing else was working.
My issue started as a muscle spasm, a tiny one, just under my right eye. I can tell you the moment it began; I remember it well. I was in a small, airless conference room, being berated by a supervisor for a perceived lack of productivity.
To say I was shocked would be an understatement. I had worked hard — very hard — at that job. I came in early, stayed late, moved heaven and Earth to attend early meetings, meet stringent deadlines, and balance the needs of two kids with a demanding boss. But now, this. I was absolutely dumbstruck at the accusation I wasn’t working enough hours.
“I would never, ever shortchange this company,” I told my supervisor.
“I’m glad to hear you say that,” he replied.
Hmm. That’s almost the same as I trust you, I thought to myself.
At that very moment, my right eye twitched. Moments later, as we left the conference room, a colleague stopped me and grasped my arm.
He smiled at me. “You look like you’ve seen a ghost,” he said, and laughed.
My right eye twitched again. And oddly, so did a muscle in my lower right cheek. Hard. I put my hand to my face. The spasms stopped.
Later that night, lying in bed, I thought about the confrontation and the events of the day. My right eye twitched. Again and again and again and again. So did the muscle in my cheek. It was as though I’d lost control of that side of my face. Startled, I sat up. Only when I put a hand onto my skin did it stop.
That was in 2011. The muscle contractions continue. The supervisor is gone; I have a new job — but the spasms remain. Some days they’re not so bad; some days they’re awful — but they’re always there. I take two kinds of medicine to control them — one for anxiety, the other an anti-spasmodic. I’ve had CAT scans and MRIs. I see a general practitioner and a neurologist. They’ve ruled out Bell’s palsy, tumors, or any other organic growths.
Doctors call my condition a “hemi-facial spasm,” a relatively rare, neuromuscular disorder characterized by irregular, involuntary muscle contractions — or spasms — on one side of the face. The cause is debated, but generally unknown, and anxiety simply exacerbates the condition.
In my particular case, the condition likely has been building after years of stress — the death of my sister, loss of a print journalism career and, not to mention, years and years ago, being struck on the right side of the face with a golf ball. Bonus.
That stress bill might just be coming due.
Whatever the cause, it’s beyond annoying. For an extrovert who is borderline vain, someone who loves to talk and laugh and who interviews people for a living, it’s nearly debilitating. At its worst, it pulls my eye shut and the corner of my mouth upward. The spasm will jerk, jerk, jerk my face uncontrollably. I’ll break a sweat.
I used to love getting my photo taken. Now, ironically, in the age of the selfie, I tend to avoid cameras at all costs. (Acupuncture selfies notwithstanding, of course.)
So the day my neurologist turned to me and asked, “Have you ever tried acupuncture?” I jumped at the opportunity.
“No,” I said. “But I will. Does it work?”
He shrugged noncommittally. “I’m not sure I really believe in it… you know… finding your chi, clearing the meridians and all that… it’s not my thing. But I have patients who swear by it.”
He ripped a script from his prescription pad and handed it to me. “If you know someone, you might want to try it.” He turned before he left the room.
“But your insurance probably won’t cover it, so you’ll want to check the price.”
I called after him: “Whatever it costs, it’s worth it.”
He didn’t turn around; he just waved.
Meeting Dr. Julie
I learned about Dr. Julie TwoMoon of Seven Directions Medicine by happenstance, standing in line for a conference at my son’s school, making conversation with the woman ahead of me. She had received treatment there from “Dr. Julie,” and said extremely positive things about her.
So I checked out the website (sevendirectionsmedicine.com) and liked what I read. I wasn’t particularly fearful of acupuncture, but I wasn’t overly hopeful, either. After all, I had tried Reiki, crystals, tapping, anti-spasmodic medication, yoga, meditation… I was resigned — almost — to my twitchy fate.
Next stop could be Botox, and I was far more fearful of that, to be honest.
At Seven Directions, I liked Dr. Julie immediately. Something about her was inherently calming. She told me a little bit about herself, that she was educated at the National College of Natural Medicine in Portland, Oregon, where she received her Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine degree and Master of Science in Oriental Medicine.
She told me a little bit about her philosophy of medicine — that it shouldn’t be complicated, and it shouldn’t inspire fear.
“It should reflect the amazing possibility of our bodies and our fantastic ability to heal,” she said. “It should also honor our intuition. In fact, it should result in a stronger sense of connection and unity throughout our lives.”
She asked me a wide variety of questions, took my pulse, and looked at my tongue.
As I inquired further, she told me a little bit about acupuncture, how it’s built on tenets that were established literally thousands of years ago. She told me there are 12 primary meridians on the body, that they’re like stream beds, and along those stream beds, there are 365 specific points of interaction that can stimulate effects from your body’s various systems. And by taking my pulse, she can determine how the chi, the breath of life, is moving through my body, and studying my tongue and asking about my life provides more information about me, as well.
There is absolutely nothing random about the needle placement in acupuncture, she told me.
“The premise is that our body is a constantly flowing energetic being with particular electrical currents that keep our cells informed,” she said. “When that information gets interrupted is when you get symptoms — symptoms of diseases, symptoms of issues. Acupuncture is a way to re-establish that connection.”
I’ve gone for four acupuncture treatments so far. I plan to go for more. I still have facial spasms, but I notice that after my visits, they lessen considerably. I still take my other medications as well.
Dr. Julie said that my exam showed I have issues with my diet — no surprise to me — and that my chi was somewhat low and “slippery.” I’m working on it.
My spasms are a little trickier to explain, but basically, in an oversimplified explanation, they’re caused by an overabundance of trapped yang energy.
I’m not exactly sure why the spasms lessen after the sessions. I am definitely more relaxed, and I know that helps. And I do know that following Dr. Julie’s other advice — to practice more self-care and to slow down — also makes me feel better.
And I’ve received another, unexpected gift from my treatments, one that’s almost better than having my spasms eliminated: after a treatment, I feel great. I feel energized and creative. I feel more like myself.
Having a condition that no one really understands or can empathize with is draining. And to have one that is this visible is embarrassing.
To go from doctor to specialist, from pill to pill, and to look in the mirror and see that absolutely nothing is working is depressing. I tried to tell myself that it’s okay, that it doesn’t matter, but deep down, to me, it does. It just does.
Over the years, I’ve felt myself become less outgoing, more introverted. So to finally find someone who was so confident she could help was a relief from the start. Her knowledge, her diagnosis, and her calmness gave me peace of mind. I felt like there was light at the end of the tunnel.
Maybe those needles pushed aside whatever negative energy had been blocking my creativity ever since this twitch showed up. I can’t say with absolute certainty. But I can tell you that after my first treatment, I started two writing projects. I dug another out of long-term hibernation. I felt like a writer again.
In short, I feel like the old me is making a return appearance. And I’ve always liked that girl.
If acupuncture can convince her to stay, then it’s definitely a treatment for me.
Julie TwoMoon was born and grew up in Dearborn Heights. She has been in practice since 2003 and is the owner of Seven Directions Center for Restorative Medicine located in Plymouth. Her website is www.sevendirectionsmedicine.com and her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.