"How I Built This": How to Create Something Great from Past Experiences
“I’m this uncomfortable person, so I had to make these comfortable clothes.” ~Eileen Fisher, from her interview on the NPR Podcast “How I Built This”
I’ve really been loving listening to these hour-long interviews with entrepreneurs about how and why they built their businesses. (My other favorite stories from this series are the stories of Patagonia and Edible Arrangements).
I love this interview with Eileen Fisher not only because I love her clothes (though I don’t actually own any because of A) the price tag and B) I look like a marshmallow in them). What I really love about this interview is this one simple statement that defines her brand and the motivation behind it: “I’m this uncomfortable person, so I had to make these comfortable clothes.”
This simple statement really resonated with me. I have built every aspect of my acupuncture practice (from how I take appointments, to paperwork and policies, to the actual care I provide for the people I work with) from within the context my previous (and quite extensive) experiences with healthcare.
At the dawn of a new (calendar) year, I would like to tell you the story of my business and how I created beauty from the ashes and the treasures of my own healthcare journey.
My experiences with healthcare have not always been great. Let me be clear that I am super grateful for all of the outcomes that conventional medicine has offered to me, but the process itself has felt fairly awkward and awful to me on the whole.
I started seeing doctors at age 10 as the result of a rare autoimmune condition that took two years of specialists’ visits to diagnose. By the time I was 12, I mostly just let my mom speak for me because I felt really shut down and protective and vulnerable from the exchanges I had with physicians.
Looking back, the biggest thing missing for me in my healthcare experiences has always been safety, and that’s why I value so highly my patient’s sense of comfort and integrity. I try hard, and have made it a cornerstone of my practice, to create an environment in which anything can rise to the surface and be spoken and acknowledged in a safe, supportive, and non-judgmental environment.
If the darkest corners of ourselves and our anxieties aren’t exposed to light, we keep living from a fragmented reality, and we assume that parts of us are un-loveable and must be suppressed. Furthermore, what’s buried cannot truly be healed or cared for. It’s one of my beliefs that if we can’t be ourselves, we can’t really heal.
The other experience that I seemed to butt up against constantly in my healthcare experiences was a sense that the doctors and practitioners I had been seeing had a super-limited view of me and, thereby, could not care for me as a complete person. These physicians were really great at zeroing in on pathology but not so great at actually seeing who I was, what I valued, what I really wanted, or what health and vitality could look like for me as a unique individual.
You might ask if this really matters?
It’s true that if you have strep throat, you want someone who can see the strep throat and eradicate it. But if you’re the person who keeps getting strep throat year after year and feels worn down and worn out by the process, without any answers about how to really cope with this again, you need someone who can see the complete picture of you and not only eradicate the strep throat but also help heal your anxiety and despair, and take care of your immune system.
I had one doctor when I was 16 who write a letter for my file that bragged about how he did have to create a scar on my body to get the hoped-for result, but he was very pleased with himself for figuring out how to create a scar that would not show when I wore a bikini.
At the time I was too worried about having my first surgery to contemplate scars and swimsuits. I do recognize that this doctor was doing his best to take care of me (though his letter states that he can “make no promises” about future swimsuit styles), but years later I felt really weirded-out by his excitement about taking care of a future “problem” (bikini-wearing) that was really completely irrelevant to me (and not even really a problem).
Did anyone ever stop to ask me if I wear a bikini, or if I cared about a scar? Nope.
Though I’ve had many moments where I have felt that health care professionals have taken the time to get to know me a little bit better and anticipate my needs and specific concerns, for the most part I’ve been fairly disappointed by the limited view of health that’s been presented to me by the care I’ve received.
That all changed when I went to my first acupuncturist in Bangor, Maine in 2005. Mary Margaret Roseberry (whose name reminded me of the Strawberry Shortcake faeries of my 1980s childhood) and who had the most solid and radiant presence I had ever accounted at that time, took care of me as a whole person and focused on what mattered to me physically, emotionally, and spiritually. I felt cared for as a complete human with integrated needs. It was MAGICAL, and I was instantly hooked.
My biggest lesson from her, which came at my second appointment, is one that I still carry forth and offer to the people I help in my practice. I got up on the table and she was taking my pulse. I turned and asked her, “So how am I doing today??” She paused and said, “Actually, it’s your job to tell me how you’re doing.”
I was seriously shocked. For decades, I had been going to doctors and other medical professionals waiting to be diagnosed. I had learned to outsource my sense of when I was ok and when I wasn’t.
Sometimes I would try to tell practitioners what I was experiencing in my body or my mind but eventually I just shut up because I felt like they weren’t listening anyways. It was easier to just wait, in defeat, for the labs and then tackle another round of pathology.
Fairly often, I have patients report to me that they visited their doctor, told them they were in pain, had a bunch of tests and the doctor came back and said, “There's nothing wrong with you.” This external denial of someone’s internal experience causes very real harm and outrage for the patient.
I’ve always been on a mission to create healthcare that can attend to the physical, emotional, and spiritual needs of a complete and unique person to help them thrive, enjoy being alive, and to encourage them to express their gifts in the world.
If you have a sense that something’s not right in your body, your mind, or your heart, trust yourself and find someone who can help you take care of yourself.
We all need help from time and time, and it’s perfectly sensible, and even essential, to pay attention to internal cues telling you that something is off.
If you need help and want to talk with me about how acupuncture might help you heal, I would be happy to talk with you! Please reach out and we can chat. It’s free. I want anyone who comes to me to have a chance to see if they think I might fit with their needs before they schedule.
This article is in alignment with a FAQ I wrote about acupuncture and my practice and what makes it unique. Want to check out a quick guide that goes over some of the key components of how I help people? Click here to read the FAQ. Or direct a friend who is struggling to this article or to the FAQ to help them get a quick sense of how I might be able to help them.
Still curious about how acupuncture works with the body, mind, and heart? Click here for an explanation of acupuncture that I wrote for Arianna Huffington’s health and wellness site Thrive Global.