Stress, I find, is a vicious circle. The more hectic life is the harder it is to find time take care of ourselves; the less we take care of ourselves the more stressed we become. When I’m up against it - and right now the challenges seem never-ending - I find it very hard to create the time and space I need to maintain an even keel. Work, teenagers, dogs, house, family - all seem to take priority over my own health. And so I cancel the gym, put off the dentist, reschedule the GP.
There is however one thing I never skip, no matter how bonkers things get. And that’s my acupuncture .
Most people think of acupuncture as the sort of thing you do to treat acute conditions, such as a frozen shoulder or a bad back. But what I’ve found is that if you see the right person on a regular basis, it can have a raft of other benefits too. Practised in a certain way, it acts as a kind of mental and physical therapy, rebalancing energy in the body, opening up blockages and generally contributing to a calming and quietening of the mind.
The only time I’ve ever experienced a similar feeling of bliss is when I’ve been given morphine
I first started seeing my acupuncturist, Justine Hankin, for help with the menopause. She specialises in women’s health, and was recommended to me by a friend who had seen her for fertility issues. It was in large part thanks to her that I was able to stop taking hormone replacement therapy when, after a few years, I decided I had had enough of taking so many pills. Justine has been practising out of the same unprepossessing GP surgery in Fulham Broadway for 25 years. Tucked away in a residential complex for military veterans, it couldn’t be further from the kind of plush salon where London’s top practitioners hold court, and yet thanks to the expertise and kindness of Justine it is a haven for me and her many long-standing clients.
I see her fortnightly without fail. And I really do mean without fail. There are very few things that get in the way of my 9.30am Thursday morning, and on the rare occasions when circumstances force me to cancel, I really feel the absence of my treatment. What she does is deceptively simple; a series of needles, always slightly different in location, accompanied by an explanation. "This week," she will say, "I’ve worked on your immune system and your stomach." Once when I was really upset about something but determined to bottle it up, she simply handed me a tissue after she’d put the needles in and said, "sometimes it’s good to have a bit of a cry." The tears flowed involuntarily in a great river of relief.
This capacity to balance the emotions is not something I had ever associated with acupuncture. But I guess with physical harmony comes mental peace. When I lie on that treatment bed, I can actually feel the vital energy flowing through my body, the warmth returning to my feet and toes. I feel calm and at peace. The only time I’ve ever experienced a similar feeling of bliss is when, in hospital, I’ve been given morphine. And like morphine, this sense of wellbeing is addictive. Unlike morphine, it’s easy to get hold of and really good for me.
A session with Justine is far better than any psychiatric session I’ve ever had, far more immediately soothing than any pill. I genuinely don’t think I would have coped with the extraordinary challenges of the past couple of years. So much has changed about my life, not all for the best. But one thing I shall never regret: meeting Justine.
Find Justine at www.justinehanking.co.uk