I spent my formative years, all through my teens into my early 20s sickly swollen and heavily medicated to suppress the raging systemic lupus I struggled with since the age of 13. Instead of experiencing those rights of passage that most youth partook – drinking, drugs, partying late, dating, travelling. Looking back, I put on a brave (puffy, rashy) face and secretly resented the fact that lupus “stole” my youth and that I was no better off than my peers that partied their health away.
I was just as wasted and tired, but had way less fun applying steroid cream to my malar rash. So instead, I took my post-secondary career for a long, hard ride from an undergrad to Grad school. It was in Grad school, slaving away in the desperate attempt for Med school admissions that I experienced a turning point. I was working so hard and giving away so much time and energy, but this was all for someone else and not myself. Then, two thirds through my Grad work, my lupus hit me hard and fast like a speeding train. I spent over a year and a half undergoing multiple kidney biopsies, many trips to the ER, weekly blood work, pseudo-rheumatoid arthritis, anxiety attacks, yo-yo drug regimens and chemo. Yes chemo, yes I did lose a lot of hair, but without it, I’d be on dialysis. And, on the bright side, I will never need to shave my legs ever again.
Probably the lowest I’ve ever been in my short 26 year lifetime, I was absolutely miserable and hated my life. It was at this time, my rigid scientific mind melted a little (literally and figuratively) and made room for alternate plans. From 2001 to 2003, I volunteered and was later hired at a well-established TCM clinic where I pulled needles, greeted patients (the seniors really liked my dyed pink hair), mixed herbal formulas and researched clinical journals. I was a positive and fortuitous experience and from reminiscing, I randomly decided to take a leap of faith. So in 2006 3 months after my goddamn thesis dissertation, I moved from my east coast home of Toronto ON to the weird coast of Victoria BC to begin TCM studies. Yo ho ho, a total life change I will go…
TCM school was a challenging, but helpful process. I have always been an advocate for my own health and being surrounded by classmates who were just as dysfunctional as myself was reassuring. On one hand, I was in the company of people just as “screwed up” as me. But on the other hand, I knew I was going to learn something very sacred that would help me, something that was in my blood, born and bred Chinese. TCM school in Victoria is a strange place where many of the lost and those looking for a magic shaman cure would gather. In the confusing soup of point combinations, memorizing herbal formulas I would never use and enduring the constant whining of why we have to study, I found my balance. Maybe it was the clean and briny west coast air or all the kale-quinoa salad…or maybe deciding to STOP taking my corticosteroids and let go of my anger and resentment that my mind-body and soul took a deep breath and started to heal. My body has been etched, gouged, inflamed and assaulted by lupus and people’s judgements about that “chubby Asian chick”. And today, only my Medic Alert bracelet says I have “Nephritis Systemic Lupus Erythematosis on Steroid Therapy”.
I had finally reached a point in my life that I am finally grateful for my life experiences, both the sweet and sour. It has graced me with the wisdom of suffering, shame, hopelessness and EMPATHY. This is not to be confused with SYMPATHY of which is not useful to me. I know how sick I’ve felt and I don’t need anyone to feel sorry for me, I need to know that you can listen to me and be there for me, even if you don’t have all the answers. And each time I connect with a patient, I can actually feel their pain, insecurity and aspirations to getting better. This is also balanced by my experience that deep healing comes from within, with steadfast patience and acceptance that things wax and wane.
And now as a humble, yet mighty pint-size acupunk, I yield my weapons of choice – my needles, open heart and sharp, social justice tongue. I understand that people need the most support when they are at their lowest, which is why I practice community acupuncture. It also why for the past 6 yrs, I have always provided acupuncture free of charge for many non-profit organizations and events in Victoria. I realize that our communities are ill and although I am only a single person and I don’t always know what I am doing, I can be there, to listen to people’s hopes and dreams and to share a human interaction. I think all of our communities could use a little more compassion, don’t you?
And what about life vs. responsibility? I have a line of credit and $26K renovation to pay off, so I have some grown-up responsibilities to deal with. But, that’s ok since I’m going to be patient and steadfast about my little clinic because it’s going to need time, compassion and support to grow roots. If I did it for my own body, I can do the same for my business. We’ve added new hours to our schedule and we’ll be hiring our 3rd ‘punk in the spring so we’re steadily growing. All this from a clinic I started from scratch, all by myself (without compromising my health). I have dreams and aspirations of one day being able to step out of my responsibilities as a grassroots business owner and finally revisit those experiences I missed in my youth (minus getting wasted, I don’t drink, thank you very much). I look forward to one day walking the El Camino de Santiago, strolling through Havana, visiting the temples of Kyoto, attending WOMAD on some other continent or hiking the West Coast trail right in my backyard. I’m excited to finally enjoy myself like I was 16 (but healthy) and to strike that balance between living AND making a living.