How Acupuncture Helps My Depression

Once a week, I become a human pincushion, with dozens of delicate, silvery needles poking out of my skin at odd angles. My acupuncturist shines a warm light on me and plays soothing music. I used to be afraid of needles, but these tiny ones don’t hurt. Instead, I feel like I’m floating. When I miss a week, I don’t function well.

I originally began acupuncture for chronic pain from degenerative disk disease, Lyme disease, and repetitive strain injury. But acupuncture is meant to treat the whole body, and after a while, I started to notice mental health benefits as well.

My depression creates a lot of circular, negative thinking, obsessive worrying, and resentments over small slights. I get lost in the noise of these thoughts and can’t see my way out.

I look terrible. I hate my hair. I feel fat. Why did I say that? Did that sound stupid? Why can’t I manage to get anything right? Why does everything work out for others and not for me? What did that person really mean? Do they hate me? Was that person making a joke or putting me down?

I often walk into an acupuncture session in the grip of obsessive thinking and leave feeling clear and balanced. I can’t say this peaceful feeling lasts forever, but my treatments definitely help me cope with my most painful emotions.

In traditional Chinese acupuncture, the body is divided into meridians, which are related to different organ systems, such as the liver and the heart. Energy (qi) flows through all the meridians, and the acupuncture points are spots along the meridians where energy collects. The goal is to keep the energy of the different systems balanced.

For depression, my acupuncturist uses several points in the scalp, relating to the “Governing Vessel” meridian, which connects the brain with various organs. He inserts needles into a few points related to the heart meridian for anxiety. Then, he stimulates several points for the liver to release blocked energy. Another acupuncturist I’ve seen utilizes points for the spleen and the stomach—each practitioner has a different philosophy and tailors a specific approach for every patient.

After treating points on both sides of my body, I get an acupressure massage, which stimulates the points in a less direct way while relaxing the muscles. My depressed and anxious thinking creates a lot of muscle tension, which creates more pain. The pain makes me more depressed — It’s a vicious cycle!

Although releasing muscle tension doesn’t solve the underlying problems that created the depression in the first place, it helps to clear out the detritus of my emotions. By comparison, I’ve had therapy sessions where I’ve started discussing a painful topic towards the end of the appointment, and there wasn’t enough time to finish. I left in tears while trying to avoid crying conspicuously on public transportation. But with acupuncture, I always leave feeling calm and having a greater sense of clarity.

For me, acupuncture is a great addition to traditional talk therapy. The gentle, healing aspects of acupuncture soothes the pain of feelings brought up in treatment. Sometimes, you can quiet your mind by treating your body.

Acupuncture doesn’t have to be expensive. Many Chinese medicine schools have clinics where you can get reduced-price treatments. There are community-based acupuncture centers that offer low-cost treatment in exchange for a less private setting; you might be treated in a large room rather than an office. Certain pain clinics, pain doctors, and physiotherapy centers offer acupuncture. Additionally, it’s worth checking your insurance policy, as acupuncture may be reimbursed in some settings but not others.

Choosing an acupuncturist is a bit like choosing a therapist—you may have to try more than one to get the right fit. There are many different schools and techniques, including Chinese, Japanese, trigger point, Five Element, and others. The personality of the therapist is also important; I tried three practitioners before I found one I trusted, and with whom I felt safe. (Trust is important if the person is going to stick you with needles!)

Acupuncture works gradually, so it might take a few sessions to feel benefits. With the right practitioner, it can be an amazing, mind-body healing experience.


Vicki Novinsky writes and draws cartoons about living with Lyme disease, autoimmune thyroid disease, and other chronic illnesses. Check out her blog at missdiagnoses.com.

A Life on Pause

Reprinted from lymeroad.com with the kind permission of Jenny Lelwica Buttaccio.

A Life On Pause

It’s nighttime. Lying in bed wide-eyed and frustrated as the clock ticks, you pray for just a few hours of precious sleep. Insomnia plagues you. Your usual sleep medications have no effect on you tonight. It’s as if you just swallowed some candy instead of a sleeping pill. Tears stream down your cheeks. You bury your face into your pillow and weep softly so as not to wake anyone else. Is this really happening again? As the night bleeds into yet another day, time becomes irrelevant as there is never any period of rest. The sleep deprivation is a cruel form of torture for you with no end in sight anytime soon.

If you could nap during the day, the constant sleeplessness might be easier to tolerate. Lyme Disease wiped out your ability to nap years ago and no one has any solutions for you. Some people want riches or fame, but you, you just want a brain that functions normally. To have a brain that sleeps, isn’t foggy, jumbled or forgetful, is your greatest wish.

A streak of bright, orange light bursts through the curtains. Damn it! It’s morning now. Utterly depleted, you continue with your idle rest in bed as you wait for the alarm to go off alerting you to take your medications.

Almost every medication prescribed to you requires you to take it on an empty stomach. These are instructions you find particularly challenging to follow. Sometimes, you wait more than two hours before eating breakfast just to squeeze in your morning handful of pills.

Invariably, some medication or supplement gets missed. You panic as you rework your entire medication schedule for the day. There is no room for error anywhere. Hopefully, tomorrow you will get back on track. Treatment for Chronic or Late Stage Lyme Disease is regimented and intense. You persist through these demanding protocols in the hopes of having a normal life again.

With the multitude of symptoms you experience daily, you’ve become too ill to work. Career advancement is not a realistic option for you anymore; no landing your dream job; no starting your own business. The longer you struggle with Lyme Disease, the further away the reality seems that you will ever go back to what you once were.

Lyme Disease can be disabling although some medical and political establishments will tell you it’s not even a real disease. Oh, how you would love if this disease were fake, a figment conjured up by your wild imagination. That somehow seems treatable and much less expensive.

But it’s not an elaborate fabrication or something you’ve concocted for attention. You’re not lazy, unmotivated or a head case. You are not choosing sickness so you can lay in bed all day. This illness is real and it comes with a hefty price tag.

If you have Lyme Disease, you will spend all of your money – every last cent – trying to get well. You will invest tens-of-thousands, if not, hundreds-of-thousands, of dollars on trying to save your life. If you’ve had this illness long enough, you’ve maxed out your credit cards, probably drained your savings, pensions, IRAs or 401k’s. Evidence of a life before Lyme quickly vanishes.

Physicians most literate in treating Lyme Disease are not covered by your insurance. To get well, you will likely need a multifaceted approach to treatment, including regular testing, prescription medications, supplements, and herbal medications. The effort to repair the damage that chronic Lyme Disease has caused is costly, burdensome and at an enormous out-of-pocket expense to you and your family.

Yet, you continually find the strength to persevere. You hold on to hope with fists clenched so tight your knuckles change color. Your hope is in a better quality of life. Your hope is in a future filled with joy and less suffering.

During your battle with Lyme Disease, you have not been able to attend weddings, baby showers, family holidays, or outings with friends. You have had to say, “no,” more than you say, “yes.” By now, you feel the pain of isolation. You wish people understood your illness better or, at the very least, that you had some special superpower that allowed you to articulate the torment raging on inside your body.

You will continue to battle this illness with everything you’ve got, but there’s very little energy left (if any) beyond dragging yourself through each day. You need continued help and support no matter how long this journey takes, but you find most relationships cannot endure this level of hardship over the long haul. Your heart badly hurts as you sense relationships beginning to slip away.

Sadly, most aspects of your life are on hold indefinitely due to this illness. Recovery is long. Thoughts about dating, getting married or planning for a family fall to the wayside. You feel this illness stealing some of life’s most precious opportunities from you as you wait for the moment when you might one day be well again. The future seems so uncertain.

Like so many other chronic Lyme patients, you constantly feel the slow, suffocating effects of a life on pause.


ProHealth Editor and Content Manager Jenny Lelwica Buttaccio, OTR/L, is an occupational therapist and certified Pilates instructor whose life was transformed by Lyme disease, chronic fatigue syndrome, and interstitial cystitis. She is creator of the DVD, A New Dawn Pilates: pilates-inspired exercises adapted for people with pelvic pain. Jenny is a health journalist who writes about her journey on The Lyme Road as she continues to pursue her personal healing with the support of her husband and two rescue pups. You can find her on Instagram: @jenny_buttaccio or Twitter: @jennybuttaccio.