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My New Happy Place: Seminole Heights Community Acupuncture

Seminole Heights is kind of the "it" place in Tampa these days, and here is just one more reason to love it. Although the clinic I visited has been around for many years prior to the community's popularity, I only recently discovered it and decided to try it out.

I've tried acupuncture several different times over the past decade or so, first to treat allergies, then to help alleviate a new and undiagnosed pain that set in several years ago. It's always been difficult to tell whether the acupuncture helped; it's not an immediate, magical solution to a given problem (although I did feel nearly immediate relief from head pain in a recent visit). For persistent or chronic problems, it takes repeated sessions, patience, and an open mind. But it also costs money (naturally), and the rate I was paying at the previous practitioners' offices was not sustainable, so I never continued the treatments for very long.

I'd found out about Seminole Heights Community Acupuncture possibly from a flyer at a coffee shop or maybe on Facebook—I can't remember exactly. But even after I knew about it, I didn't pursue it right away. I was probably working through other methods of treating whatever it was that ailed me (there's always something), and I tend to get overwhelmed by more than one approach to healing. (I later learned that acupuncture was a complementary approach to other methods of treatment.) But beyond that, I'd formed this strange, uninviting mental picture of what the community treatment would be like. In my head, it looked like a support group meeting, with hard chairs placed in a circle at some rec-type center with harsh lighting. And everyone sat in their hard chairs in this fluorescent-lit room and said out loud what they were there to have treated (I think I took the "community" concept too far). I don't know why this is the image I formed; perhaps because I knew the cost was significantly lower than what an individual practitioner would charge, I thought there must be some austerity measures taken to make it affordable. But that terrible mental picture was so very opposite from the actual experience, once I decided to try it out. 

I've had varying levels of anxiety for most of my life, but more recently I'd been dealing with increased anxiety related to my upcoming foot surgeries, and I was open to trying anything that might help me deal with my feelings, especially in a way that I knew at least couldn't hurt to try. The center operates on a sliding-scale fee, depending on what an individual is able to pay (and there are no interrogations about income, etc.). Aside from the initial treatment, which ranges from $25 to $50, all following visits range from $15 to $40. Not only is the cost accommodating to a much broader group of people in the community, but the hours of operation offer plenty of opportunities for people to be treated (i.e., if you work a traditional full-time work day, you don't have to miss any work to get treatment—another reason I had a hard time continuing before). So, far from the support group image I'd conjured, the actual place is very cozy and inviting. The big arm chairs all recline, there is peaceful music in the background, and aside from a few minutes of consultation with the acupuncturist at the start of each treatment, there simply is peace.

I took this at a rare moment when the place was not yet filled; by the time I left all chairs were occupied.

Once you're settled in, the acupuncturist greets you, discusses your primary concerns, checks your pulse and takes a look at your tongue, and then place the needles. For some reason I always feel self-conscious about showing my tongue. Is it pleasant or unpleasant to look at? Does it look like other people's tongues? Can she tell if I've done something bad? I've never been told anything was wrong with me based on the tongue examination, so I just assume all is good. The needles are extremely thin and they barely puncture the surface of your skin, sticking straight up once placed. I won't get into the technical aspects of how acupuncture works, but the clinic provides a basic explanation of what it is and what it can treat. 

After your needles are placed you can be covered with a soft blanket if you wish (I do because I'm always cold, but it also adds to the coziness of the experience), and then you just relax for around 45 minutes to an hour. If you need to leave earlier than that, you can; you just need to write your "wake-up" time on a sign so the acupuncturist knows when to conclude your treatment.

Although you're in a room usually occupied with other people, you're still getting individualized treatment. And the presence of others, at least for me, is more of a positive aspect than anything. I recall the former office visits I went to, and I was left alone in a closed room after the needles were placed. I am a little claustrophobic and like to feel as though I can escape at any given moment, so the closed door to a small room was not very comforting. But it's also about feeling like part of a community of healing; we're all in need of some kind of healing, which connects us. We're seeking a positive experience, in the same room, at the same time, together. We don't talk to each other, but there is a shared energy, and I like the idea of that.

I've gone for about six or so sessions now, and each experience has been a little different. It's natural at first to feel some emotions spill out; the goal of the treatment is literally to open up energy pathways, and I have felt a bubbling up of emotions a couple of times (of course, I'm also going for treatment that deals with emotions). I've also had more of a physical feeling, kind of a mild alertness flowing through parts of my arms or legs. It's a little difficult to describe, but it helped me understand the treatment as more than just a concept (just reading or hearing about energy pathways and acupressure points can seem a little out there if you're only used to traditional Western medicine or if you're a natural skeptic, like I am). Sometimes I fall asleep, and sometimes I feel myself slipping into sleep and just hang out in that space for a while. Sometimes, well, once, I feel my body floating away. I don't actually know if that's normal, but it felt kind of cool. But always, by the end of the treatment, I feel calm and comforted. And that's why I went. 

Over the past few weeks I've arrived at an acceptance of my surgeries that I couldn't quite achieve before. I'm sad that, once I do have the first surgery, I won't be able to go to my new happy place for a couple of weeks, at least. But once I am able to go back, it will be not for anxiety but for recovery, something it's supposed be very helpful with.

I can't end this post without sharing an acupuncture pun, which is posted in the clinic's bathroom:


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