16 December 2018, Frankfurt, Germany
I just completed a gruelling three-day workshop at Eschborn and decided to stay for at least two nights in Frankfurt to experience Christmas market again and visit an exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art that I have read about two days prior. It was snowing heavily that day when I arrived at my hotel and since it was early morning and my room was not ready yet, I stayed at the really nice lobby lounge and started to read a book when a stranger started to talk to me, introduced himself, and asked where I come from and what I was doing at the city that time of the year. It was a light conversation at first that turned deep when he told me he is seeing his therapist that day. For some stroke of luck, he too was diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder.
Talking about my sickness then became easy. As he spoke, I can see myself in the struggles he experienced. I told him I do have an anxiety disorder and we started to talk about what we do to be able to manage our regular visitor. He thought I was Chinese and was too excited to tell me that one of the things that helped him manage his anxiety better was acupuncture. I have had acupuncture sessions in the past, when I was still 25 years old, at the suggestion of a nun friend who noticed my frozen shoulder one morning. But I never thought about acupuncture as a way of managing my anxiety disorder.
When he left, I went into research mode on acupuncture’s effect on anxiety disorder. Some scientific studies, albeit using small sample sizes, indicate the positive impact of acupuncture on individuals with anxiety disorder while others do not offer conclusive results. But a recent systematic review has pointed out that “acupuncture therapy to treat anxiety disorders…. yields effective outcomes, with fewer side effects than conventional treatment”.
I knew that a medical doctor in Bohol, the place where I live, has an acupuncture clinic. I tried to schedule an appointment but because of my frequent travelling, I was not able to attend to one. One fine day in January 2019, however, I finally was able to visit his clinic, and it was a pleasant start to a journey of healing and meaningful conversations.
Dr Jeff Ong runs the Point of Care Acupuncture Clinic in Tagbilaran City. He graduated from the College of Medicine at Cebu Doctors’ University and is a physician licensed by the Philippines’ Professional Regulation Commission. He trained in Chinese Acupuncture and Moxibustion at Quanzhou Traditional Chinese Medicine Hospital, Quanzhou City, Fujian Province, People’s Republic of China. He is a member of the Philippine Academy of Acupuncture and the Philippine Institute for Traditional and Alternative Healthcare. He established his acupuncture clinic in 2006 to bring acupuncture and traditional medicine to the province of Bohol, and aimed to bring healing to the whole human being; body, mind and spirit.
My first session with him was a talk therapy of some sort. We talked as he wanted to understand my illness, my triggers, the kinds of things that I am anxious about, and my fears about the future. As I lay on my back and as he started inserting very thin sterile needles into the skin in my hands, feet, and head, he spoke with a very calm voice and checked on me regularly as to how I was feeling. At the end of the session, which lasted for around 30 minutes, he asked me if I was feeling okay.
Then he gave me a card that contained a prayer in it. He told me to meditate and pray. I told him that I have been meditating for several months, on a daily basis, and told him how it helped me manage my anxious feelings better.
I came back many sessions after that. The sessions were full of meaningful conversations. Truth to tell, Dr Jeff’s acupuncture sessions were peppered with really insightful conversations. He spoke to me about his life, his experience as a student, his learnings as a medical practitioner, and his dreams of the future. I bared myself to him as well and poured out all deeply-seated concerns and anxieties that I have. He was a very patient listener, and a very committed individual, to his family, his patients, and even to his fellowmen and women.
I am fortunate to have found him. The sessions I had with him had many positive effects, including some of those mentioned in the systematic review paper I mentioned above. My migraine was gone. My anxiety attacks become anxiety onsets only, that condition when the anxiety starts to build up but never gets into a full-blown debilitating one. From a weekly visit, it turned into a monthly visit, then later, I only come to his clinic when I get to feel that the anxiety onsets become more frequent.
The acupuncture did my body well. But it was the conversations before, during, or after the sessions, that nourished my soul.