I have a needle stuck between my eyebrows.
At least, I think I do. That's the weird thing about acupuncture. It doesn't hurt; in fact, you can't feel it at all.
I was surprised and skeptical when my doctor suggested acupuncture. But he assured me he sees results and handed me a business card.
To secure an appointment, the acupuncturist's office manager had me complete four pages of backstory — not only medical history, but mental-health history, relationship status, work status.
I was either going to cure my neck pain or join the FBI.
Having passed the background check, I arrived for my first session. The office had the elegant intimacy of a ladies' dressing room. I didn't want to speak above a whisper.
I was shown to what looked like a spa rather than an examination room. Instead of cold metal and crinkly paper, every surface was soft: pink carpet, a cushioned massage table, ivory linens.
The acupuncturist entered, a beautiful woman in black boots and leggings and a white coat, her hair in a chignon. Her serene expression conveyed both authority and agelessness. She could've been 45 or 28.
If acupuncture would keep my skin that smooth, consider me converted.
"So, what are your goals with acupuncture?" she asked.
I explained why my doctor referred me, and I mentioned my neck pain. "But I know that's probably from looking down at my phone too much," I said, sheepish to have such a millennial ailment.
She frowned, nonjudgmental. "Not necessarily. Anything else?"
"I don't know the scope of acupuncture's effectiveness, so I'm not sure what's relevant."
"It's all relevant."
She described the holistic philosophy, how stress can manifest in our bodies, and I felt myself growing convinced. We discussed my work, and she said she treats many artists, using acupuncture to help their creativity flow freely.
"I can help you find the man of your dreams."
"Seriously. I've helped many of my clients find their partners."
Did they meet in the waiting room? My skepticism crept back in.
"Attraction is all about energy."
She had a point.
To begin, I laid back on the table as she gently rolled up my sleeves. I felt the cool, wetness of an alcohol swab and then what felt like a pat from her finger. Pat, pat, pat.
When does the needle go in? I wondered.
I lifted my head to peer down as the acupuncturist poised to tap another needle into my hand.
"We OK?" she asked, checking if I was freaking out.
But I was the opposite of freaking out. I felt nothing at all. And yet my arm was already stuck with four, red-tabbed pins, as if my limb was an occupied territory. "I didn't realize you'd started. I didn't even feel them go in."
"Lie back and relax."
She placed needles in my feet, shins, stomach, arms, hands, and face. She gave me an eye mask, put on recorded ocean sounds, and turned off the lights, saying she'd return in 30 minutes.
I lay there, feeling like a voodoo doll.
I couldn't tell you how many needles I had in me or where they were. I only noticed the ones in my hands when I moved my fingers. I felt a few others, but pain would be too strong a word; the feeling was akin to a hum, a soft buzz of sensation.
And despite everything, I nearly fell asleep.
I've gone a few more times, but it's too soon to tell if the acupuncture is curing my every problem.
How much longer before the man of my dreams arrives?
But it has offered me a deceptively simple insight:
If a needle is small enough, you won't feel it pierce your skin.
And that made me think of all the other things in our lives that can get under our skin without our noticing.
Like the struggles of someone you love, a horn honking in traffic, the work emails needing replies, the ping of a social-media notification, the words "breaking news."
Maybe it's not the way I'm holding my smartphone, but what I'm reading on it.
We think of our outsides as a protective shell, but we aren't as impervious as we imagine; our hides are not so tough. Our skin is an organ, not armor, and our bodies are as reactive and vulnerable as our minds.
Unlike needles, humans can't be hermetically sealed. Our world will never be rid of stressors. Yes, I'm suggesting a broader definition of toxins than pollutants in the air, but I've also learned a broader definition of medicine.
Medicine can be a family meal, a call to an old friend, a purring cat, an unplugged afternoon, a good book.
Acupuncture has made me more mindful of the negative, energy-sapping elements I invite into my life, and it has inspired me to counter them with more restorative activities.
Whether you try acupuncture or not, make sure you're surrounding yourself with that which nourishes and comforts you. Seek out the good vibrations, wherever you can find them.
And you know what? My neck feels better.