How Acupuncture Changed My Life

9/24/15
WRITTEN BY: Sarah Swanberg, M.S., L.Ac.
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In 2008 I was 26, living and working in NYC and paying just enough attention to my T1D to keep me out of trouble. I was enjoying a successful, fun and sometimes very stressful career as a visual effects producer at a post-production facility. During more intense times at work I found I was having trouble sleeping, was prone to anxiety and was experiencing periods of intense fatigue. On the advice of a friend, I turned to acupuncture to help manage these symptoms. Little did I know that following her advice would be a life changing moment!

Having had T1D since age seven—as well as being a proud science/math geek—“alternative” medicine wasn’t exactly a natural fit. But I’m always open to new things so I gave it a shot. I started to feel the positive effects instantly. After my very first acupuncture treatment, I slept better than I had in years. The next day I felt exceptionally calm under pressure. I was intrigued and continued weekly treatments. I had more energy, felt less irritable, my digestion was better and I was just happier and healthier overall.

Coincidentally (or so I thought) my blood sugar control started to balance out.

My next A1c was in the 6’s for the first time in years. I started doing my own research on the science behind acupuncture and realized that this was no coincidence! Scientific studies have proven that acupuncture reduces stress hormones, which can contribute to increased blood glucose levels. I found myself arriving to my weekly acupuncture treatments armed with questions, and was spending more and more free time reading about Chinese medicine. There was so much more to it than I had realized—thousands of years of history and evidence. My then boyfriend (now husband!) suggested I go to school to learn about Chinese medicine and while I laughed at the totally implausible idea, he had planted a seed.

Just a few months later I found myself at an information session at NYC’s top Chinese medicine college where I soon applied for enrollment in their four-year advanced Masters of Science in Traditional Chinese Medicine program. I was determined to understand this approach and share it with the world.


Screen Shot 2015-09-24 at 3.31.59 PMSchool was strenuous. I studied a combination of “Western” biomedicine and Traditional Chinese medicine, my thirst for knowledge being unquenchable. I loved the way Chinese medicine treats the whole person, not just the symptom. This had me thinking about the human body in new and exciting ways. At the same time, I was learning more about anatomy and physiology, understanding my own disease in a much deeper way.

It may sound simple, but it was a big realization that if I wanted to feel as good as possible, I needed to take good care of myself. That meant my T1D management had to become a priority. For the first time in my life it wasn’t a chore or an inconvenience, it was something I wanted to do! I upgraded my pump and got a CGM and saw my numbers improve dramatically. I stopped hiding my pump and began testing my blood sugars in public! I also learned a lot about how acupuncture can help T1D, not just in regulating stress hormones, but in dealing with the anxiety and depression that often come with this disease. I also learned about prevention and treatment of some of the uglier long-term complications such as kidney issues, neuropathy, retinopathy and gastropareisis. I was learning to really own my health, and my diabetes. Little did I know this was preparing me for the greatest challenge of my life . . . pregnancy!

My husband and I were married right before I started my program. He was super supportive of this new career path and though we both knew we wanted kids, we agreed to wait until I was done with school. Two years into the program (only halfway!)—and after seeing many acupuncture patients dealing with infertility issues—it occurred to me that getting pregnant might not be simple, especially with my endocrine history.

There was no way to know but I decided to stop taking birth control, figuring it might take my body some time to regulate. Boy was I wrong! That very same month I knew something felt “different.” I was alternating between weird bouts of fatigue and intense energy, everything smelled funny, and I cried at TV commercials. I decided to take a pregnancy test to rule that out, and I was absolutely shocked (and slightly terrified) to see a positive result.

I think very few people would say that pregnancy is a walk in the park, but pregnancy with T1D is a whole other ballgame. My endocrinologist (who was my first call the morning after we found out) told me that managing my blood sugars would be a full-time job and she could not have been more correct. It was a roller coaster of gross highs and dangerous lows, on top of some nasty morning sickness (all-day in my case) and emotional see-sawing—all with the sense that I had totally lost control of my body.

From the very beginning we adjusted my basal and bolus rates weekly, which made for more doctor appointments in nine months than most people have in their lifetimes. I was aware of all the possible frightening risks and outcomes and worked really hard to maintain good A1c’s throughout my pregnancy—no easy feat with constantly fluctuating hormones. I found an awesome acupuncturist who was experienced in high-risk pregnancies. Her weekly treatments helped keep my anxiety under control, which I am sure contributed to the health (and smarts!) of our daughter, Sadie, who was born only one week early, completely healthy, nine pounds of red-headed deliciousness.  As difficult as those nine months were, it was all worth it when we met out brand new peanut.

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After a few months at home with Sadie, I jumped back into school and finished my Master’s. To handle the stress of being a mom and a student, and to help keep my sugars in control, I turned to acupuncture.

Last fall, we decided we were ready to expand our family and felt really fortunate to get pregnant right away. Sadly, that ended in a miscarriage and despite knowing it was just not meant to be, I wanted to blame myself and my T1D. I let my previously tight sugar control slip and spent a month feeling crappy before returning to acupuncture to help bounce back physically and emotionally. My awesome endocrinology team helped me regain control, and I can happily say that we are expecting baby number two!

In some ways this pregnancy is easier because I know what to expect and am not quite as terrified as the first time. But it’s also a little harder to keep T1D management a priority with a toddler to chase and a business to manage. I am doing my best, trying not to stress out, and so far everything is looking great! We can’t wait to meet this little girl.  

My acupuncture practice in Stamford, Connecticut, is growing rapidly and I feel so fortunate to be able to share this gift with so many people. I treat patients of all ages and with many issues — from kids with allergies, to pregnant or hoping-to-be pregnant women, to elderly patients with pain. I especially love helping people with chronic or autoimmune conditions like diabetes find a new level of health and wellness. I like to think of my practice as showing people like me that there are other tools to add to their toolbox!

Many people with T1D don’t feel there’s any room for “alternative” medicine in their already rigorous health care regimen. But I am here to prove that acupuncture and Chinese medicine can really be life changing.

Visit Sarah’s website Fairfield Family Acupuncture to learn more about Chinese medicine!

 


Meet Sarah’s new baby girl!

Check out our pregnancy tips and read more stories HERE.

 



Sarah Swanberg, M.S., L.Ac.

Sarah Swanberg is a Licensed Acupuncturist and board certified Chinese Herbologist, and has lived with T1D for 26 years. She lives in Stamford, CT with her husband and toddler daughter. When she’s not busy managing her acupuncture practice and her T1D, Sarah loves to travel, cook healthy meals, and hang out with her family and friends. Visit her website and learn more about Chinese medicine at www.fairfieldfamilyacu.com