i’m a new person now, living my life that’s guided by oriental ideas that’s been around for thousands of years. in chinese it’s called 養生, which means to preserve my life. on top of recovering my health, i want to preserve what little i have right now, and hopefully to preserve what i’ll have in time to come. it’s a totally different school of thought but one i really resonate with. one of those asian pride moments because the more i read about Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), the more i learn about the wisdom of the ancient chinese. the way they weave Confucianism into the art of healing is so humble as it reminds us that we’re merely a tiny part of the vast nature and environment.
here i share not the herbs i’ve taken, but the life style changes i made in hope of improving my recovery and health. these are things you can do at home too to get better health at no extra cost.
DISCLAIMER: i’m just sharing what i did and what worked for my recent eczema flare, in no way am i encouraging you to see a TCM doctor blindly to treat your TSW.
i’m going to be very cautious about writing my experience with TCM because i’ve done my homework just so that i won’t be ripped off or conned by anyone who’s trying to profit from my misery. i always thought that people in pain are very vulnerable to anything that can relief their suffering, including gimmicky products that’s priced so high just so it can sustain the sales managers at the top of the distribution chain.
fine, i’m making the assumptions that:
1) the products may not work, in that case you’ll have wasted a shitload of money.
2) the products do work, but there’s actually something else that cost you a lot less that can have the same effect as that.
i also read news about immoral TCM practitioners who administered steroid creams to eczema patients without their knowledge that it’s steroids. if you do decide to give TCM a try to help with your underlying eczema (i really can’t say if it’ll help your body recover from TSW faster or not), make sure you find a doctor you can trust. AND QUESTION EVERYTHING.
at the end of the day, i just want to remind all of you to not believe someone blindly. be responsible for your own health until you built trust with a doctor.
HOW I GOT BACK TO TCM
the first time i turned to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) with the hope of speeding up my residual recovery after 20 months of TSW with no external help, the doctor wasn’t willing to disclose what herbs he gave me. pricing wise, it was actually considered to be rather affordable if compared to TCM doctors from other places, but he gave me the feeling of wanting me to use his herbs FOREVER.
i knew the herbs worked for me last time, but i couldn’t prove that it’s actually the herbs. now that i’m on TCM again and seeing certain spots that have never budged for the past 2 years improve, i think i’ve proven to myself that it was indeed the herbs that helped me back in year 2013.
this time round i’ve done my due diligence and prepped myself with basic TCM ideas before consulting another doctor. i visited chung hwa hospital, which is ran as a charitable organization. the consultation and medication fees are heavily subsidized.
in march 2015, my skin started to flare again after a few weeks of calmer skin (after my october 2014 flare). that was after i’ve tried changing my diet and even took supplements to improve my gut health. clearly, i was doing something wrong. i decided to go back to TCM to make things right once and for all.
second times’ the charm?
FINDING SOMEONE WHO WILL WORK TOGETHER WITH ME
the first doctor i saw wasn’t confident of helping with my condition, so i saw another doctor who was willing to work together with me despite his lack of experience in skin conditions. experience may have helped my skin calm down faster, but thanks to his inexperience, i get to participate in the whole process as we tried out several different directions to improve my overall condition.
knowing what the herbs are supposed to do gave me a better idea of how i can improve and maintain my health in the future when i’m good to go off the medication. i treat each action we take as an experiment. as different herbs target different organ systems in our body, if i respond well to a certain herb, it tells me that a certain meridian in my body isn’t performing that well. with all these actions and reactions, i try to paint a picture of the state of my internal health, which will help me decide how i want to eat and live to improve them. knowing which meridians is stimulated by the herbs means i can massage them in the future for maintenance purpose. drug free!
i kept thinking to myself: i was born healthy. if there are any health problems, it must have been due to the habits and lifestyle which wasn’t compatible with my body’s design. so i’m genetically predisposed to detox through my skin, then i’ll just have to live my life according to my genetic instruction then.
each week, i’ll also ask him a long list of questions which have i’ve gathered while researching and reading about TCM and how skin problems are analyzed from that perspective. he helped me understand TCM concepts a little better as he guided me through the thick cloud of confusion initially. that’s the thing about learning, isn’t it? the subject appears to look like a complete mess, but the more you learn about it, the clearer it becomes.
DOING MY FAIR SHARE OF DUE DILIGENCE
initially i was really lost in the sea of TCM ideas, because they view the body as a system as everything will affect each other. even though they have simplified everything into 5 categories, the interaction between 5 categories made it hard for me to identify just what is wrong with my body.
my doctor actually made this clear right at the start: your skin didn’t flare because one organ system in your body isn’t performing well. it flared because your entire body isn’t performing the way it should.
without a clear idea of where to target the treatment, i was lost and slightly defeated. but i continued reading more books nonetheless.
i’m glad i did, because i always find answers in them unexpectedly.
firstly, my eczema is clearly a chronic problem and that is the first difference between my case and the other cases i read online. whenever a problem a chronic, one can expect it to be caused by a disharmony between the different organ systems. that means if i want to recover my skin, i must first recovery my overall health.
secondly, our body is not a piece of mindless machine that requires maintenance by a group of external technicians. if you think doctors’ job is to maintain our health, that’s incorrect. our body has the ability to renew and repair itself, that’s why we sleep. my friend once asked me what’s the use of sleeping, i wasn’t able to answer it back then, but now i can tell him the importance of sleeping at the right timing because it really does affect our health. there’s a reason why they called overnight shifts “graveyard shift”.
thirdly, there can be millions of state of unhealthiness. any deviation from good health can be deem as being sick. instead of focusing on how to deal with my sickness, i might as well commit myself to living healthily. in TCM, there only few rules that hold true for everyone: eat well, sleep well, and ensure that the blood and qi circulation is good.
my doctor and i both have responsibilities: he is in charge of monitoring my health and administering the suitable herbs, while i’m in charge of leading a healthy life style that will promote healing. if i continue to eat and sleep bad, no amount of herbs will be able to help me eventually, hence i have to do everything i can so that the herb can complement my recovery. i’m confident of leading a eczema free life if i am truly healthy.
thinking back, it wasn’t unexpected for me to feel frustrated, anxious, and slightly discouraged when i was trying to find out what is wrong with my body. there is just too many ways things can go wrong. trying to identify that one reason out of the millions is pure torture, especially for someone inexperienced like me. it takes a very experienced TCM practitioner to be really sure of the root cause of any sickness.
focusing on what went wrong was my first wrong move. in fact, the whole idea of fixing what’s broken shouldn’t even be encouraged, because prevention is always better than cure. i only noticed this after i am exposed to the way to live right. compared to the many things that can lead to sickness, there are only a handful of things that will lead to good health. once i figured that out, the burden of how to fix things melted off my shoulder.
our body knows exactly what to do. all i had to do, is to support my body. what’s the point of knowing what’s wrong when we’re not going to live right in the first place?
a diet that is easy to digest
eating well can be subjective because it depends on the gut health of the individual (as well as biochemistry i guess?). i have tried a low carb diet, later moving on to a paleo gluten free diet. those didn’t work for me for some reason, and i now believe it’s because of my weak digestion. i just don’t digest meat that well. that’s why my diet is mostly rice, vegetables, and some meat these days. it’s a lot more easier on my digestion to ensure that i get the nutrients that i need, and i also reduce the amount of toxic waste left in my body after digestion is over. lesser waste materials means lesser chance for my body to dump rubbish through my skin. some skin friends have shared with me their success with an alkaline diet. it encourages a diet high in green vegetables while low in animal proteins. it’s pretty much a diet that’s easy on the digestion if you look at it from this angle.
i’ve also been eating a healthy chinese dessert almost daily for the past 2 months, it’s a mixture of job’s tears (薏米 aka chinese barley), green bean (mung bean?), red bean, shan yao (山藥), yu zhu (玉竹), lotus seed, jujube (紅棗) and.. i think that’s about it. it’s known to nurture the digestive system and is nutritious (not in the western way where everything is quantified by the amount of calories, vitamins, and minerals). TCM is abstract and that’s the beauty of it. but just because it’s abstract doesn’t mean it’s not scientific, because the basis of TCM was developed based on thousands of years of observation and clinical trials.
only eating and drinking hot/warm food
another eating habit i’ve made is to stay away from cold food and drinks. from the TCM perspective, cold food/drinks will negatively impact our digestive system. i never gave a thought about drinking cold water since young, but now that i want to help my body recover, i must make sure my body have enough nutrients to feed the recovery. where do humans get nutrients and energy from? it’s food. and we must have a healthy digestive system to be able to power our healing. imagine fighting a year long war with limited food supply, do you think your army can even last more than a month without food? i bet they’d die before the enemy even get to them.
to make sure my body has all the resource it needs to recover my health, i tried to improve my digestive system with herbs and a new eating habit. that includes eating smaller portions if i can so as to not overload my system, chewing long and slow to make sure i’ve broken down solid food into mush as solids are tough to digest. i’ve also gone back to eating on a regular schedule, trying not to skip a meal.
my bowels have improved (as i had some IBS symptoms last year), my appetite increased (i used to not feel hungry all day), my bloating is gone (it only happened for a few months last year, but i had no idea what it was then). over time, my skin improved too. of course, my eating habits isn’t the only factor that contributed to my overall healthy improvement.
personally, i’ve never had very loose bowels (except for my IBS days). but if you are constantly having diarrhea-like bowels, you might want to try cutting out cold food/drinks, even cold fruits for a while to see if it improves your condition.
SLEEPING AT THE CORRECT TIME
rising with the sun and sleeping with the moon rise
as TCM was developed thousands of years ago, before electricity was invented, people used to sync their sleep with nature. they rise with the sun and sleep when night falls. anyway, there isn’t much they can do at night without much light. i’ve used a candle to light up my room before and one candle is definitely not bright enough to help me read or write clearly. but modern human beings just can’t sleep that early because our lives are now dictated by the economy. the best time to sleep would be around 9 to 10pm, but we have to make compromises, so the latest one should fall asleep is probably 11pm. it’ll be elaborated later.
once i ensured my army had a stable food source, there is only one more thing i can do to get them working: sleeping early and well. in TCM, our qi and blood flows through the different meridians at different times of the day. the currency our bodily functions uses is called 氣血 (qi xue) in chinese, which literally translates to “qi and blood”. qi resists translation because it isn’t just air like the word suggest, it’s metaphorical and can represent the energy in our body. ancient chinese used words from nature to describe our body because they believe that we no different from what they observe in nature.
i think we can view our body as a factory in this sense: it’s in operational state from 9am-5pm, using resources to churn out products. from 5pm to 9am the next day, resources are used to maintain the machines to make sure they are fit for operation the next day. that’s how i view my body right now. energy is spent to carry out our day-to-day task, which includes breathing, thinking, digesting, getting things done. when we sleep, we use the energy to repair out body. on top of that, the TCM perspective is that we use energy to create more energy during the night, especially from 11pm to 3am. hence it’s very important to not only sleep early, but to get quality sleep during the night. by sleeping well, you’re earning more currency to repair your health. apparently it’s very costly for our body to carry out repair works. have you ever worked so hard before an exam, and just as the holidays begin, you come down with a cold? once our body gets more rest thanks to a few nights of restful sleep, the energy threshold is met and the maintenance begins.
even your phone has to be charged on a daily basis. even your car needs to be serviced every few months. sleeping is like entering a workshop to get serviced and recharged. simple as that.
sleep has been a luxury to me ever since my flare began in october 2014, getting 6 hours of undisturbed rest is hard. looking back, i haven’t been sleeping early in the past year. i didn’t notice its importance and simply linked my sleeping needs to how lethargic i feel. the thing is, i feel just fine most of the time. not feeling sleepy is my goal. but there’re more to what meets my eyes. just because i don’t feel sleepy does not mean i have sufficient energy. our body have reserve energy for emergency needs, that means i could be using my reserves for the past year without me knowing it until i finally deplete it. which i guess was what happened to me.
i’ve been trying to regulate my sleep for the past 4 months, and i am finally able to say i’ve made a significant improvement in the past 2 weeks as i’m able to fall asleep before 12am, and only woke up once in the middle of the night as opposed to waking up every 2 hours. my goal is to sleep by 10pm and wake up by 6am.
sometimes i feel like sleep and the state of my skin is in a catch 22 situation. bad skin almost always mean i’ll have bad sleep, and bad sleep will almost guarantee bad skin. but i still try to break the cycle by going to bed early (9pm if i can) and limiting my exposure to bright screens. i realize i have an unhealthy addiction to my phone, i’m trying to change that too.
AIDING THE CIRCULATION OF MY QI AND BLOOD
this may sound ridiculous to some, but you may have heard of acupuncture points and meridians in our body. the idea is to ensure a smooth traffic along the meridians, which are highways used by qi and blood to do their jobs. they are not blood vessels, in fact, they do not have a physical form that’s why it’s not recognized in modern medicine.
for the past 2 months, i’ve been trying to massage certain acupuncture points to promote better digestion. the skin isn’t an organ in TCM’s perspective, however by ensuring good nutrition within the body, i can count on my body’s recovery system to repair itself.
image via buzzhand
by hitting these 4 points about 50 times a day (best to do it before a meal during day time), the gallbladder meridian is stimulated. it helps with the release of bile, which aids digestion. i try to do it with my knuckles because it can stimulate the acupuncture points which are deep within our muscles. btw, if you’re trying to lose fats around your thighs, this was said to help with that too!
i can’t say i experience any effects directly, but i know it promotes my overall health. and hey, my skin did improve over the months 🙂
i have been going for weekly acupuncture treatments for the past 3 months. i can’t say they have an effect on me, but neither can i say they do not have an effect on me. they stimulate certain points along my meridians with the hope of improving digestion and absorption, which will in turn increase the amount of nutrients, and hopefully they are fed to my skin so it becomes more moisturized. using acupuncture for the treatment of chronic eczema is more like marathon, unlike when using it for acute muscle aches.
there are other meridians that acts like the sewage of the body. if it is unblocked, i can be assured that the waste is taken care of properly. but that part is along my back and i can’t access it as easily. i’ll try cupping in the future for that purpose! i would love to try scraping too, but my doctor says my skin isn’t suitable for that right now.
the best way to boost the circulation of 氣血 (qi xue) is exercise. i used to equate qi xue with metabolism, but i now realize they’re not the same. right now i’m viewing qi xue as the “magical life essence” that flows within our body as though i’ve come to life only because i’ve consumed a fluorescent magic potion. i played too much games lately, hence that reference.
reading through what i’ve wrote is making myself sigh. my explanation of my understanding of certain TCM words makes it even more abstract and mythical. even though it’s kinda mythical sometimes, i feel like TCM is just using different words to describe the same physical phenomena that’s going on within us, as such, i strongly encourage everyone to open up your minds to a different perspective because the currently allopathic perspective isn’t working for us.
random thought: it’s just like the different version of religious texts, isn’t it? stories that’re written by different people across different religion shows similarities between the events. i think there is a possibility that it’s the same event seen through different eyes, hence a different way of describing and recounting.
i only realized my low energy levels lately. there were times i head out the entire day and i feel lethargic for the next 2 days. i thought it was just age, but it’s now clear to me that my body has been in a low energy state (by that, i mean my life essence is running low HAHA) for quite some time, just that i didn’t catch the signs then. just because i can function doesn’t mean i’m healthy. how am i going to improve my energy levels? by eating and sleeping well.
as my eczema is chronic, it’s likely that all three of my body’s primary function is out of balance: nutrients absorption, transportation, and waste treatment. while the herbs i’m taking helps to alleviate the symptoms, recovery still depends on my own body, hence i’m doing all these to improve all three aspects identified. in TCM, skin issues are likely a result of internal imbalances, which eventually led to the removal of waste through the skin. it’s multi factorial, that’s why it’s hard to treat. but i truly believe that once i embark on a journey to stay healthy, it will no longer haunt me.
i’m probably not going to talk about the specific herbs i used, but if you are interested in TCM like me and would like to know the direction of my treatment, do let me know by leaving me a comment and i will write about that next time. i understand that not everyone accepts TCM. i only started to really appreciate TCM after i understand the reasons behind how everything works. ionized water and placenta treatments may work but not knowing how it works irk me.
if there’s one thing steroid addiction taught me, it’d be to make sure i know what the hell am i doing to my body.
P.S. thanks for reading my 3816 words essay.