Moon Face Reviews: Alternative Therapies
When you're sick everyone has a suggestion or a recommendation for a diet or therapy that has helped them or has helped someone they know. I’ve written about this at length in my piece A Meditation on Cures and Causes where I discussed some of the different therapies and lifestyle changes I had tried and failed to “cure” myself with.
One of the things I want to do with Moon Face is to add some nuance to the dualistic thinking surrounding autoimmune and chronic illness. To question the voices that say these illnesses are caused only by one thing, by your bad diet, or by a virus, or your repressed emotions, and that they can only be cured by breathing practices or by restricting certain foods or taking certain supplements. When we are sick we want to feel as if we have control over something, being sick brings forward the uncertainty of living in an uncertain world, we feel a terrifying lack of agency, and controlling our diet or routine can feel like taking some form of responsibility for our life. Similarly, rallying against some cause: a vaccine, processed food, animal products, birth control, emotional trauma, gives our illness an explanation, it gives our suffering meaning, and if we can understand why we got sick then we feel we can take control, the world no longer becomes such a scary place. One thing is sure, often the people who talk the most about cures and causes benefit in some way from you subscribing to their beliefs. It’s a dangerous world out there for the chronically ill. We’re at the peak of wellness culture and there will always be a new diet or supplement there for you to buy.
That’s not to say I don’t believe our lifestyle affects our health, I definitely know lifestyle changes can affect and improve our symptoms, that it's often possible to make life with a chronic illness a little easier. I just don’t stand behind the absolutes. Health is complex, it's a spectrum, and I don’t feel one factor alone will often tip you onto one side, and another will tip you all the way to the other, at least not sustainably. It’s about making small consistent changes, and the most important ones I have found are those that bolster your mental health, that affect your mindset. So I’ve decided for this month's Moon Face Reviews to go over some of the alternative treatments and lifestyle changes I have tried along with honest reviews. More than anything I believe in the power of placebo, some therapies may not have worked for me but they may work for you. But please be careful, the one thing I would say is if it’s not evidence-based and it's not working for you, you are not the problem, try something else, find what works for you.
Did it work for me: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
When I first became ill, my friend recommended I see her acupuncturist; healer of celebrities, good looking, kind and thoughtful, his space was perfectly designed to make me feel taken care of and listened to. However, his rooms were far away from me and the sessions were very expensive. After a little research, I found a community acupuncture practice near me. It is not an understatement to say that I would not have gotten through the last year without the Ming Men team. I went once or twice a week for most of 2022. They listened to my symptoms and encouraged me to advocate for myself with my doctor and consultant. The acupuncture was never comfortable, it was often painful but it was cathartic, it felt like I was doing something to help myself. I’ve been on high doses of prednisone the last year and was often getting by on 3-4 hours of sleep, at acupuncture I was at least guaranteed an hour’s sleep and a kind shoulder to cry on. What I loved most about this team was that they never tried to cure me, they just tried to help with the pain and the stress of being sick, often my sessions would have significant effects on my GI issues or rashes, but more than anything they made me feel taken care of, that someone had my back.
Did it work for me: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
I’ve been meditating on and off for about 10 years now. I follow a simple mantra meditation. My mantra, picked at random 10 years ago, is an old friend: “I change my thoughts, I change my world”. I inhale on the first part and exhale on the second. There are two main ways I meditate:
1. To get out of a state of high anxiety. I’ll set an alarm for 10 minutes and repeat the mantra in my head breathing in time with the phrase, every time my mind wanders and I start thinking about what’s for supper or what my friend meant when she said that thing, I’ll guide myself back to the mantra and focus on my breath. I nearly always feel better after and if I don’t I’ll keep going in 5-minute blocks until I do.
2. When I’m in a generally stressful period of my life and I have a “sticky mind” and feel chronically and not just acutely stressed. I’ll meditate every day for 10-20 minutes. I see it as going to the gym for my brain, every time I come back to the mantra, that’s one rep. From speaking to others about meditation it seems people think they should have complete mental stillness when they meditate, but most people who are not practising monks will not achieve that, meditation is an exercise that teaches you how to control your thoughts, the struggle is the productive part, its the part that helps, don’t give up!
Did it work for me: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
This is a rogue one, it’s definitely the woo-wooiest thing I would actually recommend people try. I tried this therapy in Barcelona and it probably has made the biggest impact on my life of any therapy (barring psychotherapy). For a long time, I’ve been intrigued by the healing power of hallucinogenics but as someone with a slightly broken brain from my previous neurological condition I’ve been hesitant to try them for fear of messing up what’s taken so long to mend, but this experience was like a very safe acid trip. Essentially, you sit in a comfy chair and a therapist will turn on a large lamp in front of you, you close your eyes and colours and patterns begin to whir in your vision, you sit there and go through an arc of emotions and experiences. I’m not sure how it works, I wonder if it's something like EMDR therapy which has helped friends and family, but after trying it I quit smoking after countless other therapies and interventions. I don’t think this is a cure, but I think this machine like hallucinogenics and EMDR reaches down into the mess of your subconscious and starts piecing things together. In terms of risk, barring epileptics I think this is a low-risk option for giving your mind a quick and effective reset.
Did it work for me: ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Similar to the Lucia light this is neither very accessible for most nor very affordable, and like the Lucia light therapy it is essentially a shortcut to extensive meditation. Submerged in salty water for 90 minutes it's a mental reset. I found the experience incredibly, sorry, “rebalancing” and I would definitely recommend it to anyone who needs a little calm and perspective. I would not recommend this to anyone with skin conditions, the salty water is not fun on broken or irritated skin and also, though I feel this is obvious, claustrophobics.
5. Gluten-free diet
Did it work for me: ⭐⭐⭐
For me this was the big bad wolf of wellness, you can take my life but you can not take my pastries. But when things were really bleak and I was on a long wait list to see a rheumatologist and 30mg of prednisone wasn’t keeping my illness in check I was desperate and decided after 6 months of saying I would never do it to take the plunge. I believe that gluten is a healthy and nutritious protein for most people, I do however feel that if you are willing to try anything for some relief it is worth trying cutting out gluten. Now I’m on methotrexate I’m back in the land of croissants and sourdough, but before then cutting out gluten did seem to help with my symptoms. Whether this was just a placebo I do not know but it was one thing that was relativity painless and inexpensive which seemed to make me feel a little better. One thing I will note is that being gluten-free makes everything a little bit harder, it makes all restaurants a nightmare, and it makes preparing snacks an essential everyday activity. Restricting your diet can be isolating and bad for your mental health, which is already strained when you have a chronic condition. Coeliacs I salute you, this is not an easy life, I’m sorry if other people going gluten-free makes your life harder because you get glutened by restaurants who don’t take it seriously, but we’re also just trying to find a way to live without pain so please don’t think so badly of us.
6. Colonic Irrigation
Did it work for me: ⭐⭐⭐
The week before the New Year, I decided to try a colonic. New year, new colon, was a weird joke in our household for a couple of days. I would never have chosen to do this had I not been sick. The reason I decided to was because when I first started prednisone I had to take the medicine omeprazole also, to make sure the steroids didn’t destroy my stomach, but this medicine ironically ruined my digestion. I had the worst constipation of my life (I feel I can say this as we’ve already passed the point of me keeping things polite). It was so bad that my stomach pains caused by the side effect of a medicine being used to treat a side effect of another medicine were the biggest thing impacting my quality of life, not my disease. I was in my immunologist's office almost in tears saying please help, this is horrible. When he finally agreed to switch me to another proton pump inhibitor my digestion returned nearly to normal. This was my woo rationale behind the colonic, I wanted to give my gut a spring clean after all it had been through with the omeprazole. Overall it was an extraordinarily strange experience which I think everyone should do once only because it is completely out of the sphere of normal life. I will say that my digestion has improved since I had it and if I went through something similar I’d probably go again. I decided to go against a very chic local clinic because they put tea up there, which I guess is better than coffee, but still, it didn’t seem like a great idea to me. Instead, I chose a clinic that used purified water. In the consultation the therapist came at me with some absolutely bonkers spiel on diet and detoxing but this sort of just added to the feeling that I was living someone else’s much more entertaining life. That’s why I’m not linking to them, they were trying to sell me pills and supplements and a restrictive diet when I was feeling quite vulnerable and porous.
Did it work for me: ⭐
I really wanted to love Reiki but it just wasn’t for me. Again, this was a therpay I tried in Barcelona and maybe it was just the wrong therapist. It’s nice to lie in bed with someone channelling all their good energy into you, and I got a bit excited she was actually magic when her hands got all hot and buzzy, but really, it did nothing, and I can say that because I went to several sessions because the therapy room was in her home and I am a pushover and she wouldn’t let me leave without booking the next session. It also felt a bit awkward because I kept on needing to use the loo during the session (they were long) and I kept on feeling like I was a bad patient as if I hadn’t truly submitted myself to her magic. This is very much in the category of it can’t hurt anything but your wallet.
8. Low histamine diet/Autoimmune Protocol
Did it work for me: ⛔
Beloved by the itchy among us, the low histamine diet is something all people who have hives as part of their condition are sure to have tried. While I didn’t try the autoimmune protocol specifically by default I feel I did because I was just eating meat, fish and some vegetables (I know there’s more to it than that but hold on, I feel my experience with this diet would be exactly the same for AIP). This diet was terrible for my mental health, I was on high doses of prednisone, ravenous, but I could only eat very specific foods which were often incredibly expensive. I would much rather be saved by modern medicine than this diet even if it is natural, mostly because I try not to eat animals and this diet made me feel mentally and physically nauseated. I talked in my interview with my friend who has ulcerative colitis about how if you have a history of disordered eating exclusion diets can be a minefield. This diet went against everything I have taken so much care to learn on my journey with intuitive eating. This is one for the desperate and for those that have nothing to lose. For now, I am back on my 80/20 plant-based diet which feels easy and sustainable, I try and add anti-inflammatory foods to most meals and I have no restrictions.
9. Chinese medicinal herbs
Did it work for me: ⛔⛔
After my success with acupuncture, the practitioners suggested I tried Chinese medicinal herbs. I had a consultation where I was scolded for not looking at the contents of the toilet every time I used it and given a prescription for a specially blended tea to drink twice a day. I have never had dizziness as part of my symptoms but as soon as I started drinking this tea I began almost passing out several times a day, I had to sit on the street during a walk because I knew I would pass out if I stood back up. As soon as I stopped drinking the tea this dizziness ended. At the point I tried the herbs I was on 7 or 8 different medications and although I raised concerns about putting anything else in the mix I don’t feel this was really listened to. A plea to all my chronic illness friends please don’t take supplements without checking with your doctor, even if you think it is fine, it’s not worth it if something goes wrong.
10. Applied Kinesiology
Did it work for me: ⛔⛔⛔
In terms of experiences, this one was close to the colonic in how strange it was. I travelled across London to see a man a friend had recommended. He didn’t want to know anything about my symptoms because it might influence his diagnosis. Think about that. I lay on a raised bed in a room in the middle of South Woodford and had boxes of different “essences” placed upon me. Metal and plastic boxes stacked on me like I was a forklift truck in a warehouse. He would then remove one of the boxes and test my strength by raising one of my arms while continuing to speak to himself. It was the strangest thing I have ever experienced, but like the colonic, it felt like I’d accidentally agreed to be part of a piece of interactive theatre and I found it utterly enthralling. At the end I was told off for being grumpy when I got the diagnosis of “candida overgrowth”, my reply was not taken well, “God that's going to be tough to beat with the number of immunosuppressants I’m on, that fungus must be living it’s best life.” To this, I was told this wasn’t how it worked and that whatever other medication I was on wouldn’t matter as the combination of numerous of his expensive homoeopathic remedies would be just the trick to beat it.