I was taught you only ever went to the doctor when something was wrong.
When I was growing up frequent doctors and dentist visits meant time off work my mother didn't have the luxury of taking. As an adult, my annual trip to the doctor's office is only for a routine Pap Smear, which means my doctor's visits, can vary from one to none. This might frighten some, but I'm more worried for my health when visiting a doctor, considering the statistics. Studies repeatedly show the lasting distrust between black Americans and their health care physicians.
There's a disconnect because Black people are more inclined to trust people that look like them, that have the same values as them, and are invested in their wellbeing as members of the larger community. When we are not well, we cannot be our best selves to support our families and cannot serve our communities to our greatest potential.
Building community begins with us.
So, I take more responsibility for my health and wellbeing, and to see other black women trailblazing in health and wellness is empowering, and continues to be a source of reassurance and comfort in knowing we're moving towards taking back our power to heal ourselves and our communities. That also means when I'm spending my coin on alternative treatments that I'm looking to spend black, being intentional about where my business goes and how it continues to help the people that look like me.
I met with Portia Wilson, founder of Deeper Genius Acupuncture & Healing Arts, an acupuncture practice rooted in the wisdom of the Traditional Chinese Medical system (TCM), for my first-ever acupuncture treatment and to talk black women in wellness and preventative health in our communities.
"It is such an exciting time!" Portia echoes. "Wellness spaces are evolving to be more inclusive and culturally competent. I'm so inspired by all of the black women out here in the health industry pushing the culture."
She mentions Chicago based yoga teacher and wellness guru Lauren Ash of Black Girl in Om, renowned vegan chefs Lauren Von Der Pool, Babette Davis, and Lynette Astaire, and veteran acupuncturist and community leader Jewel Thais-Williams of the LA-based Village Health Foundation as being a few of her inspirations—all of whose works consider the overall holistic health of the individuals they service.
While not completely negating the fact that "western medicine absolutely has its uses," Portia stresses the need for spaces that contribute to growth "in the areas of preventative care, patient empowerment, and nutrition."
"I think those three things are the key to overhauling our healthcare system as we know it."
Leaning on the teachings of many of these women, taking responsibility for my mental, physical, and emotional health has meant practicing yoga, eliminating meat and dairy from my diet almost completely, drinking more water, studying plant medicine and exploring more holistic health offerings like acupuncture.
Acupuncture at the superficial level is simply the insertion of very thin needles through your skin at strategic points on your body that helps reduce stress and pain, and circulate blood flow. But a deeper look into the ancient Chinese tradition reveals it's more than that. Portia describes it as a "treatment" that penetrates beyond the physical to "assess the whole person in mind, body, and spirit."
Many would be surprised to learn that an acupuncture intake exam is just as, if not more, intensive than a first-time doctor's visit. "During the usual 20-minute intake, we discuss everything from daily food intake, cravings, color of menstrual blood, digestive experiences, quality of sleep, stress levels, if you have vivid dreams. We go really in-depth to get a thorough understanding of what's happening with the whole person," she explains.
For example, using pulse and tongue diagnosis, Wilson is better able to understand what's happening internally. Portia considers what relationships suggest where a person's particular imbalances reside to tailor her patient's treatments whether it be as common as PMS or distinct to the individual with chronic migraines or eczema.
I'll admit, I would not have been as open about describing my stool, eating habits, or sex life with any other physician. While she read my pulse, we casually discussed how she got into Traditional Chinese Medicine and laughed about our similar experiences studying biology at Howard University.
From reading my pulse, she was able to tell me that my period was on its way and where there may be places that I'm carrying grief, among other things. I wasn't at all expecting that. I was there to learn about what was going on in my body and to learn there may be some subtle grief I hadn't processed, that I might be carrying it with me definitely helped me to dive deeper into my own self-awareness.
A lack of knowledge of how to eat, how to process stress, how to listen to our bodies is how untreated grief can lead to depression.
"Black women have some of the highest rates of depression and untreated depression in the U.S." Portia said, "People feel better after their sessions, they sleep better, and they report lower levels of anxiety and irritability after treatment. With consistent treatment, these effects are longer lasting. Regular acupuncture optimizes our innate healing abilities by improving our ability to handle stress."
"Black women have some of the highest rates of depression and untreated depression in the U.S."
Where I might've been embarrassed to go as far as talk to a therapist about battling negative thoughts and feelings, I felt comfortable sorting through those thoughts and feelings with my acupuncturist.
Acupuncture should be seen as a "wellness tool for black women seeking complementary treatments for depression and anxiety," Portia suggests.
Another wellness tool that Portia keeps in her arsenal is fire cupping. Portia describes it as "a form of bodywork and detox all wrapped in one." Using a flames to create a vacuum inside of a glass cup, Portia quickly placed on the cups on every inch of my back. "The suction from the cup reaches about four inches deep into the body—lifting the underlying tissues to release tension, increase fresh blood flow, and relax the nervous system."
It left big red circles resembling different phases of the moon on my back. "Those dark marks that are left behind are areas where the body was storing tension. The darker the mark the more of a release of "stuck" energy from the underlying tissue," she assures.
I spent the following week explaining the dark marks to others and how it made my shoulders and back less tense, how I had the best sleep I'd had in a long time, felt an improvement in my mood, and experienced a lighter, easier period afterwards.
I have another appointment scheduled for next week.