In January 2013, I started my acupuncture and Chinese medicine experiment. I was seeking help with my chronic insomnia and willing to try anything.

After 11 sessions and a few different Chinese herbal prescriptions, I still could not figure out if the experiment was working. I felt confused and wasn’t sure if I wanted to continue.

In the end, money made the decision for me. I decided that if I couldn’t make up my mind, it didn’t make sense to continue paying for sessions and herbs.

At the same time, however, I was not ready to give up the experiment completely. I was still feeling desperate for regular sleep and had exhausted all the standard approaches without success.

After a period of indecision, I decided to try community acupuncture — a system where acupuncture is given in a group setting in exchange for a greatly reduced cost. This seemed slightly weird to me, as I had grown used to being in a room alone when being needled, but decided it was worth a try. For something I was unsure about, I was willing to pay on a sliding scale of $20 – $40 per visit to see what happened.

It made the most sense for me to look into the community acupuncture center closest to my house. I did my due diligence, reading the practice’s web site and assessing their online reviews. I decided to go for it and made an initial appointment.

When I went for this first appointment, I was given a packet of paperwork to fill out. One of the things I was asked was to rank the top three issues I would like to address through acupuncture. Insomnia was my obvious number one, then I listed anxiety and headaches. This was a new “official” set of ailments for me, as I had not chosen to directly address anxiety with my last acupuncturist. I would guess, though, that my previous acupuncturist had put two and two together and was treating me for anxiety anyway.

My community acupuncture intake interview was conducted in a private office. It was quick and no-nonsense and I was instructed to come to the clinic twice a week for three weeks. After the interview, I was led into a large room filled with around 15 recliners. I selected an empty recliner and surveyed the dozen people around me who looked like they were asleep.

The acupuncturist who had done my intake came in and placed my needles. She instructed me to sit with the needles in for at least half an hour. She told me I could stay as long as I wanted, then gave me a buzzer to press when I was ready to have my needles removed. I stayed in my recliner for around 45 minutes, then buzzed. My needles were removed, then I was on my way.

On my subsequent visits, I would arrive and head directly into the recliner room. There was no private, followup interview unless you requested one. Instead, one of the acupuncturists would whisper to me while I was in the recliner room to assess how things were going. I had many, “how is your sleep?” and “how is your anxiety?” whispered conversations.

I got more and more used to being with other people while receiving my treatments. It felt like an environment of quiet respect. Everyone was there to address a personal issue and was left to recline in peace as they did so.

I did as I was told and went for acupuncture twice a week for three weeks. At that point, I felt I was a little less anxious. It’s hard for me to effectively gauge my anxiety levels, though, when they’re not in extreme mode. The subtle nuances are less obvious to me. On the sleep front, I often felt like I would take two steps forward, then one step back. I’d have a week of great sleep nights, then a few nights of sleeplessness.

I made an appointment for a followup consultation. I met with a different acupuncturist than the one who did my initial intake. When I explained how I felt, she told me I needed to keep going to acupuncture and eventually things would fall into place. Oddly, I felt much less frustrated by this response than when my last acupuncturist would say things like that. I was much more willing to keep trying because the price was so much lower.

At my followup consultation it was recommended that I see one of the practice’s Chinese herbalists. I was still taking the old Chinese medicine prescription from my last practitioner and decided it was a good idea to see if anything had changed. I went ahead and made an appointment.

My meeting with the herbalist yielded a custom blend of 12 herbs. I still have no idea what they are. They came in a Ziploc bag and looked like sand. I was instructed to mix four and a half scoops of the sand into hot water twice a day. When I started drinking this mixture, I was initially blown away by how absolutely terrible it tasted. I drank it as instructed anyway.

My herbal blend has now been tweaked a few times. I like that my herbalist seems to genuinely enjoy working with me to find the formula that is right for me. I also trust her enough to regularly ingest disgusting, mysterious sand.

I’ve now been going to the community acupuncture clinic for three months and have continued to get treatments once or twice a week. I am now willing to proclaim that I believe the acupuncture and herbs are working. While I still have an occasional night of terrible sleep, most nights are good. Initially, I’m falling asleep quickly. When I wake up during the night, I fall back to sleep quickly also. I used to take prescription sleeping pills a few times a week. Now I don’t even think about the pills lurking in my medicine cabinet.

The anxiety piece has been harder to assess. The acupuncture and herbs definitely do not feel like taking an Ativan would. I do feel a little calmer, though. I’ve also recently had some scenarios that previously would have worked me into an anxious frenzy. While I definitely did feel worked up in these scenarios, I did not feel nearly as panicked as I would have in the past. It felt like a milder version.

At this point, I would recommend acupuncture and Chinese medicine for insomnia and anxiety. The catch is that you may have to be willing to go once a twice a week for months to figure out if it’s working for you. It’s a huge time and financial commitment, but it’s worth it in the end.