Needles in my face

Most of you know I’m a severe environmental allergy sufferer. In 2009, I finally made the decision to start immunotherapy, or allergy shots, after I spent a whole night lying in bed crying because my skin itched so bad. I’ve been doing shots for just over three years now, and while I no longer break out in hives, I still rely on a daily allergy pill and can quickly feel the effects of allergies if I’m not medicated. It sucks, but I also love California, and am not willing to give up on this gorgeous state because of a few pesky pollens.

A friend of mine swears by acupuncture for her allergies, claiming that the soothing effect of needles in her face causes little histamine fairies to wave their magic wand and make her allergies vanish into the sky. Okay, that last part I might have made up, but I decided it was something I should try. One advantage to being a poor, stressed-out grad student is I have access to low cost health care. In this case, an hour of acupuncture costs a mere $20 – a price I’m definitely willing to accept for a chance at relief.

What I imagined acupuncture would be like.

In true Alyssa fashion, I had pre-conceived notions about the procedure that MUST BE TRUE, like, the whole hour session would consist of me being jabbed several times with long, hot, spiky needles, and it would be anything but relaxing. The acupuncturist, a lithe, wispy woman, first asked me several questions about my overall health and then looked at my tongue. “You’re getting a cold,” she said. Bingo! I was getting a cold. Apparently acupuncturists can tell a lot about your health by the color and coating of your tongue. Mine was blue – a sure sign that rhinovirus was moving in.

After my brief oral health history, we went into a small room where I took off my shoes and laid on a cot. She quickly began inserting the needles, and it was really just a faint “tap tap” and then they were in. The only needles that I felt were the two on each side of my sinus – there was a little bit of pressure as they were inserted, but then, the pressure in my nose magically cleared up, and I felt like I could breathe. I had three needles in my hand, one on each foot, one on my right ankle, two in my sinuses, and one on my forehead. They really didn’t hurt and once they were in, I forgot they were even there.

She placed one more needle in the center of my forehead, turned off the light, turned on a heat lamp over my feet, and left the room. Soothing music trickled out of the speakers and I just lay there for 45 minutes… relaxing, thinking, wondering if this could help out more than one of my many ailments. Acupuncture is said to be a good form of relief for things like stress, anxiety, allergy, fatigue and sluggish weight… all things I could benefit from.

She came back in 40 minutes later and said that most of my health concerns were from low energy overall, which wasn’t helping my immune system fight off allergens. She recommended coming back once a week for a while, and seeing how I do from there. I’m definitely going to give it a shot, because why not? If I can inject things I’m allergic to in my skin, or pop a pill, why not give something holistic and risk-free a chance?

Have you ever done acupuncture? Would you, or is the thought of needles that keeps you away?





A Bee-utiful Tattoo

Reid at Yoni Tattoo perfects the design

I’ve wanted a tattoo for a long time. When I was in high school, my best friend and I would draw all over our legs with sharpies to imagine what tattoos would look like. At the time, I was fixated on a frilly little ivy that I saw in the CD booklet of one of my favorite bands. My brother later told me it was an icon from Photoshop. I didn’t want that as a tattoo any more… After the ivy, I wanted a sea horse. The seahorse was a short-lived fantasy as I eventually realized that seahorses were sort of just a passing fad, much like my 6-year-old obsession with porcelain dolls and then Winnie the Pooh.

Bee earrings for good luck

However, as I grew older, I started thinking about a tattoo I would like, and decided I’d like a bee. Bees have long been a symbol of good luck and royalty in the world. Bees pollinate plants and trees and flowers, and help us get our food. Bees help me in my garden, and bees make honey, one of the most delicious substances on earth. I love the book  The Secret Life of Bees  and I love the artist Mark Ryden, who features many bees in his work. In addition, it was long thought that bees are scientific wonders, because their tiny wing span should theoretically not be able to support their heavy, large bodies. In this regard, they have long represented achieving the impossible. (Science has it figured out now – The bee flies more like a helicopter than an airplane in that its wings vibrate up and down rather than side to side). We had bees on our favor bags at our wedding, and as we said our vows among rows of Victorian roses, bumble bees flitted over the masses of flowers like tiny fairies. I also think bumble bees are cute looking, with their fuzzy, bulbous abdomens and gorgeous yellow and black stripes. Matt also thinks bees are cool, and in fact, now has a bee adornment on himself as well (doesn’t look at all like mine – but it’s a bee just the same!). So there you have it – I had decided, a bee tattoo it would be.

The tattoo process begins!

We chose Reid at Yoni Tattoo because of his laid-back demeanor, awesome yelp reviews and enthusiasm for the art we wanted. He’s also an ex-nurse from Minnesota, so he has Midwestern pride on his side. I was a little bit jittery, mostly about the fact that I wasn’t 100% set on my design yet. The bee itself was amazing and perfect, but I wasn’t quite sure if I wanted one hydrangea or two. In the end, I found some cool swirl flourishes from the internet, and Reid reworked the design to be one hydrangea flower (the flower of my wedding bouquet) with an awesome spiral vine embellishment coming out of it. I loved it – It’s unique, colorful and beautiful. We were ready to begin!

This is a staged shot! The pain is totally not worthy of dramatic facial expressions!

I had asked many people about the pain of getting a tattoo, and I got answers ranging from “it’s like a cat scratch” to “it’s horrible horrible pain and I will never do it again.” I was expecting the worst, but as someone who suffers an average of 12 allergy shots a month, I’m not too fearful of needles. I also went through braces and had the inside of my nose burned out with a laser (yay for constant congestion), so it’s safe to say I’ve dealt with some gnarly pain. Here’s how the first 30 seconds went – “Oh. It’s not that bad. That’s it?!” After a minute, you realize it’s not an enjoyable feeling by any means – it’s not like you’re getting a massage, but it’s really not horrible. It’s just like a bee sting, actually. Some slight burning and a little prickling, but it’s really not awful. The most painful part was the bottom of my hydrangea flower near the ankle. For anybody who’s been avoiding a tattoo because of fear of the pain – DO IT! Especially if you’re a woman – I promise you’ve had worse monthly cramps. The pain is manageable, for sure – and a good tattoo artist will let you take breaks if you need them. Check out this super cool time lapse from stencil to tattoo that my pal Julie put together!

Adrenaline and endorphins have kicked in, and I'm feelin' good!

I had originally thought I wanted to go a bit smaller on the design, but the detail in the bee was important to me, and if I went smaller, I’d lose a lot of the beautiful details like the fuzz and wing patterns. I chose above the ankle because it’s a good spot to hide if I need to for work or other professional events. The tattoo took about an hour to complete, and today I’ve been a good girl and have been doing the whole Aquaphor moisturizing thing and keeping it clean. I am thrilled to finally have a beautiful and symbolic bumble bee on my leg, and it looks wicked cool when I’m wearing capris and flip-flops!

Bumble Bee Tattoo with Hydrangea

One of the questions a few people have asked me is, “Isn’t it scary to think you’ll have that forever?” My answer is no, not at all. I thought about what I wanted for a long time, and the best way to sum it up is an Ani DiFranco lyric that says, “a tattoo is no more permanent than I am.” This is one of the first times I actually have no “buyer’s remorse” at all – I spazzed out about buying my new car, and I’m even having buyer’s remorse on a $20 pair of rain boots I bought last week. I love my new tattoo, and I’m proud that I went and did it. If you’re thinking about getting a tattoo for the first time, make sure you’ve researched the parlor and artist, and it’s clean and sterile. Our parlor guarantees their work, and in a couple weeks I get to go back for free for a touch up on some of the color. Make sure you get along well with your artist, and that the design is 100% what you love. It is permanent, so there’s no going back when it’s etched into your skin.

So – let’s hear it – do you have a tattoo? If not, would you ever get one? Why or why not?

***Special thanks to Julie Bien for her amazing photos and moral support of the tattoo process! All photos credited to Julie Bien except for the crappy iPhone pic on the bottom of the post that I took. 🙂

Update: Here’s the tattoo 2 months after I got it. Healed, and beeeeautiful!