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Massage Tales, Thoughts on the profession

How Did I Get Here: Part 2

I first thought about massage therapy as a career twelve years before I had my epiphany at the senior care community.  I had never even had a massage before, but still my childhood friend’s story was enough to show me how powerful simple touch can be.

Nancy (not her real name) and I met in second grade.  We were both quiet, clumsy, slightly awkward girls.  We laughed at the same things and we liked to create whole worlds out of whatever was in front of us.  We spent our entire grade school years going back and forth to each other’s houses and sharing all the ordinary moments of our childhood.  By the time we graduated high school, we had moved in slightly different directions, but were still close.  I went away to school for my liberal arts degree, and she went to a school near our home for her STEM degree.

One weekend, Nancy and another friend from high school came to visit me at school.  We went to dinner, walked around, and laughed way too much.  That night, I sat on my bed while Nancy and our other friend sat on the floor and we talked.  Nancy revealed to us that she had been abused by her brother when she was a child.  She told us about finding the memory and starting therapy.  She told us she was alright.

And of course she wasn’t, not entirely.  After two years of college, Nancy dropped out and went to massage school.  It surprised me, and at the time I wondered how she could possibly throw her life away like that.

About six months into her massage career, Nancy and I had the chance to sit down together again and really talk.  I asked her about massage school, what it was like and if she enjoyed it.  Nancy told me about her most valuable school experience.

silhouette of left human hand
Photo by 祝 鹤槐 on Pexels.com

For her externship, Nancy went to work at a shelter for victims of domestic violence.  “It was great,” she said, “I was just there with my massage chair, you know, trying to let these women experience safe touch.”

Safe touch.

This simple thing that Nancy didn’t have in her own home — yet somehow she could bring it to other women who had been abused.  I was speechless.  Of course she hadn’t thrown her life away.  She grabbed hold of her life and made it her own again.

The more I reflected on Nancy’s story, the more my sense of the immense power of simple, safe touch grew.  The fact that this could be your job — to serve people in this way — it seemed like heaven.

At the time, I was on a different path, so I filed my impressions away for later.  12 years later, I ended up with people I wanted to serve, and the means to go back to school.  And now, here I am today.

Nancy and I lost touch several years ago.  The last time I heard from her, I was in the middle of massage school, and she had quit massage therapy altogether.  To me, it sounded like she reached that physical and emotional burn-out state that ends so many massage careers. It saddened me, and it built my resolve to take excellent care of myself. For so many reasons, I have Nancy to thank for being here, in this job I love, ten years and counting.

Inner World, massage education, Massage Tales, Thoughts on the profession

How Did I Get Here: Part 1

Next year will be my ten-year anniversary as a massage therapist.  Massage therapy is about my fifth career so far.  I’m happy to walk you through the other four (or so), but not right now.  Today I’m thinking about how I got here, to this career, the one that has lasted the longest.

About a decade ago, I worked as a marketing assistant at a big, fancy retirement community.  My job involved supporting the sales team, helping with events, and sometimes helping new residents move in.  For some new residents, I went to their homes and helped them measure out their new apartment and what could fit into the space.  I bent down to count outlets and find the exact placement of cable jacks in their new space.  This all happened in between doing all the office and administrative support work that was part of my job.

My favorite parts of my job were these moments working directly with the new residents.  I remember one day, I stayed in a new resident’s apartment to direct the movers while she took care of things at her old home.  She had a beloved Turkish rug cleaned and delivered to the apartment first thing in the morning.  I pulled the rug into the apartment and unrolled it in her bedroom, delighted to find that it fit the room exactly.  While I straightened the rug and checked it, I called her to let her know it fit.  I heard her smile through the phone.

The rest of that afternoon, I sat at my desk running marketing reports and updating our database.  It was mind-numbing.  When I couldn’t take it anymore, I left the Sales Office to go take a walk around the community.  I pretended to check on all the common spaces since we had an event later in the week.  Near the large community room, I ran into Mrs. G, who I helped move in about a month before.

“I met some lovely women at lunch today,” she said.  “They were also your chickens.”  Mrs. G called herself, and everyone whose move I assisted, my “chickens.”  Slightly agitated, somewhat befuddled but carefully tended, and definitely well-loved.  The metaphor made me smile.

agriculture animal baby beak
Photo by Achim Bongard on Pexels.com

The job, I realized, as I walked down the hall, did not.  The best parts of my day were the moments were I got to work directly with the residents in some way, to be of service.  I wanted something that involved direct care.  I circled past the nurses’ office and considered becoming a nurse, then realized that the nurse had strict, short time constraints on most visits.

I wanted something where I could spend more time.  As I walked back towards the Sales Office I remembered an idea from a long time ago — massage therapy.  Direct care.  Lots of time.  Being of service.  It felt perfect.

So, that is how I first started looking into massage schools — 12 years after I first had the idea of becoming a massage therapist.  But that’s a story for another time.

Uncategorized

Trigger Finger

Sometimes I am careless.  And sometimes people get hurt.

In my classes, sometimes we role play different scenarios.  It’s a way to practice language and reactions in a safe space.  At least, I want it to be safe.  We were practicing dismissing a client.  Someone who we knew we were not qualified to serve.  We spent an hour brainstorming different scenarios and deciding what to choose.  Each one of the students self-selected the situation they felt most unsure about so we could practice it in a safe space.

Safe.  Or so I thought.

My student, call her Darla, told us a few days ago that she had suffered from postpartum depression.  She talked about not know what it was at the time and seemed content to share her experience with us all so we could learn.  Her children were both in middle school, and she talked about it as if it was something long resolved.  Here is one spot where I should have payed closer attention.

Our list of challenges included referring out a client with high anxiety issues.  Darla identified this as the scenario she felt most uncomfortable with.   Again, more attention needed, and I didn’t give it.

Darla went last in our practice role plays.  The set up was this: Darla and I acted out the client dismissal while the rest of the class observed, silently.  At the end we would go over what she did well, what needs more practice, and what was missing.  Darla paid close attention to everyone else in the class as they practiced and gave thoughtful feedback, as she always did.

Darla and I sat down face to face.  As someone who has occasional anxiety, and has lots of close friends who suffer from anxiety, it was not hard to inhabit the character of a person with high anxiety.  As we continued our conversation, Darla started bouncing in her chair and glancing all around her like she was looking for the exits.

We continued talking, and her neck started to flush red.  She stammered, started losing her words.  Finally she clenched her hands together, said, “I . .I . .I . .I. .” and just stopped, looking all around her.  I said, “Do you need to stop?” And she nodded, then burst into tears.  She shook and sobbed in her chair, unable to respond to any questions.  I suggested the whole class take a break.

Darla got up from the chair and took a walk, still shaking and sobbing.  Her hands shook and she could barely speak.  She came back after about five minutes and sat down, quietly said that she was fine, she was ready to continue with class.  She was not ready to continue with class.  I apologized to her, she waved her and at me and said, “No, it’s not your fault.”

But it was my fault.  Something in the exercise triggered a clear and very present trauma for her.  There were places where I could have paid more attention and I did not.  My classroom, the place I try to keep safe for students, was the least safe place for her that day.

As we talked about it later, I learned that some of the mannerisms I used in our scenario, drawn directly from my life experience, were also mirrors of her own postpartum experience.  “I guess I haven’t really dealt with it,” she said.

We came back to a place of trust and mutual learning in that class, but the echoes of her distress still haunt me sometimes.  Any day I am feeling not quite present, or inclined to be a bit lazy with my attention to the people in my class, I am reminded of Darla.  The distress that didn’t need to be.  And I remember how important it is to recognize, understand and clear my resistance so I can have my attention were it needs to be.  On the people I serve.  With loving and compassionate focus.

Oncology Massage

Goodbye Senator, Goodbye Victor

On August 25, Senator John McCain died at age 81 of glioblastoma.  Before his diagnosis, many of us were fortunate enough to have no idea what glioblastoma even was.  Maybe our only exposure to terminal brain cancer was through stories about Brittany Maynard.

Now we’ve heard of glioblastoma because someone we know — someone famous — had it.  I first learned of McCain’s death through a news update from Cure Magazine, a cancer resource publication.  This strikes me as yet another reminder that cancer touches all of us, no matter where we come from or what we do for a living.

And it reminds me of another thing that touches all of us — death.  At some point in his treatment, McCain stopped receiving treatment.  I have no idea of the conversations and thought and emotion that went into his particular decision.  I have been around clients and family members who made those decisions, though.  In particular, I am thinking of my own Grandfather.

My Grandfather had breast cancer (about 1 in 10,000 men get breast cancer) which went into remission after first rounds of treatment.  After a number of years, doctors discovered metastasis in his liver.  Already in his 80s, my Grandfather opted out of further treatment and instead, he and my Grandmother called hospice.

I lived in a different city at the time, newly independent and settling in to a big city job.  When I heard about his prognosis, I decided I needed to call him.  So, one morning, I did.  My Grandmother answered the phone.  I told her why I was calling.  She conferred for a minute with my Grandfather, then she got back on the line.  In her loving, sweet and gentle way she said, “He doesn’t want to get on the phone.  It’s just too hard.”

candlelight candles
Photo by Irina Anastasiu on Pexels.com

In that moment I understood, because I knew him, that he was offering me a final act of love.  I suspect he knew we would never see each other again, and maybe he wanted me to remember him as he had always been, controlled and in control.

This is not the place to debate over whether he chose wisely or not in that moment.  The point is, he chose.  And his choice came from a place of love and care for me and for himself.  I believe this is true.

Senator McCain used some of his last days to express a great love — his love for this country.  Whether or not we agree with his final votes in the Senate, the point is that he made them.  Out of love for democracy, and love for the people he served as Senator.

Like my Grandfather, Senator McCain’s expressions of love may seem strange or ill-chosen.  Today I am reflecting on the fact that we don’t get to choose or direct how another human being expresses love.  We can, however, keep our hearts open to it and acknowledge its truth.

 

 

Massage Tales, Thoughts on the profession

Find the Sweetness

I really really didn’t want to do that massage.

 

One client* booked, right at the end of the day.  At the time, I was working for someone else, so rescheduling was not an option.  And this name on my schedule — I knew this name.  I had seen this name before.

A few months before, I saw that name on my schedule, arrived on time for the massage, and waited until 20 minutes after the appointment time.  The dreaded no-call, no-show.  I lost a couple of hours of my time and got no compensation.  (The downside of being an independent contractor.)

The day of the massage I didn’t want to do, just one client booked, and it was *that* client.  The no-call, no-show client.  I balked forcefully, and the business owner guaranteed I would be paid no matter what.  (In writing, I made sure.)  I arrived at the office to wait for the appointment.

Before I got to the office, though, I made a bet with a friend.  If the client showed, I paid him a quarter.  If the client didn’t show, he paid me a quarter.

I got to the office and waited.

And waited.

10 minutes after the appointment start time, the client arrived.  “Is this <business name>?” I sighed inwardly, said “Yes,” and started my intake interview.

The client seemed too young to have “pain all over” for no reason.  I asked about diagnosis, and she said it was something “they were trying to figure out.”  I asked, “How do you want to feel when you leave today?”  She said, “I just want to feel, you know, normal for a minute.”  Her lips pressed together tightly and her eyes trembled at the corners as she looked at me.

I started her massage and the past dropped away.  She was not a no-calling, no-showing, waster-of-my-time.  She was, is, a human being who just wants to find some peace in her body, mind and spirit.  She was, is, a fellow traveler through this life who just wants to be free from suffering.  I spent the time left in her hour with the intention of gently soothing and loving this person in this present moment.

After the massage, she came out of the room smiling.  She said little, smiled at me.  Where before the massage I felt a tightness in her aspect, now I felt flooded with sweetness.  She said, “Thank you.  I needed that.”

women s white long sleeved top
Photo by Tatiana on Pexels.com

Later that night, I caught up with my friend, the friend I made the bet with.  I gave him a quarter, happily and with utter contentment.

 

*–this client is a composite, based on several different experiences.  Any resemblance to an actual individual human is purely coincidental.  The lesson, however, is true.

 

massage education, Massage Tales, Modalities, Oncology Massage, Thoughts on the profession

Interdisciplinary

How about a quick peek into the emerging future of healthcare?

Interdisciplinary:  integrating knowledge and approaches from a variety of different approaches

Interdisciplinary Team: a group of professionals from multiple disciplines working together toward a common goal

I have been thinking and reading a lot about interdisciplinary teams in healthcare.  As the abstract “aging American population” becomes more concrete, both in my practice and my personal life, I am seeing humans who interact with multiple professionals, all for their individual care and keeping.  I am seeing this done very very well, and very very not-so-well.

What is clear to me is this:   the future of healthcare is interdisciplinary.  It is both necessary and desirable that humans have access to multiple professionals to address the multiple and complex needs of their healthcare.  Also:  the future requires us to communicate with one another.  While I know and massage and sometimes take care of people who are receiving interdisciplinary care, that does not always include great communication.

Take, for example, the cancer patient who also has hypertension*.  The oncologist and the nephrologist ask the patient for reports from other physician visits, but they are not asking to communicate directly with each other.  And neither of them wonders about the massage therapist who has been working with the patient since the cancer diagnosis.

In an ideal interdisciplinary world, patients could have access to a wide range of professionals and those professionals would speak to each other on a regular basis.  They might even, I don’t know, learn from each other and gain creative insights into sticky healthcare questions.

Unicorns!  Fairies! Rainbows!, you say?

This is not only possible, it is happening.  Wouldn’t you like to hear from a real interdisciplinary team about how they put it together, how they keep it going, and maybe even how the massage therapy profession can contribute?

You are in luck!

Starting this September, I will be hosting a monthly webinar series for Healwell where we explore these very questions.  We have secured some of the most interesting people working in healthcare today — the people who are asking the questions and creating the change.  Come and join us for the Interdisciplinary Clan of Mystery, where we explore how to deepen our service to the humans we care for, and broaden our perspective to invite collaborations, curiosity and plain old increased clinical knowledge.

We are going to have some fun, challenging, thoughtful, and (best of all) interactive conversations. Join me to take a peek at the disruptors, innovators, and smartest people working in healthcare today.

 

*–patients mentioned are composites or theories and do not represent actual humans

massage education, Thoughts on the profession

Job Description

The question that often follows “How long have you been doing this?” is: “How do you like this work?”  The answer is pretty easy.  I love it.

I’ve tried several other careers and even done well in a few, yet none of them held my heart and my interest like massage therapy.  This particular work is, for me, a fantastic blend of several different jobs.  I am a massage therapist, which means I am:

A Scientist

It started in school where I did a deep dive into the anatomy of the muscular system, and started on the path to learn more about Anatomy, Physiology, and Pathology.  It continues now as I try to connect everything I do with some understanding of the working of the human body, and with information from the latest research I have been reading.  It is my job to be curious, to ask questions and to continue learning and discovering.

A Tradesperson

I learned a skill that I perform with my hands.  After my period of learning and apprenticeship (at the student clinic) I started practicing this skill and I work every day to further perfect and advance my skills.  I have apprentices (students) of my own now, and as I am guiding them through how to work with their hands, I am finding better ways to work with my own.

An Educator

Given the chance and the interest, I will talk to every client about what I notice and what that could mean for their particular body.  I will also take the time to talk through what massage might be able to address and what might need a different kind of support.

A Student

As I said to a client this week, I may be the “expert” in the room on muscles and soft tissue, but each client is the expert on their body.  I am here to learn from them.

An Artist
person with body painting
Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Pexels.com

Every human, every human body, is unique.  Every day and space that body moves in is unique, so every time a person walks into my office it is the time to create something that never existed before.  Massage does not, for me, happen by formula.  It happens by being completely present in the moment so I can make something new that will never happen the same way again.

I have the opportunity to be all of these things, and sometimes more besides.  This week some asked me, “Have you always been a massage therapist?”  I’ve had lots of occupations, and this is the one that lasts because it pulls in all of those jobs.  It asks the most of myself and give the greatest rewards.