Oncology Massage, Thoughts on the profession

It Depends

There’s this thing that gets said a lot in almost every class I teach, no matter what the subject or how (in)experienced the students: “It depends.”  Meaning: more information is needed before I make a recommendation.  Meaning: every human is different.  Meaning: never stop thinking.

I am sitting at a desk in a remote location, away from home and away from people, planning out my 2019. What are my goals for the year? What do I want to create? What do I need to let go of?

I used to do this on a fairly regular basis, but it has been a couple of years since I actually sat down and wrote out the plan for the next year. The first time I did it, the words came to me faster than I could write them down. There was so much missing from my life at that point. It seemed lots of plans and ideas wanted to rush in to fill the vacuum.

Before I started writing today, I looked at that plan. Most of it didn’t happen. Or at least it didn’t happen in a way I expected. There was one sentence though, stuffed into the middle and written when I was tired and wanted to go to bed, that happened exactly as I wrote it. It was eerie, how precisely this thing happened. This one, half-forgotten sentence that became the thing that shifted my entire life.

So, can you plan an entire year before it happens?

It depends.

To me, this writing is an exercise in continual awareness of the kind we want our students to have when we say, “It depends.” Standing rigidly with knowledge or plans or protocols limits our ability to help. And it kills our ability to find wonder in the unexpected, half-asleep moments of our lives.

We stand, in this profession, in our knowledge and our experiential learning. We are not, should never be, trapped by it. We work with humans, after all, in their infinite variety. Every one of them is different, and if we stop thinking we stop serving.

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Let us not be constrained by the container of our own understanding. Instead, let’s try to flow, like cats do — adapting to the shape of the container before us, or abandoning it entirely when it doesn’t serve.

May your new year be full of awareness, critical thinking, and the magic of conditionality.

Inner World, On Writing

Which Draft Is This

We went to a show, my friend and I.  It was full of flashes of brilliance — beautiful gems that could be pulled out, polished and made into an even better show.  But it was a one-time-only experience.

It was unique, rare, and temporal.  It was deeply unsatisfying.

As we pondered these truths, imagining the new and gorgeous work of art that could happen if this section came out and that one expanded and it all had a more coherent frame structure —  we also pondered what it was that was so deeply unsatisfying.

“You know what it is?” my friend said, “They stopped at the first draft.”

And of course that was it.  We watched a first draft, knowing there was no possibility of a next draft, and still seeing the potential that a next draft could be.  Frustrating.

So, of course, I will quote that Anne Lamott line about “sh*tty first drafts.”  Here is whole quote:

“Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life, and it is the main obstacle between you and a shitty first draft.”

It’s a great line, and a great sentiment.  Just get the words out.  Just work.  What happens too often, what happened in that show we saw, is that people get out the first draft and stop there.  The effort of putting forth that much feels like enough.

As Anne Lamott, or any other writer, would tell you — it isn’t enough.  There are revisions and reworkings and next drafts to go, long before something is all the way done.  Some things are never all the way done.  Construction on Sagrada Familia, Gaudi’s adjective-defying cathedral in Barcelona, began in 1882.  It is projected to be completed in 2030.  Maybe.

On a more local scale, I’ve been contemplating my professional life, and how it has shifted and changed over the years I have been a massage therapist.  I’m on, I think, my third draft at the moment.  And several people I know are still on their first draft.

I’m becoming aware that it is part of my mission as a massage educator to get people (and maybe the profession?) to move through whatever draft they are in right now.  It’s so easy to get comfortable with a limited repertoire.  Are we doing things because they are intuitively and scientifically effective, or are we doing things because we always do them?

Every new draft grows under the skin of the old draft, and when it pushes through it is often familiar enough to be recognizable.  So why are we sitting with the old drafts, afraid to move through it into the next best version?

Let’s get to the next draft.  Let’s start by making space for each other’s mistakes, blind spots, and outright incompetence.  These things are temporary, and necessary if we are to move into something new.  Just work.

Hey — Speaking of work — Did you know I host a monthly webinar series called The Interdisciplinary Clan of Mystery?  It’s where my friends at Healwell and I interview someone who is doing excellent work in health care, and we try to learn how to break out of our silos and step up our service game.  If you’re a human who has ever interacted with health care, this might be for you.  Check out the episodes here.  (And while you’re there, take a minute to look at the wonderful goodness Healwell is putting out into the world.  These people are the best, the brightest, the funniest.)
Massage Tales, Thoughts on the profession

Death and Other Benefits

As I’ve written before, I knew from the start of my massage career that I wanted to work with people in extremis — whether through age, illness, life stresses, or other factors.  I am not a mechanical fix-’em-up therapist.  I am a keeper of respite.

In my last quarter of school, I got in touch with a Donna, a hospice massage therapist who had attended the same school.  Donna generously agreed to let me shadow her for part of one day and talk to me in detail about her work with dying people.  With her, I went to the hospice inpatient facility.  Donna checked in with the nurses and got a list of people who might be open to receiving massage.  The nurses directed her first to one woman in particular.

“She’s struggling,” the nurse said, “Maybe you could ease her a little.”

Donna and I walked into the woman’s room.  I stayed close to the door as Donna approached the bed and gently touched the woman’s hand.  The woman was taking short, gasping breaths.  Her neck twisted with each breath and she shifted constantly in the bed.  Donna spoke very quietly to her and got permission to give her a gentle massage.  I watched Donna with my still-learning eyes, trying to parse exactly which techniques she used and how she crafted a coherent session in this unusual location.

person massaging man while lying on bed
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And then I forgot all of that and just watched.  Donna placed her hands on the woman’s ribcage, she stroked her hair and lovingly pressed her hands.  The woman gradually stopped shifting her position.  She still took short breaths, but they seemed more comfortable now.  After about fifteen minutes, Donna thanked the woman and we left the room without a sound.  The nurse walked into the room after we left.

Donna stood at the sink washing her hands, and I stood with her trying to form an intelligent question.  I could only manage “Thank you” and “What? . . . .” As I struggled with my words, the nurse came up, grinning.  She patted Donna on the back.

“Donna,” she said, “I think you just massaged that woman to death.”

They smiled at each other and hugged.  At the start of the day, the patient was in distress, struggling to breath, or to stop breathing.  After the massage, she appeared to be in much less distress and slipping into an easeful death.  I hope that is what happened.  To be honest, I have no idea.

What I do know, however, is that I am much more suited for the kind of work Donna does than almost anything else.  To facilitate ease in the face of distress.  To work with another human and help reduce the struggle of their transition — whether it is the transition to health after a long illness, the transition to a different lifestyle, or the transition from life into death.

massage education, Massage Tales, Thoughts on the profession

Aural Forestry

What started as an adaptation to technological difficulties grew into a new research interest and intentional structure of the whole massage environment.

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This is Nadine, one of the office plants.

I love my office.  It has a skylight for natural light, and it is large with plenty of room to move around. My office mate has an amazing eye for design, so she put together the space in a way that is beautiful and functional.  I am proud to bring new clients into the space and trust they will feel at ease there.

I don’t love the technology, or lack thereof.  There is no WiFi in the space, so my regular streaming music service is not available.  When I moved into the space, I pulled out my tablet and searched my apps for some kind of relaxing noise making program.  I found I had an app called Spa Music, and that this app had a mixing board page.  You could combine any number of nature sounds to create a custom, relaxing soundscape.  I quickly settled on “Lake” as the background and experimented with different bird songs, crickets, or even jungle frogs on top. The sounds would play until I turned off the tablet, with no wireless connection necessary.

I set up the nature sounds on the speakers and invited in my first clients with some trepidation. Would they miss the music? Is there someone out there who really is a huge Dean Everson or Enya fan, and was I alienating them?

I quickly learned a few true things:

  1.  Almost no one notices the music/sounds unless they stop unexpectedly.
  2.  Lots of people in Kentucky get significant joy out of observing and identifying birds.
  3.  Working around nature sounds for several hours has a significant positive effect on my outlook.

bright countryside dawn daylight
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Somewhere in the collection of random information in my brain, I remembered one of my friends talking about forest bathing.  Forest bathing, or Shinrin-yoku, has been described in Japan since the 1980s, and is a part of preventative health care there.  Several studies on the benefits of forest bathing suggest that a slow, attentive, mindful walk in nature has a number of health benefits.  A few researchers started to break the experience into pieces to see if similar health benefits could be available to people in urban environments.  A study in Japan suggested that simply being around fresh flowers in an office had a positive, relaxing effect on office workers.

What about just the sounds of nature?  Could listening to lake noises or birdsong have a positive effect on someone’s overall massage experience?  So far, I haven’t found any studies on this particular question, so I only have stories.

I have the story of the woman (and avid birder) who is coping with a painful autoimmune condition, whose posture relaxed as soon as she heard the birdsong in my office.

I have the story of the man who called my office “instant calm” when he walked in.

And I have the story of every day I spend in that office, feeling more attentive and present without the burden of tuning out some hideous “spa music” coming from the streaming service.

For now, I am letting the nature sounds play on, and spending as much time as possible in actual nature as part of my regular self-care.  I’ve got other, really fun projects keeping me occupied outside the office right now, but who knows?  Maybe this nature thing will grow.

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
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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
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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.

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.