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Comfort and Safety

March 23, 20205 min read

Man, I miss my clients. I hope they miss me. The people I touch are a huge part of my life and even of who I am. Over the past few years, I have made my private practice smaller to enable me to focus on Healwell, but I never want to stop touching people. I think about my clients when I’m not with them. I wonder how they’re doing. I send them little articles and memes and just check in on them by phone or text, even when we’re not all in lockdown.

We don’t talk about it, but I think my clients and I also have a shared attachment to my awesomeness. We agree that their lives (and mine) are better when they come to see me. They are in pain. They are alone. They have cancer. They are dying. They just like being touched and need that contact. I need it, too. We all need companionship and even though they tell us in school that we shouldn’t get that companionship from and with our clients, we do. It’s a symbiosis.

And often, it’s a codependence.

We all do it. Humans do this. It’s normal. It’s real. It’s what happens when we get all up in each other’s pain and suffering and plantar fasciitis.

The truth about caregiving is that it’s often at least as much about control and ego as it is about caring. When you are the carer, you are in charge. When you are the one who shows up and makes it better that feels understandably good. Even validating. It makes the world feel safe to have that kind of control over something and to be useful, especially when “nothing else helps.”

It feels safe and comfortable knowing that there’s a reason for us to be.

In end of life care we often talk about quality of life as a moving target. If you ask me today if I would want to live if I couldn’t hike anymore or if I was not able to swallow food but had to be fed through a tube I would tell you that I probably wouldn’t want to live like that. But, you should ask me again when a disease or an accident has made it such that these are real choices facing me. My answer is likely be a little different then.

The real question in all of this is “What will help me feel as safe and comfortable as possible?”  We don’t think about it much, but this is an essential question we’re asking ourselves every moment. We spend our lives working to maintain a sense of safety and comfort. All the while, paying very little attention to the reality that every other person on the planet is doing that same thing.

When a global pandemic leaves us feeling amorphously unsafe and essentially uncomfortable we sort of know that we’re all living this reality together, but we still cling to our exceptionalism. We cling to our sense that what we do, who we are, what we contribute makes us somehow exempt from the global lockdown.  The world needs me, we say. It needs me to do this one thing that I've always done.

Humans are insanely bad at being uncomfortable. The “safety and comfort project” that we call our lives is an excellent distraction from what’s true. When we stay busy and in control, we don’t have to look at how attached we have become, not only to our clients, but to the way that their need for us holds up who we are. (If you’re feeling itchy about where this might be headed, that might mean you’re in this boat with the rest of us. There’s room in the boat. Please stay seated.)

When you close your business, it’s going to feel unsafe.

It’s going to push all of the buttons in your limbic brain. It’s going to leave you feeling deeply uncomfortable about who you are and what you should do with yourself while we all wait for the time when we can go back to work. It’s going to feel wrong and like you’re “abandoning” your clients. It’s going to feel very uncomfortable.

This is where I bow to you and your deep humanity and compassionately ask you to get over it.

Millions of others already have. Personally, I don’t know how I’ll pay my bills past April. I don’t know what massage therapy will look like when COVID-19 is “over.”  Will the Healwell team and our friends and colleagues be welcomed back into the hospitals when it’s all said and done? I certainly hope so, but I don’t know; and I can’t care, because this is not about me or even about them.

It’s about being one less vector for the spread of a disease that is likely to be deadly to the very people whose lives I strive to improve every day.

I’ve always been a big fan of a piece of wisdom I learned from spiritual guru, Ram Dass many years ago: It’s not about you.

None of us is more or less magical or important than another. Some of us have just had the help and support of our friends to make this hard decision in order to save the lives of people we’ll never meet and even of the people we know well.

Show the people you serve that you care enough about them to set down your shared attachment to your awesomeness to not put them at risk of catching a deadly virus. It really is that simple.

Not easy, but simple.

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Cal Cates

Cal is one of Healwell’s founders and its Executive Director. Cal speaks around the world on a variety of topics related to integrative medicine, emotional self-care for practitioners and the mechanics and politics of introducing massage therapy into clinical settings. They have been participating in research, teaching and developing curriculum for massage therapy courses focused on hospital-based practice, oncology massage and end of life care since 2007. Cal is passionate about elevating the profession of massage therapy and also about broader and more seamless integration of massage therapists into mainstream healthcare.

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