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Massage Isn't Normal

July 23, 20203 min read

Wednesday morning I woke up feeling off, just a little tired. It was easy to think I just didn’t have enough sleep. A few hours later, when I felt achy all over and developed a headache, I started to get worried. These are COVID symptoms, and I needed to get tested. I made an appointment for as soon as possible, which happened to be the next morning.

I spent most of the rest of that day doing my own contact tracing. As it turns out, it’s not easy to remember everywhere you’ve been for the past couple of weeks. The most alarming for me was the client I saw last week (the first one since early March) and my colleague who gave me a massage on Tuesday.

Wait – I got a massage on Tuesday.

For the first time in over four months. My massage therapist worked with me exactly the same way as she had four months ago. Could that have anything to do with feeling achy and tired?

Thursday morning I woke up feeling better. No aches, no fatigue, no headache or fever. I went to my testing appointment and (truthfully) answered “No” to all the symptom questions. I got tested anyway.

Through the rest of that day and the next, it became clear that – COVID or not – that massage did a number on my body. I am a massage therapist who prefers to receive gentle work. I should know enough to speak up when something is too much, but clearly I did not. I let my massage therapist work with my body as if I had been receiving regular massage and using my body in the same way I did pre-pandemic. The truth is, I have been sitting much more than is usual for me, and my body is no longer used to receiving massage.

Many of us are going (or have gone) back to work. We are educating ourselves about coagulopathy, symptom profiles, disinfecting procedures, and all things virus-related. This is good and important.

Somewhere in there we are forgetting to acknowledge and think through what happens to a body in lockdown. And we forget that, as my friend Kerry Jordan says, massage always asks something of the body.

We might be asking too much.

We are craving normal so much right now. It would be so satisfying to have just one thing, one tiny thing, that feels pre-pandemic normal. I wonder if that craving is leading us to work too aggressively with our clients. Or, as in my case, leading us to receive more than our bodies can handle right now.

We will serve our clients better if we start by acknowledging that “normal” does not exist anymore. Not as we remember it, anyway. Throw the auto-pilot away because all the routes have changed.

It is time for us as massage therapists to slow down and be kind to our own bodies. Many of us have spent several months not moving our bodies as much as we used to. It will take time to get used to just doing massage again, not to mention the PPE, screening, and cleaning protocols. Maybe “normal” isn’t good for us right now.

It took a day of feeling crappy in my body and anxious in my mind to realize this. I don’t want any of my clients or colleagues to have the same experience. As I write this, I still haven’t gotten the results of the COVID test back. I don’t know if I have the virus. I do know that I haven’t felt any new symptoms since that Wednesday.

So, even though I am not yet seeing any new clients, I am reminding myself that every client is new to me. I am remembering that even after over 10 years of practice, my body needs time to re-adjust. I don’t know how these months have affected my clients’ bodies, and I would do well to lead with systemic kindness and curiosity.

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Rebecca Sturgeon

In addition to being a valuable member of Healwell’s faculty and curriculum development team, Rebecca is also Healwell’s Education Director. She works tirelessly to organize existing courses and to create new opportunities for Healwell to offer meaningful and robust inter-professional education for massage therapists and other health care providers. Rebecca co-authored Oncology Massage: An integrative approach to cancer care (Handspring, 2021.) As a former teacher of writing at the college level, Rebecca is passionate about the written word and about all forms of human communication. In her massage practice, she focuses on integrating therapeutic massage as part of overall health and wellness care. She is also an experienced mentor to new massage therapists, and facilitator of learning groups.

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