I should spare you the boring details and simply write “Ugh,” or better yet, not post at all. As this blog takes shape, it seems to be more about what goes wrong for a massage therapist than what goes well. I’m looking to change that as I grow into this role, but in the meantime…about a month ago I became a statistic and cautionary tale, joining the ranks of so many injured massage therapists. Apparently it’s not shocking that this happened to me just over a year into my practice. It’s been found that 80% of massage therapists and bodyworkers drop out after their first two years due to injury. So from that perspective I guess I’m tracking right on time….
When it happened in early February (while putting on my pants! Sheesh!), I lightened my workload for a few days, kept pushing forward and worried. Things stabilized somewhat, but pain persisted. Certain strenuous techniques came out of my massage toolbox. Compensating took place when pain would flare. Crash landings onto chairs became expected. Standing during breaks provided marginal relief.
Last Friday, it happened again. My back spasmed violently at the beginning of a massage session. I limped through the hour and was amazed that the client didn’t demand his money back. After the session I waved the white flag. Money, shmoney; staying the course was a disservice to my clients, the spa and my own body.
Two years ago, before I started massage school, I had a sobering talk with a financial counselor. He took down my history, chewed on his pen for a bit and told me that what I was about to embark on was a very bad idea, fiscally and otherwise.
But stubborn me, I went and did it anyway. And obtuse me, I ignored my body’s whispered signals. And complacent me, I kept going and going without seriously pursuing a career path that I could sustain. Now crumpled on a couch, unable to do my job, I’m buried under palpable shame.
Considering my environment, maybe it’s natural to feel so guilty about hurting. My sister has experienced severe, chronic back pain for at least 15 years. It’s limited her daily activities and changed her life. A dear friend suffers frequent migraines, yet she still manages to show up at her job and work through the pain. Both of these strong women have been compassionate as I’ve shared my recent struggle with back pain, but I know I can be tougher. I’m the whiny little sister, acting like I’m the first person ever to have gone through this.
Is it a sign of weakness to disclose exactly how bad we feel? Is it ego or survivalism that’s taught us to keep the bulk of our suffering secret? Maybe it’s more of a socially driven thing; we’ve all encountered the unfiltered acquaintance who taught us why true honesty is a no-no. And then I think about my clients. How often do they downplay their symptoms? Many come in with herniated discs, scars from back surgery and other obvious signs that they’ve been through traumatic events. I consider the times I’ve given self-care tips like “Soak in Epsom salt” or “Forward bends are great for stretching the low back and hamstrings.” Now that I have trouble getting into and out of the tub and can’t lean forward without a frightening twang of pain, I’ve vowed to be more sensitive to my clients, to read them more carefully for the unspoken.
As a matter of fact, as frustrating as this experience has been, I aim to take all of this as a lesson. I saw a doctor, took this week off and went to physical therapy as prescribed. After all, the only way to shake the shame I’m experiencing is to right my personal wrongs, right? Buddhism teaches that no effort is ever wasted, that every cause has an effect, and that effects can become causes toward victory or defeat depending on what we do next. It’s our choice. I’ve decided that this experience will make/is making me stronger, wiser, more compassionate and more effective in helping others, and I’m backing it up with appropriate action. To view it any other way and backslide might make me part of that dreaded 80% within the next year.
I can’t give up.
“What kinds of causes am I making right now?” “What actions am I taking?” The answers to these questions are what will determine our future.