OCD and Massage Therapy

Most people have heard of OCD and everyone has some form of obsessions, but I’ve been living with it all my live and it has draining. I constantly count things until I reach 21 and after that I forget it and have to do it all over again. It’s a constant fight and I’ve tried behavioral therapy and medications and they never seriously helped me, and I really thought I was crazy and at no time be so-called normal. I even count letters, numbers, driver’s licenses on cars, clocks and objects like holes in ceiling tiles. Most numbers I convert into digital and have my own counting process, where the #1 equals 2, the #2 equals 5 and the #3 equals 5 (think you can figure out the rest?). One day a woman asked me why I was staring at her chest, and I told her I have OCD and that I’m counting the letters and trying to add them up to 21, but she didn’t believe me (after that I would glance quickly and then try to remember it and count them).

Then, one day when I was talking to my psychologist, I mentioned to him that my mom recommended me to be a massage therapist. His eyes lit up, and he said that is the career for you. He went on to mention that massage therapy would help keep me busy and could help control my obsessions.

I soon enrolled in massage therapy class and loved it!  I noticed some of my obsessions getting less, and I really thought I found my new drug. But then I realized I kept counting the strokes, and the obsessions were back again (does someone really want 21 of the same stroke).

One thing I noticed was when I would think of 5-10 techniques in advance while I was massaging, and that helped some. That thought process helped me become a better teacher too, when I started teaching massage back in 2001. Students were constantly asking questions, and I always had to be 10 steps ahead of them, so I kept thinking of what they would say, before they said it.  And when I started massagenerd.com, I had to keep as busy as possible, so I could get information out to the masses.

As you can see, I’m still haunted by obsessions, but I try my best to keep them under control by keeping busy. Honestly, OCD has not totally disabled me; I just have to find other ways of dealing with it. Some days I think to myself what my life would be without OCD, but then I realize that OCD has made me, who I am today.

To quote my favorite TV character: Adrian Monk: It’s a gift… and a curse.

14 thoughts on “OCD and Massage Therapy

  1. Ryan, thanks for writing about this. A lot of people don’t know this (well, maybe they do now), but I’ve battled OCD since I was a teen. 20 years later I’m doing MUCH better with it, mostly thanks to educating myself about the disorder, and about anxiety disorders in general. That being said, I know to look out for the early warning signs of another obsessive downward spiral, and I know to adjust my exposure to stressors when needed (and possible).

    I have the Pure-O form, where obsessing over “bad thoughts” is the compulsion du jour. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Purely_Obsessional_OCD) Fun times!

    On a massage-related note, I was probably always destined to become a massage therapist, thanks to my anxiety-related nail biting (as a child) and nail picking (as an adult)… 😛

    Anyway, thanks again. I think talking openly about this *silliness* is the most beneficial thing we can do. If even one person feels less alone, less isolated, or like less of a freak show because they see themselves in your post, that’s huge. <3

  2. Wow Andrea, I didn’t know that about you. We tend to hide our OCD, because most people don’t know how to react to it and some people think we can just turn it off…but it’s all about how we try and control it (or in some cases, try and hide it). Thanks for sharing and I think we are brother/sister from another mother :)

    • Right on, bro! 😉

      It does kind of explain why we’re always keeping busy with projects into the wee hours of the night.

      Personally, I have found that embracing the OCD monster when it arrives is my best strategy. Hiding it makes it grow. (But again, that’s my personal take.) I still don’t expect people to understand it, but that’s OK.

      I have also been known to bust out with The OCD Workbook when I’m having a Pure-O moment. It helps.


      • Andrea, my name is Meghan. I am a student massage therapist graduating this December (!!). My husband has Pure-O OCD. I am focusing a lot on massage therapy for those struggling with OCD and other anxiety disorders. My husband is hoping to pursue a masters in Social Work with the intention of using his degree to offer counseling for others struggling with the same and similar conditions that he has, and we have discussed the possibility of working together with this group. As a LMT, do you have any suggestions, tips, or advice for me as I work towards my license with this focus?
        Thank you for taking the time. :)

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  4. Wow guys, good on you for being so open about your afflictions. You are both awesome.

    I do understand where you are coming from as I am bipolar. I am more on the manic side, which means I tend to behave similarly to someone with OCD during a manic episode…numbers only rarely catch my interest however if I don’t do things in a certain order, and in a certain amount of time I get very agitated. It is kind of like a rhythm in my head – unfortunately it is more like a grand staccato opus than a nice steady 12 bar blues. lol

    I have been able to harness the dark side for good (haha) and if I can paint, write or hike during a manic episode then I am totally jazzed and at peace.

    But if I have outstanding responsibilities and have to put on real shoes…then I go through my day feeling off. Like going through life with one heel and one flat on, while listening to 3 songs simultaneously…only in my brain. 😛 There is a mish-mash of rhythms and the day consists of trying to combine them all to work together. On a good day they will, and on a bad day they won’t.

    Thankfully I only have a depressed day every few months.

    Things used to be the opposite, before I found massage. It has helped more than anything else I have ever tried. I have spoken with a lot of massage therapists who share a similar story.

    • “It is kind of like a rhythm in my head – unfortunately it is more like a grand staccato opus than a nice steady 12 bar blues.” LOL! Well said.

      Talking rocks! I like to think of us as less-polished stand up comedians. I’m at the point in my life where embracing the ugly and discussing it, and trading stories and a laugh is actually enjoyable. Maybe THIS makes me a freakshow! 😉

      Ari, thank you for sharing. See, I never knew that about you! I’m beginning to think those WITHOUT anxiety-related goings on are rare.

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  7. Aloha all, A 22 year old female client came to me with OCD this week. She said massage has helped her in the past to control her OCD symptoms, and since her symptoms were climbing again, she decided to seek massage from me. She is also taking SSRI drugs and is under a doctor’s care.

    I noticed that her entire body felt like a tightly wound spring. It was a different sensation than tight muscles caused by injuries or exercise. I’m curious if her musculoskeletal tension caused her OCD symptoms, or vice versa.

    I’m curious it lots of folks with OCD get help from massage.

    Thanks for posting this.

    Barbara Helynn Heard

  8. HI! I think you are on my Facebook friends list! I have horrible OCD and sometimes it takes an hour for me to get out of the house…checking locks, lights, faucets doors lol…Being a massage therapist is the most soothing job I’ve ever had. I too, count strokes (especially if I’m doing a 2 hour session). If i am doing a deep tissue, i use my method for trigger point release in a pattern around the scaps etc, and people love that. Sometimes they want it done in a different way but that’s ok too. I agree with you! Massage Therapy is a great career for someone who suffers anxiety…

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