Dropping The Banhammer

 

Bob* was in his 60s. Southern accent. Tall and not a slight dude (from what I could ascertain upon our face-to-face meeting, as he was fully clothed).

Bob sat down in the reception area of my office, grasping the clipboarded intake form but not yet filling it out. His words came at me in rapid-fire progression.

“Now I get massages every week back home. Can I just use a towel to cover my midsection?” (I use bath towels instead of flat top sheets anyway, but the asking of this question raised a bright orange flag…or maybe it was pink. Fuchsia? Anyway, internal eye roll. Resume transmission.)

“OK, I booked a ninety minute service today, but I need at least thirty minutes of massage on my lower abdomen.”

 

SCCCRRRRREEEEEEEEEEECHHHH.

 

“I’m sorry Bob. I don’t do abdominal massage here.”

“Why not?! It’s the only way I can relax.”

“It’s my policy, no exceptions. I totally understand if you want to go elsewhere.” I ready myself to rise from my desk and escort him out of my office, but this guy is persistent. (Please forgive the bombardment of non sequiturs I’m about to lob your way, but this was my life last week.)

“I’ve been so stressed at work. I run six companies.” He pulls out his phone, points the screen in my direction and starts scrolling through photos of what I’m to assume are his crew and their work trucks.

“I got divorced in the ‘90s but I’ve been with my girlfriend for years. I’m leaving my business to her when I die.”

“I’m telling you this stuff so you’ll know some things about me.”

“I have two phones.”

“You really won’t do abdominal massage? How long have you been doing this?”

“You really won’t do abdominal massage? I don’t know what kind of massage you think I’m looking for.”

“You really won’t do abdominal massage? But I want to come in tomorrow and the next day too.”

“If you don’t do abdominal massage, what do you do?”

“When I was a little boy my mother would give me abdominal massages. It was the only way I could fall asleep.” (Mommy! An unexpected twist!)

“I’ll make it worth your time.”

“I’ll tip you really well.”

“One hundred dollars.”

“One time I was working with my crew in the woods and we got infested with ticks. I had to shave off all of my pubic hair but I didn’t realize I had to keep shaving it.” (This marked the turning point for me. Parasitic infections of the groin are not my area of expertise, and for good reason.)

“Bob, yeah, I’m not going to be able to help you.” I got up, keeping an eye on him, and made my way to the door. Still facing him I turned the knob and held the door ajar so he could exit. He did, but not before handing me his business card.

“In case you change your mind.”

“Bob, that’s not going to happen.”

Then I noticed that he had cleverly left his phone on my desk, so I exclaimed “Oh! Here’s your phone!” The last thing I needed was more alone time, here, with him.

I came to realize, partway through the convo, that Bob had called me several weeks prior from a different number (two phones!). During that phone call he wanted me to work “overtime” for “a really good tip” of “one hundred dollars” “if [my] husband didn’t mind”. Unfortunately for Bob, I was “booked”.

Adding to the absurdity was this: His persistence was completely unnecessary. In Vegas (as is true in many cities), you have so many happy ending options at your disposal you can’t throw a dead cat without hitting a rub and tug or rash for cash. I mean, Craigslist will bring the lower abdominal massage to you at no extra charge! (The explanation I’m going with is that some folks find my combination of profuse anxiety sweating and groundbreaking bathroom humor utterly irresistible.)

As a rejected Bob walked out the door and down the hall, I was prouder of myself than I had been in a really long time. Like a lot of massage therapists (or humans, even), in the past I’ve worked on people I should’ve fired five minutes into meeting them. Messed-up, battle-scarred people looking for a metaphorical punching bag. People who just make you feel shitty.

And I’m over it.

Call Mommy and have her pick you up.

End transmission.

 

*Not his real name.

Transition

This is a guest post from our friend Michelle Giles, a Phoenix, Arizona based massage therapist and continuing education provider. You can learn more about Michelle here

***

You are a well-oiled machine. Body mechanics spot on. You’ve learned exotic massage techniques from all over the world.  You use many interesting products. Your sacred work space is beautiful. You love your clients. After 10 years you’ve hit your professional stride…or was that a wall?…made of bricks.  

Wait. How many treatments have you been doing a day? Between six and eight. Are you taking breaks in between sessions? Very few, with clients stacked back to back. Since school ended you have been striving, building, advertising, networking and flexing your boundaries and schedule to accommodate clients, never considering how this might impact your body. After all — you love what you do. 

I injured my right arm, shoulder and chest wall simultaneously last January. I didn’t feel it coming — no aches, no warning shot, nothing overtly physical. The signs were there. Subtle things. Things that can be mistaken for general fatigue; a neck ache, headache, or malaise that drifts into life from time to time. It’s easy to get lulled into a feeling of comfort when business is great. It’s also easy to get lazy with self care when you feel good and nothing hurts. 

I tried slowing down, putting more space between clients, getting acupuncture and physical therapy. After a few weeks of that routine, the reality of the situation weighed heavily on me. I was really hurt. Not “get a massage, take a few days and sleep it off” hurt, but “out of commission” hurt. Stubbornly, I still saw a few clients a day for another week. I refused to acknowledge that I was hurt — after all, I had worked so hard to build this. Then a miracle arrived disguised as a disaster — my landlord sold my studio out from under me. I lost my office and was forced to take a break. It was the best thing that could have happened to me.

Once home, I did some research. I read articles about injury and professional burnout.  One fact stood out from the rest: “The burnout rate within the massage industry has been estimated at 50% to 88% within the first 3 to 5 years after graduation according to a study completed by Associated Bodywork and Massage Professionals, a reputable industry organization.” I am not sure how many of us know and absorb that statistic. I have been a full time massage therapist for 15 years, and had no idea it was that high. 

I was depressed for about a week, alternately sleeping and crying.  An MRI revealed severe tendinosis and RSI injuries surrounding the area, and it would take between one and 5 years to heal completely. My PT was very honest with me — no amount of therapy could help at this stage. I felt frenzied, I wanted to will it better with salves and treatments. The simple truth was rest and accept.

Looking for gifts within life’s challenges is tough. My mind wanted to ruminate on loss. I made the conscious choice to use this time to reinvent and rethink my entire approach.  Epiphany: I was in the next stage of my career. I was fortunate enough to be able to take seven months off. This is what I did with that time:

  • Sold most of my belongings from my old office to create a new environment
  • Designed a 200 square foot massage office in the garage behind my house
  • Designed and built (enter my husband’s building skills) 8 large wooden planter boxes to grow herb and plants to make infused oils and salves. Also functions as a courtyard space to separate work and home
  • Learned to use Himalayan salt stones instead of hot stones
  • Learned to use Chinese cups and gua sha tools
  • Bought a product called Armaid to begin rehabbing my arm
  • Learned how to foam roll and use racquet balls for self care
  • Applied for and received my continuing education provider number enabling me to teach continuing education classes out of my new space
  • Learned how to create my own scrubs, soaks, lotions, lip balms and deodorant
  • Created my own website with the free ABMP tool (simplistic, but great)
  • Rested, stretched, soaked, and focused on my new self care needs

I had emailed my client list when I began my sabbatical, emailed them again when the office was done, then emailed a small group of regulars to let them know I was coming back in July…slowly. I began by taking one client a day a few days a week for a month. Then two clients a day a few days a week for two months. After two months, I emailed the rest of my clients announcing I was back to work. It has been seven month since I have been back.  I only see three clients a day. I schedule morning, afternoon and evening- leaving hours in between each. No compromises. My clients have loved the new modalities, the fresh space, and knowing no one is stacked right after them. They take their time, and so do I. What a change. My patience and new approach has paid off, and last week I realized my arm doesn’t hurt at all anymore. I will never return to my old way of doing business; it was outmoded.

Professional transition is inevitable. As our bodies age and change, so should our approach. Self care, exercise and diet need also change as we do. What worked in the beginning of our careers won’t always work. 

Injury is a great teacher.