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

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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.

Self-Care, Ad Nauseam

The insolent child residing in my Taurean psyche cries out for respite. For almost ten years now – the entire length of my career as a massage therapist and aspiring spa raconteur — I have tolerated eye-glazing navel-gazing, ill-fitting purple prose yoga pants, and the Gospel of Icy Forearm Plunges. I have been bludgeoned by double jointed, rainstick-wielding, world-saving pseudo-heroism, and have resisted the colloidal silver crush of well-ahem-meaning know-it-alls to the point of exhaustion in all its myriad forms.

Enough with this implied insufficiency, I say! It’s time for my hacker, slacker, workaholic ass to embrace the reality of what always was and always has been: I am not enlightened, nor do I strive to become so. (On the hush-hush, I’m also not so sure that you’re as enlightened as you believe you’d like to be.) I do not aspire to be the sage of mediocre memes, or a lululemon majority shareholder. I am less likely to be found prostrate on a yoga mat than I am to be found doubled over on the porcelain throne, smartphone in one hand, head in the other. Oh! And I rarely stretch.

I juice when I feel like it, and naproxen sodium is my friend. Sometimes I visit Chinatown, where I enjoy the occasional $25 “foot reflexology” service while the employees answer their phones mid-treatment and speak loudly in a dialect I haven’t a Buddhist prayer of comprehending. I don’t always buy local, organic, or free range, and I can’t wait for the glutinous gourmet donut shop to open one block away from my office. I no longer live in an “historic” fixer upper house in an “artistic” fixer upper neighborhood, and – gasp! – I drive my petrol-powered car around town every fucking day.

Fellow Young Thumb Ari and I get our self-care on over shaved ice at the Korean spa. Imperial Spa, Las Vegas, November 2013.

Fellow Young Thumb Ari and I get our self-care on over shaved ice at the Korean spa. Imperial Spa, Las Vegas, November 2013.

My internal dialogues are some of the most exhausting conversations I’ve had to date. When my cranial playground gets too cluttered for my own good, I like to hang out with friends in real life, and to cut back on virtual activities of an addictive nature. I don’t have time to waste on boring. I believe drama to be a masturbatory tool for the lost.

Given my current work/school/life/stress schedule, I make it a point to see my massage therapist every other week for at least 90 minutes a pop, and sometimes much longer. During our sessions, we discuss the appropriate and the inappropriate in equal measure. We hang out outside of the treatment room, and have become great friends. Like, irreplaceably super great friends.

My house looks fantastic when clean, but this catharsis occurs with an unenlightened judgment-laden infrequency (usually only in preparation for overnight visitors with a knack for providing advance notice, or when I host a dinner party, which doesn’t happen much anymore, due to time reallocation and whatnot). Also, I am a crafting, snacking, laptopping slob.

Upon my impending graduation from nail school, I will learn to play new wave hits on the theremin. However, until these glorious events take place, I will continue to get out of bed, write, love, eat, poop, laugh, and appreciate every big-little thing that my lovelies bring to this absurd little corner of the universe — whether swaddled in Spandex tight pants or not.

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Andrea Lipomi is a licensed massage therapist and esthetician who lives and works in Las Vegas, Nevada. She also peddles massage therapy ebooks and NCBTMB-approved continuing education courses at ConfidentMassage.com, will travel hundreds of miles for a fantastic spa experience, and craves dark chocolate and Depeche Mode’s upcoming tour dates on an almost daily basis.