Unhappy Anniversary

Last Sunday was my 28th anniversary as a bodyworker. I am using that term instead of massage therapist because my first technique was Reiki, a form of energy medicine akin to “laying on of hands”. That initial inquiry into the alternative healing arts led me to courses in Swedish-Esalen massage, which I completed at The McKinnon Institute in November, 1992.  From those first two certifications, I continued to develop my skill set acquiring thousands of hours of continuing education in manual therapies. I’ve been fortunate to study with some of the finest teachers in the world: Tom Myers, Carol Osborn, Bruno Chikly, and John Barnes to name just a few.

Over my almost three decades in this career, I’ve worked in various environments: an outpatient orthopedic rehab, in a sweet and cozy yoga studio, in chiropractic clinics, and on-site in people’s homes. I’ve taught community service/adult education classes on how to give yourself a great massage for a California community college, and I’ve provided my services for some of San Francisco’s largest technology firms, including Uber, Disqus, and a two-year stint at Twitter’s corporate headquarters. 

Although dual relationships are not recommended in my profession, some of my closest friends were massage therapy customers first. Once, without intending to do so, I introduced two of my clients to each other. After an initial long-distance courtship, they eventually married; I served as the officiant at their wedding.

I’ve provided massage for newborns and centenarians, ironman triathletes, and people with terminal illnesses. I’ve loved this career, one that most practitioners will leave before they mark seven years in the field. And while I did step back from full time clinical practice to teach high school theater arts for two years, my hands and elbows and forearms, my therapeutic tools, have never stopped working. 

But, I’ve been forced to shutter my practice. As the coronavirus pandemic sweeps across the globe, my work has been affected in ways that I never anticipated. In my high-contact career, it’s just not possible to socially distance; I literally touch people for a living. The financial devastation that will hit my practice has brought me to tears several times since the March 17th launch of shelter in place, and I truly don’t know when I will be able to return to work. I am slowly going broke, as are a few billion other people on this big beautiful planet. 

But what hurts the most these days is the separation from my hands-on work. Providing therapeutic massage is soothing for my neurodivergent brain. I have a formal diagnosis of ADHD, bestowed upon me by a brilliant MD PhD psychiatrist/psychopharmacologist. Unmedicated, I tend to be highly distractible and scattered in my thinking, jumping from project to project like a mountain goat hopping rocks. Yet in my career, I am extremely focused, even without my Adderall. I only have one task, to alleviate my client’s pain and soft-tissue dysfunction, and I get to undertake this project in a tiny, quiet, dark room with gentle music. 

My work is also physically exhausting which helps immensely with my ADHD. One of the best ways for me to feel better mentally is to present my body with intense physical activity. This is one of the reasons why my favorite methods are orthopedic manual therapy and scar mobilization, two of the most taxing hands-on practices. Many of my clients come to see me for treatments that can hurt like bloody hell during the session, but provide ongoing relief from conditions like adhesive capsulitis (frozen shoulder) or high hamstring tendonitis. It’s kind of a win-win, with both me and my client feeling better after a session. Add in my touch->color and mirror-sensory synaesthesias and one can easily understand why I’ve found such a sense of place and personal fulfillment in my massage therapy career.

My heart is heavy these days and I’m psychologically frazzled. I’m on an ADHD bender, which I like to call “full squirrel mode”, as I pivot from small household chores without completing most of them. I’m too worked up to take my meds; Adderall can increase my anxiety, and that’s about the last thing I need in this incredibly difficult time. It also can worsen my Tourette syndrome, which has been awakened by my existential fear and panic. And my hands are unhappy. They like to be busy, in a strength challenging, full range of motion, sore at the end of the day sort of way.

I did not practice massage therapy on my work anniversary. At the start of the new year, I thought about this milestone much, imagining the joy and satisfaction I would feel on March 29th as I shared this special day with my regular Sunday night clients, a family I’ve known for a dozen years. Instead, I made sourdough bread from a starter culture offered in a post on nextdoor.com. It’s been years since I’ve baked with this level of intensity, and the kneading of the dough brought some focus and relief. I’m really pleased with the way this first loaf turned out, and I’ve been sharing my starter with neighbors and friends, doing my best to uphold the recommended six feet of social distance. I even named my culture—as was suggested for best results—honoring the idea that the wild yeast colony living in a glass jar in my kitchen deserves to be acknowledged as a respected entity. 

Over the next few months Jon Dough and I will get to know each other quite well. I expect much from them; companionship, sustenance, and recreation. But, I also want Jon Dough to help nurture my hard-working hands. It’s a big ask. I have faith that the care tasks that Jon Dough requires…feeding, keeping them warm, tending to their ongoing fermentation, and kneading their floury mass into bread loaves…will bring me some peace. I’m also hoping the aroma of fresh baked sourdough will soothe my divergent brain, if only for a few hours each time I place my LeCreuset into the hot oven. It may not be the same sense of calm I get from my full-time massage practice, but it’s what I have right now. 

Homemade Sourdough Bread
My very first loaf of homemade sourdough bread, courtesy of my starter culture, Jon Dough.