The Other Side of the Table

One MT helps clients and herself through massage

By Carrie Jones

I wake up from my night job about 6:30 every morning to start my day (I renamed “sleeping” to “night job” a few years ago when sleeping started to feel more like work). I don’t just pop out of bed, though. I lie there for at least 10 minutes while I give myself a small pep talk: “You can do this; just put one foot in front of the other. On the count of three … go!” A minute goes by. “Seriously, this time on the count of three … go!”

Now, I am sitting on the edge of the bed. What a massive accomplishment. One foot down, two feet down, and I am ready for takeoff—just a little slower. The small journey to the stairs gives me enough time for my second pep talk of the day: “Just take it slowly; hold on to the rail.”
Living in chronic pain turns even the smallest tasks into victories. Getting out of bed is victory number one. Getting the kids off to school is victory number two. My next victory will be a shower.

A better practitioner
Chronic pain isn’t something everyone can see. In fact, sometimes I wish people could see the pain. As a massage therapist and someone who suffers from pain, I see both sides of the coin. I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia three years ago. I used to think of fibromyalgia as a box that doctors simply put their patients into when they got tired of listening to their complaints. But for the past three years, I too have been complaining daily of some sort of pain, dizziness, memory problems, fatigue, weakness—the list goes on. I have a new respect for people who live with invisible pain.
Since my diagnosis, I have become a better therapist … because I live in pain. I massage my clients as if I were the one receiving the massage. I care for them in the same way that I want to be cared for, too. I hear their complaints every week as if they are new, because sometimes they are new, and even though they tell loved ones of their pain, their loved ones get to forget. My clients don’t have that luxury. They never get to forget.

I need a massage
I have four massage clients today—a typical day that I feel good about. I see an array of people in my massage practice, ranging from those who just want to relax, to those who need specific muscle work, to those who can’t live without seeing me every week.
People often ask me how I do it: “Don’t your hands get sore?” One afternoon after a massage, a client said she wished she could receive a massage every week. When I told her I have several clients who do just that, she was shocked and followed up with the inferential question, “How do you handle working on people who complain all the time?”
I’d never thought of it like that, but after she asked me, the wheels started turning in my mind. I asked a few of my weekly clients if they still needed their weekly visits. I wanted to be fair, and let them know I could refer them to someone who might offer something I couldn’t. Every one of them looked at me as if I was crazy.
Their reactions made me realize it’s perfectly fine to get a massage “just because.” Too often, we feel like we have to justify taking care of our health. Too often, we feel like we need a “reason” to get a massage: “I’m getting a massage because I hurt my back.” “I’ve been so stressed lately … I need a massage.”
The truth is, I—and many of my clients—receive frequent massage because for one hour every week, we get to feel really good … and that’s enough. I know I can’t be fixed. Trust me, I’ve tried everything. But with massage, I have an hour where pain is not my focus.
In the past few weeks, I have come to realize the importance of massage and massage therapists more than ever before. Before my diagnosis, I knew I was touching lives and making people feel better—I went into this profession just as much for myself as I did to help others, and I love the way I feel when being able to offer people the benefits of such beautiful work. But these days, I listen to my chronic pain clients a little more. I hear them tell me the same things over and over every week, and I hear it as though it is their first time telling it. Because sometimes it is the first time, and sometimes, they just need someone to really hear them.
I don’t just hear them—I feel their pain. I won’t forget their pain when they leave, either. I, too, take it with me, and I, too, don’t get to forget.

Carrie Jones is a licensed massage therapist and internationally certified neuromuscular therapist.