Saturday, November 23, 2013

Massage: Bitching and Moaning

My career is one based on giving of one's self. We spend an hour at a time with our clients. We base our entire treatment on the needs and desires of our clients. We customize each treatment to best fulfill the muscular needs with our client's comfort. We listen. We offer suggestion. We take what they tell us and create a game plan. When we walk back into that room, we execute our plan of action and hope, by the time we are done, that the person on our table is satisfied and in less pain or stress than they were when they entered the room. 
That's my job. I take a string of symptoms and sore spots and I work my clients over until their bodies feel better. That's what I do. 
That's what I love. I love what I do.
What makes my job difficult is legion. And each one of them is like a burr under my saddle. Each repeated irritation adds another nettle sting to the already irritated sore spot. And eventually I end up where I am now. I give every ounce of what I have to my clients every day. I put up with each little offense and never utter a single word.  But eventually that valve will blow.
I will never tell a client the things they do that annoy me. I will gently suggest they relax or let their bodies feel heavy. I will ask about pressure. I will strengthen or lessen my pressure based on their preference. I am never upset when someone tells me they need more or less pressure. However, certain circumstances make me grit my teeth.
There is some unspoken law regarding massage that makes clients think they have to have me bury my elbows in their spine in order to do any work. Some of my saddle sores are from statements like:
  1. "You can't hurt me." (Yes, I can, but that's not the point.)
  2. "Oh, I want DEEP." (They usually tell me to back off from my medium pressure.)
  3. "I get deep tissue all the time." (They then crawl all over the table, wince, flinch and won't tell me the pressure is too much, even when asked and coached as to what indicates too much pressure.)
There are "helpful" clients. They aren't always intentionally helpful, but their fingers are rigid. Their arms are straight at the elbow. If I were to let go of their arm, instead of dropping to the table, it would be held up in a goosestep salute. When I make a pass from the shoulder to the base of the skull, a client's head should roll loosely to the side. It shouldn't stay rigid in a neutral position. It shouldn't roll all the way to the side and then all the way back so the chin touches the shoulder. In no way should a client be actively moving their head for any of these motions. That's our job. That's what we do. If we need you to move, we either do it for you, or we ask you to move. My goal is to move you without you doing anything other than relaxing, focusing on your breathing and chilling out. If I lift your head, you don't have to pick it all the way up for me. If I lift the blanket to move your arm, you don't have to move it for me unless you have your hands folded up over your breasts and you are female. I won't go fishing under blankets near someone's breasts for their wrist. In that case, I will ask you for your arm. You definitely do not have to bend your leg at the knee when I move the pillow under your ankles. I've been kicked in the nose four separate times and had a few near misses. Once I even got a bloody nose because the client brought his feet up hard and fast. He clocked me square in the nose. I don't think he even knew he'd done it.
When you come in for a massage and your hair is pulled back in a ponytail, that's fine. You don't have to pull it down. If you do pull it down, pull your hair away from your shoulders and let it hang over the edge of the table. If you don't do these things, don't worry. I will do it for you. You don't have to lift your head. I promise. I have many years of experience with this.
If you could please remove your jewelery, especially if you are wearing a fine chain necklace, that is amazing. If you don't, no worries. I have experience working around it. If it's really in the way and I'm afraid I'll break it, I will ask you to remove it. If you need help putting removed jewelery back on, ask me. I will help you. So will the receptionist. No worries.
Our oils are expensive. They are formulated specifically for glide and absorption. This does not make them any better for your skin than most over the counter formulas. (Unless you're seeing an aesthetician. They have special formulations and cleansers.) Please drink plenty of water and use moisturizers for your skin. I have several clients who come in with sandpaper skin. I have to use triple the oil for them just so I can do my job. I pay for my own oils. My pay is reduced by the cost of the oil and supplies I use. You can get plain grapeseed oil in the drugstore. You can also find it in the cooking aisle. It's just as good for your skin as the cold press oil I use for massage. Here's a secret: if I run out of my pro-grade, I use the cooking variety. The glide is less and it gets sticky a little quicker, but it works in a pinch. Most normal moisture needs don't need glide. Glide is necessary for repeated motions of hands over skin, such as in a massage. When moisturizing, you rub until the oil is absorbed. It's really all the same thing. Granted, there are some therapists who use specialized oils that may be formulated to be better for the skin than my oil. Unless you bring your own oil, you don't know what you're going to get when you go in for a massage. I will never, never, NEVER tell you that your skin is dry or that it's eating my oil. EVER. I will never make you feel uncomfortable like that. Additionally, in the winter, most people's skin eats the oil. I spend more on oil in the fall and winter and early spring than I do the rest of the year. I have to use about twice the oil depending on the hydration and moisture levels of my clients. Some of y'all surprise me and I use WAY too much oil on the first pass. I will never get tired of this. I will most times grin broadly.
Feel free to bring your own oil. If you have something you like, we can work with it. Please bring in your own music. We get tired of listening to the same thing over and over again on repeat. Please.
Show up for your appointment. If you don't show up, please call. Please call with at least two hours in advance unless you blew a tire or someone had to go to the hospital or you're in a ditch somewhere. Then your priorities are on you and yours. I don't get paid if I don't have a paying client on my table for that hour. The more notice you can give me that you got called in to work, the more chance I have to rebook that appointment with someone else. If you completely forget, it would be an incredible gesture for you to phone in gratuity for me. Whatever you would have paid me after your massage. Standard tipping is 20% of your bill. Even if it's only five dollars, it is a gesture greatly appreciated.
Then there are things that come with working in a business with other therapists. I don't know why this bothers me, but it does. I will get a client on my table. They tell me I did a great job. They sometimes say it's the best massage they've ever gotten. They refer their son, their daughter and their hairdresser to me. Then they get on the schedule with another therapist. Repeatedly. And request them. I've lost several clients to another therapist I consider a friend. While I'm glad she's booking... I'm disappointed to have lost that business. Did I offend? Did I stop doing the job they wanted? Did I talk too much? Too little? I have the exact same schedule as that other therapist. Why would they go somewhere else if I'm the best they've had?
I understand the clients belong to the business, but I would really like to book at the higher rate. I would really like to have a steady, repeat clientele that I don't have to learn their body, make notes and never see them again. I like to be able to walk into the room, look at my client, call them by name and ask if we're doing anything different today. Meaning I know exactly what they want. Without them telling me. I know where their trouble spots are and all their health concerns.
Speaking of health concerns: I cannot stress enough that you need to disclose your medical history. If you have leukemia, even if it is in remission, we need to know that. If you have diabetes. We need to know. Congestive heart failure. Hell yes. Have doctor diagnosed sciatica or fibromyalgia. Yes. Please. Ringworm? Tell us that on the phone before you come in so we can tell you to get that shit treated before you come in because you'll have wasted the trip to the clinic and I will have to burn my sheets. I'm not even kidding. I will literally have to burn the sheets because ringworm is that frigging contagious and I cannot work if I have it. Pink eye? Same deal minus burning the sheets. SARS? Should be a no brainer. Shingles we cannot work on if you have blisters. Even if it's something you think inconsequential, let us know. Any recent surgeries. Scars sensitive to the touch.
On a similar note: if you have areas you want to have focus on or if there is an area bothering you, please tell us. We want to work out those painful spots. Please be open to our suggestion. If you have a headache, massaging your scalp might feel good, but it's not the root cause. Most of the time the pain is in the neck, the attachments at the base of the skull, your shoulders and between your shoulderblades. Yes, all those areas need worked. In the case of one client I worked on for over a year before I figured it out, sometimes your headaches are in your gluts. Yes, your gluts are your butt cheeks. Yes we do massage that. No we're not being perverts. There are big muscles there that move the thigh and yes you do need those worked on.
We always say undress down to your comfort level. I have had clients wear tee shirts and yoga pants while on the table. It is incredibly unwieldy to work around. While it saves me oil, you don't really get the same benefit from the massage as you would with hand to skin contact. I can't quite feel the trouble areas as well through clothes. I will absolutely never tell you that you need to undress further. However, there are benefits to undressing. I will not judge your body. I don't care that you haven't shaved your legs. Or your armpits. Or your stomach. I don't care that you have blemishes or that your feet stink. I do, too. I don't care that you came from the gym. That your palms sweat. That your legs sweat. I can use the sheet to dry them so the oil can penetrate the skin. I don't care that you have dry skin and it rolls off as I work on you. I don't care that your sunburn peeled off your shoulders on my table. My hands exfoliate. I don't care if you're hairy. I'l just use more oil. I don't care if you're fat or thin. Black, white, Indian, Hispanic, any form of Asian. I don't care if you speak broken English as long as we can get across to one another what hurts and if the pressure is too much or too little. I don't care if you're old. I don't care if you have extra skin. I don't care if you have wrinkles or stretch marks or haven't washed your hair in three days. I don't care. I don't. I promise.
Who the hell am I to judge you?
I want you to come into my room. I want you to cast off your self-judgements. Tell me exactly what you want. Be selfish. This is your time. This is when you look at another person and say "I need". And it's okay. Because that's what I'm there for. "I need my back and shoulders to stop hurting." Done. "I need this headache to go away." I can help with that. "I need a million dollars and a pony." Unfortunately, there are some limits to my skills and this is one of them.
If you want to talk to me, awesome. Start a conversation. Keep it going if you want to. If you don't want to talk, just tell me you only want to relax. I can do that. I'll do whatever I can do within the professional boundaries of massage therapy to make you feel better. I promise.
Don't fight against me. If the pressure makes you want to tense, flinch, pull away... say so. Tell me to back it down a little bit. You won't hurt my feelings. You're not going to make me hate you. I don't want you to lay there and suffer. If you need less pressure in your right shoulder, but more pressure in the left and the neck is light pressure but your arms need deep, TELL ME. I want you to get whatever I can give you out of your massage. Do not lay there and make me guess. If you flinch, I will ask about pressure. If I see it. If your shoulder is coming up off the table and you're holding it in the air and I have to fight against your muscle, I'm going to recommend we drop back the pressure. If I have to fight you, not only am I hurting myself, I'm also not doing your muscles any favors. I can't get to the deeper tissues if the surface tissue is tight to protect you against too much pressure. Not to mention you're going to feel like I ran over you with a truck. I don't get off on hurting people. I don't want to make you feel worse tomorrow than you did when you came in today.
My job has had a lot of people complaining. About everything. Most at the administrator who happens to be my girlfriend. She gets sick of arguing with us over what we bitch about.
We bitch when we don't book. We bitch when we do. We bitch when we have to do deep pressure. We bitch when we have to do relaxation. We bitch when we get clients who we find difficult to work on. I have one client that keeps coming to me that I SWEAR hates my massage. Every time I've seen him on my schedule, I wonder out loud why. There are clients whom have never actually done anything I could qualify as crossing a line into perv territory, but they dance right the hell around that line. Couples massages are done in a tiny, cramped room that is always a million degrees hotter in the winter and colder in the summer. Reflexology makes my hands hurt. Prenatal massage is boring and awkward.
I have hit a point (and this is what I've been trying to get at from the beginning) where I am incredibly negative and irritated that I have to, you know, do my job. I get mad that clients schedule with other therapists. I get angry that they fight me. That I have to physically restrain their head to do my job without them pinching my hand between their chin and their shoulder. I have to fight them to relax and end up hurting myself in the process.
I love my job, but the little things are bothering me. I need time off, but I can't afford it. I don't get paid vacation or insurance.
All I do is complain. All the time. And it annoys the hell out of me. Especially when I bitch that other people are bitching and that they shouldn't be bitching and then bitch about the same things myself.
I think I need institutionalized.