Set Me Free

Plotchment at Karijini National Park, Western Australia, enjoying some relaxation.

I’ve been living with chronic pain for 26 years and I’ve tried just about everything. A car accident at some speed caused ‘moderate’ whip lash, with a twist which seems to have impacted on the outcomes quite significantly. I was on the disability support pension for a year with intensive physio throughout and I spent much of my time flat out on the floor! Early on it became clear that massage was one of the best therapies available: delivering maximum benefits for my time and money compared to alternatives. These days I still go to a physio, I’ve used Pilates machines with some benefit. I walk, I garden, I do yoga, I meditate. I try to manage my stress and I get regular massages but I’ve been masseuse shopping over the years because many are not hearing what I need from them.

Too often I’ve gone to a new masseuse and they want to offer me a stretch. Are you kidding?! Were you listening? This doesn’t reduce my stress, it increases it because I’ve seen it all before! I do stretches all the time, every day. Repeatedly. Sometimes I feel like all I do is stretch and accommodate my body’s increasingly demanding needs. I spend my days keeping my body going with yoga (i.e. stretches! And strengthening), and with walking, gardening and so on to keep my body moving. I spend my weekends recovering from the working week so I can do it all again the next week.

When I go for a massage I don’t want counselling with it either. Or acupuncture. Or aromatherapy. Or naturopathy. Or reiki. Or stretching lessons – did I mention that?! – or whatever else it is that you’re enamoured with.

I get that you’ve probably been trained to treat the ‘whole person’, and that’s great because treating one aspect isn’t as effective, but listen to me when I present and tell you everything I already do. I’ve told you that I already have all these strategies – listen to me, because I haven’t heard a new strategy in a really long time.

What I need from you is a relaxation experience with remedial elements. I want to feel my muscles relax and luxuriate. I want my shoulders to fall down from my ears! I want my key notes to be eased and I want my muscles to melt, for my mind to roam free – or even better to rest – without anyone else’s agenda redirecting it. And that means that I don’t want to hear about any other strategy, not before, during, or after my massage.

If you have other therapies or interventions or modalities, then leave a brochure or a poster on display and if I’m interested I’ll read about it. In my own time. In my own way. Not when I’m with you for a massage and I want to just relax and let my mind be settled to maximise the benefits of your massage.

I want warmth, a little music, some scent or the trickling of a water fountain, sure, but most of all I want peace. Quiet. Release.

You don’t get to be a detective, teasing out my issues and personal situation while I’m face down, semi-naked and vulnerable. If I want to discuss my issues I’ll go to my psychologist!

As for the predictable inquiry ‘what have you done (or not done) to bring about this or that acute pain’, let’s just agree that it is what it is, and move on. Half the time I don’t know what caused it and the other half of the time it was something infuriatingly small and mundane; something ‘normal’ people wouldn’t fathom as a cause of pain. It doesn’t help much to identify it when it’s something necessary to my livelihood or intrinsic to daily modern life. And an incredulous massage practitioner is more common than I’d like. It’s bad enough dealing with an incredulous person-on-the-street without dealing with a practitioner who seems to think that these symptoms should be gone; that their type of therapy should have solved this by now. That simply isn’t the case for many, many people. In many cases, massage, like other modalities I’ve mentioned here, might be a tool in a person’s management kit, but it’s not a forever cure.

So, dear masseuse, I do hugely value your skills and your contribution to my wellbeing. And I want you to recognise that no matter how good your intentions are, your stretches, your talk-therapy, they don’t even touch the sides of what I need. And, if I do use these other techniques, I do so via other avenues, other practitioners, other classes.

Please don’t misunderstand, massage is one of the best tools I’ve found to manage chronic pain. I wouldn’t be without it. What I really want is for you to value it as highly as I do. Stop offering me other therapies when all I want from you is the best therapeutic, relaxing massage you can give. I want your massage to be my pathway to deep relaxation and much needed peace and calm in the quicksand of chronic pain.

© Palitja Moore, text, 2019. N Moore, image, 2019.

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