In general I don’t like routine appointments that require small talk. You’d think it’d be better to see the same person over and over, like maybe you’d get beyond just chatting, but I actually think it makes it worse. Probably because there’s this expectation that I’ll remember what we chatted about from one appointment to the next when honey, I’m just trying to make it through. Haircuts? Absolutely not – I made Kaitlyn learn how to cut mine. Getting your teeth cleaned? A necessary evil but don't even get me started.
Then there’s massages. It's an appointment with a stranger but there isn’t an expectation for conversation, the lights are dim, I can close my eyes, and all I have to do is lay there. I can handle that. And because I like a specific type of pressure, when I find somebody I like I tend to want to go back to them.
The main deterrent of course is the cost, but for our anniversary this past year, Kaitlyn got me a gift card to a place with a subscription plan. I went, loved the massage, and impulsively signed up. It's for my health! Self care! But with current economic times, it's been hard to justify the expensive monthly bill so I decided to simplify and cancel the subscription. To help get in sooner so I didn’t get charged for another month (because of course it had to be done in person), I signed up for a massage with someone new - just the next person who could get me in.
I went in for my appointment and it was all as expected. Massage therapists always have the same questions when you meet them for the first time – where do you want them to focus, are you experiencing any pain, and what do you do for work? When I met Jenny, that's exactly what she asked and I gave my normal answers – focus on my back, I carry my stress in my shoulders, I sit at a computer all day, and my posture sucks. There was the normal room exit where Jenny left and I frantically undressed as quickly as possible before making it to the safety of being under the bedsheet. I know they knock. I know they won’t come in without confirmation. But it still feels like an absolutely necessary precaution.
She came back in, I closed my eyes, relaxed, and enjoyed the just-right pressure (she passed the test).
At least I thought I was relaxed. About 15 minutes in as she was working on my right arm, she wiggled it a little bit before asking, “Are you okay?” It was an odd question. Was I too relaxed? Did she think I was asleep?
“Yeah, I’m fine,” I reassured her.
But her comment a minute later let me know she had thought just the opposite. “Relax,” she encouraged. I tried to tune into my arm – was I accidentally tensing? I didn’t feel like it. Try to be a limp noodle I told myself.
A minute later it was the same. “I feel like you’re trying to help me. Just relax.”
I checked in with myself again and tried to think if there was any tension I could let go of but I just felt normal.
“This is me relaxed,” I said finally, while also internally starting to panic. What do you want from me, Jenny?!
This isn’t the first time someone has commented on my tension. When one massage therapist was working on my arm she said with pure empathy, “Oh, you have so many knots!” Another stated, “You’re tense!” as he started in on my shoulders. I've always taken it as a form of validation – like, yes, that’s why I’m here. Please help. Even my friends have commented on me being tight and I’m convinced it’s the only reason I have any muscles. I’ve always just chalked it up to being an anxious bean.
But today it felt like more than that. Today I felt like there was something downright wrong with me, like I’m clearly the worst patient she’s ever worked on. Like I might have some undiagnosed condition that's causing this involuntary tension. Maybe I should webMD this when I get home.
I wish I could say her commentary ended after the first couple attempts but her urging to re-lax only became more earnest (though less frequent) for the next 40 minutes. And it became all I could think about. Am I meeting her relaxation expectations yet? How can I be more relaxed? Am I letting my head rest in her hands or still tensing my neck? Why can’t I tell what she wants? What does relaxation even feel like anyway? WHAT IF I’VE NEVER ACTUALLY BEEN RELAXED IN MY ENTIRE LIFE?
At one point she asked me randomly, “Is your name Kimberly or Kim?”
“Kim,” I said definitively.
“I was just trying to distract you, but your body knows what I’m doing,” she said.
We were well into the point where I thought we both could just resign ourselves to the fact that I’m a hopeless ball of stress when she said, “just melt into the table.” The words, Jenny. I think we can agree the words aren't working.
Turns out it was her final attempt because the next thing she said was, gloriously, “That concludes the massage.”
She left the room, I commenced the race to get my clothes on and braced myself for the conversation to come when I opened the door.
“How are you feeling?” she asked.
“Great,” I said, deciding the best course of action was to try to ignore what just happened and leave as quickly as possible.
“Wait! Before you go, I want to show you some stretches because you were really tense.”
You don’t say.
She proceeded to have me practice two stretches I’m very familiar with before saying emphatically, “Do those twice a day.”
“Yep. For sure.”
I left, relieved I already cancelled my subscription. Maybe I need to become one of those yoga people, I thought on the drive home, already thinking through if I can ever get a massage again. But...I already know I don't like yoga.
I turned to the next logical alternative.
“How do you feel about becoming a massage therapist?” I asked Kaitlyn when she got off work.
Immediately: “I don’t want to.”
It was worth a shot.