“Welcome to Massage School”
Talk about four words I never thought I’d hear. Since I was seven, all I’ve ever wanted to do is teach. I started volunteering in classrooms and tutoring when I was in high school, and by the time I was getting ready for college, I was anxious only for it to be over so I could get into the classroom again.
I’d find my “dream job:” the one I’d get, and be great at, and love it so much I’d only leave when they carried me out feet first. Of course, reality was somewhat different than my dreams, and over the last two decades, my career in education took some interesting turns. I worked with all age groups, in public and private schools, in the US and Germany, taught English, science, math, and social studies. I threw myself headlong into every opportunity, and had a wonderfully fulfilling professional life.
However, I was drawn to working with very high-needs students, and after several years of 70 hour work weeks, and neglect of my personal and emotional wellbeing, I burned out. The burnout happened gradually, so I was able to ignore it for a good deal of time. But because the body is a wondrous machine, it finally overrode my neglect and stopped me, dead in my tracks; I was literally immobilized by low back pain from a displaced sacrum.
While I never would have imagined leaving teaching, I must have seen it coming, because months before, I’d started asking questions when I went for massage that had more to do with the career, and less to do with my specific concern I was hoping to be addressed in the session. I looked around online to see what schools locally offered programs in massage therapy, as well as employment opportunities locally in the field.
The same week I made my final payment on the Masters’ degree that was required for me to teach and just after Christmas break had ended, I attended an open house at the local massage therapy school that seemed the best in the area, based on my research. I was immediately drawn to the emphasis on self-care, something that to me at that point had only meant eating well and working out; the idea of maintaining personal, emotional, and spiritual health had long since fallen by the wayside.
Little did I know how much of my life was going to change as a result of attending that open house. I researched more on the local schools, and found that the one I’d already visited was by far the best in the area. I attended their massage therapy exploration day, so I could see what an average day in their program would be like, to get a feel for the place, and to meet some of the instructors. I wound up being the demo body in one of the classes, and in a less than 15 minute session, the therapist/instructor relieved low back pain I’d been having constantly for months. In that moment, I knew I had already decided- but maybe hadn’t yet accepted the decision- that I would pursue a license in massage therapy.
Fast forward through a few months of almost daily contact with my admissions representative, and I was sitting cross-legged on the floor, in a large circle with my future classmates and some school staff, attending orientation for a full-time massage therapy program. I was excited, as I always am, at the prospect of learning something new, which was amplified by the idea that I’d be learning about the human body, this amazing machine that I’d lived in for four decades. I was a bit nervous, too; I’d just left a career with a great amount of security, benefits, retirement, and a good paycheck for the lifestyle I wanted. How would I get along without my students, whom I loved dearly? Would I make it as a massage therapist- would my body hold up to the physical challenge of it, and would I make enough money to support myself if it did? I had to spend a lot of time reminding myself how severe the downside of education had become for me, assuring myself that I was making the right choice.
At times, it was not an easy transition. However, I was soon to learn that many of my classmates had had rather similar journeys. Some had worked very physical jobs that wound up destroying their bodies, and here they were at massage school to learn how to heal others, but also themselves. Some had wanted to pursue this career for a very long time, and finally had the cards fall into place to make it happen. A few were there because loved ones were massage therapists, and they wound up wanting to become one, too. Some were young people just out of high school, pursuing their first career goals. Most of us had had a desire to be in this career, but had wound up with the opportunity to do so through some pretty unfortunate circumstances. A lot of us had gone through a pretty big hurt to get there, and most of us were a bit anxious about the “what if’s” of massage therapy. They had the same questions that I did about the viability of massage therapy as a career, and then some. What if I don’t make it through the sciences? What if I really am not very good at this—then what? Well, there we were, and not much to do but jump in head first. It was a huge leap of faith for many of us, but one we needed, whether we were ready for it or not.
Although I’d done a decent amount of research into my decision, orientation had my mind reeling. There were so many different modalities of massage; which one or ones would I be attracted to? The program afforded us some pretty interesting opportunities; we had the option of visiting the cadaver lab at the local medical college, we were required to do community service, which ranged from hospice to working with people who’d had traumatic brain injuries. Which one would I choose, and would I like it? The school staff honestly told us that day that a number of the people in the room would not make it through the program, for one reason or another; would that be me? Add those onto the nerves that come along with making such a severe career change at my age, my concern over being a student of the sciences, which requires precision, as opposed to the subjective, interpretational world of teaching English, and it was impossible for my mind to shut down, even for a minute. I could barely complete one thought before another darted into my mind.
As we were told that first day by the school staff, we have become a family, with all the good, the bad, and the ugly that implies. We get frustrated with each other, we support each other, we learn from each other, we heal one another, we love one another. Looking back on those first days, much of my anxiety has been relieved; now I worry about what will happen when I’m no longer in daily contact with my newfound massage family. And then I remember, it’s all part of the journey…