What Massage Isn’t: An Abridged Q&A Guide

I’m lucky. I like my job.

If I’m being honest, I chose massage therapy because it seemed easy. Previously I’d been a freelance copywriter, a job that, while creatively fulfilling, led to incessant headaches like interminable conference calls with uptight creative directors about “words for new that aren’t new” and deadlines that always seemed to be two days sooner than reasonable. Also, the periods of terrifying silence following a job, when the next gig could come by the afternoon or could come a month after eviction and starvation, made life itself a ping-pong game between an ulcer and a migraine.

But, out of terror breeds necessity, so I found myself quickly evaluating possible career options for a move towards something more manageable, if equally financially pathetic.

Massage therapy solved a few problems. At the time I started school, it was a rapidly growing industry, providing a handful of somewhat steady opportunities between franchise spas, health clubs, and no fault massages provided by PTs and chiropractors. It also was a job where conversation was not mandatory. Having a client face-down in a face cradle almost guarantees at least 45 minutes of quiet time for me to zone out and ponder the deep thoughts such as why is it called a ‘TV set’ when there’s only one and do fish ever get thirsty.

I haven’t been doing it for all that long, but there are a few common questions that I figured I could get out of the way by answering from behind the screen of the Internet, where it could possibly be picked up by a search engine and therefore cure a few of my headaches before they start.

“Can massage help with my allergies/gluten intolerance/psoriasis/incontinence/erectile dysfunction?”

No. Additionally, shut-up.

I completely understand how sometimes ailments can make life confusing and unbearable. Nobody wants IBS or a rash or ovarian cysts. But I’m not a doctor, and massage isn’t magic or medicine. Be reasonable.

Massage evolved from human grooming back in the primate social system, and it isn’t scientifically proven to do more than make us feel good. For most people, touch is nice. Sensory input can help retrain the brain, sure. But massage with oil or lotion and a Native American flute soundtrack won’t fix the fact that you shit your brains out when you eat ice cream, or sneeze when it’s hay fever season. If you want to feel better, chances are you’ll need medicine…and for that you need to see an MD. There’s a reason why massage isn’t more than a tertiary insurance throw-in, and why cigarette-smoking amateur strippers who think that twins take 18 months to be born enroll in massage colleges.

Also, you’re not gluten intolerant

“Should I go see a chiropractor?”

I’m not one to rule out chiropractic. I’ve met an equal split of woo-peddling chiro nutjobs and level-headed, responsible DCs. But, in general, I’m not going to tell you to go ahead and seek out a high-velocity adjustment in lieu of a doctor or structural integrator, depending on the complaint.

The two sides to the chiropractic coin are traditionally-minded ones who believe that subluxations are the basis of all disease, and more modern-skewing chiros who are less rigid in their view of the spine being the literal and figurative backbone of every ailment. If you find a chiropractor that you trust, whose bedside manner is that of compassion, and who is devoid of the arrogant steamrolling that many alternative medicine practitioners wield, then I say give it a shot. But if you’re seeking out a HVLA whip-snap of your neck in the hopes of getting rid of your backache, just know that you’re risking a stroke or brain-stem injury at worst, and blowing a bunch of money at best.

Again, I’m no doctor, and I’m not going to dissuade anyone out of using a method that helps them to find relief, may it be chiropractic or chakra alignment chanting. At the same time, I’m never going to recommend a chiropractor for a client who I believe should seek out actual MD advice.

“I have sciatica…” (Close runners up: “I have a herniated disc…” and “I have carpal tunnel…”)

STOP LOOKING AT WEBMD FOR MEDICAL ADVICE.

Better yet, stop thinking that you know what’s wrong. Whether it’s the fact that you’re calling pain in your hip sciatica or a pain in your wrist as carpal tunnel, you don’t know what’s actually amiss unless you’ve been diagnosed by a medical professional. If you come in to see me for MFR or massage and you begin by telling me that you have a herniated disc, but it doesn’t say so in your file, and you’re not presenting me with an MRI, I can’t believe you. It’s not that you don’t seem honest, it’s just that I can’t treat a problem that’s just a guess.

Most of the time, regardless of the client’s complaint (or if they even have one) I treat what I find. Sure, if you say your hamstrings hurt, I’ll definitely give them a little extra attention, but chances are I’m going to spend more time trying to relieve the density, trigger points, or movement restrictions I find as I go along. Unless you’re giving me an actual diagnosis – from a doctor – your guess is literally as good as mine. You may be feeling the sensations in your body, but I can nearly equally assess what’s there from an objective standpoint.

That’s not to say I don’t welcome your feedback or guidance – I do, wholeheartedly, as it helps me give you both what you need as well as what you want – but don’t go all House on me and tell me what you think is wrong. (Chances are it’s not Lupus.)

“Do you do Reiki?”

No. And also, go fuck yourself.

Okay, that’s harsh. Go reiki yourself.

Reiki, or ‘energy work,’ is one of those feel-good ideas that many ‘holistic health’ enthusiasts and alt med practitioners claim to employ. The Flavor Aid that it’s telling you to drink is basically faith healing, the idea of channeling invisible energy, either through a series of symbols or just basic touch, in order to heal the body and the mind. It’s the purest form of woo and bullshit, in my opinion, and I can speak with some authority, as I attended a Reiki Level 1 certification some years ago just out of sheer curiosity. What it was turned out to be the loss of a Saturday and $150. I don’t recommend reiki for anything other than an eye-rolling exercise, the same way I wouldn’t recommend a Ouija board in place of a telephone.

In principle, I can understand how, in desperation, either as a result of emotional pain or physical discomfort, there’s an appeal to the idea that some sort of channeling of energy by a so-called master could be helpful. What is faith but the belief in that which cannot be seen? So if you find yourself drawn to the magical, hands-off realm of reiki, knock yourself out. Again, I’m not one to discourage people from seeking their own form of relief. But if you’re suffering from an actual illness, injury, or series of symptoms, go to a fucking doctor. Not a massage therapist, not an acupuncturist, and certainly not a chicanery wizard claiming to be a master of hands-off magical cures.

“Sometimes I foam roll at the gym, that’s good, right?”

Hmmm. At the risk of repeating myself, I’m not going to tell you not to do something that makes you feel better in your body or your brain. But, at the same time, I’ve read over quite a few compelling theories as to why it doesn’t work, enough that they’ve kept me from wobbling on a piece of hard styrofoam in the hopes of assuaging my muscular tension.  Of course, there are other left-brainers who are less definitively convinced that foam rolling is a waste of time. 

The way I see it, as with most things, I’m not going to tell a client to do something because it “100%” works. Even if something works for me (like thesedon’t ask) that doesn’t mean it works universally. So, sure, if foam rolling helps you to feel better after a workout, go nuts! You won’t be the only one in spandex wincing as you slide your rump over a glorified PVC pipe. But will it improve your ROM significantly or permanently fix your ITB pain? Probably not.

Again, do what feels good, but go to a doctor if you suspect an actual problem. And maybe lay off your weekend warrioring until you feel back to normal.

So in conclusion, massage can be wonderful. Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing better than providing a stressed out person a safe space to let go, get quiet, and possibly sleep. I truly feel like I offer something comforting and beneficial with my job (especially when it comes to the application of MFR and other more structural-integration based techniques) and it’s honestly one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done. But I don’t believe it’s medicine, and I don’t believe that any alternative medicine should supplant the guidance of an actual medical professional.

Massage, as with most things in this world, should come with a caveat: if someone’s telling you something – or selling you something – that seems too good to be true, it probably is.

 

Age Before Beauty

 

(It's me!)
(It’s me!)

 

Being in my thirties has had its perks. For one, I’m still young enough to rebound from all-nighters and yet old enough to know which ones will be the most worthwhile. Time has equaled experience, and experience has given me enough discernment to choose what stupid shit I want to indulge in…and what I should avoid. My knees still work, I’m in a highly-coveted marketing demographic, and I’m (theoretically) in my sexual peak. Yes, my thirties hasn’t exactly been the horror of a biological clock and identification with Sex and the City like I thought it would be, thank God.

That said, I’ve worn my age like a billboard of hard-living, with the stature of a still-dewy-fresh preteen only with the rugged visage of a Marlboro man. My selfies – of which I am still at an age to take, I think – began to feature the same forehead as a shar pei, and I developed smile lines around my eyes even when in a mood more black than Trent Reznor’s newest pair of pants.

After going under the knife for some curves, I promised my concerned friends that I wouldn’t suddenly go all Heidi Montag on their asses, opting to remedy everything from my cankles to a bad mood with plastic surgery. No, I swore, I wouldn’t be getting more cosmetic procedures, I had simply remedied a longstanding complaint, not injected the sweet elixir to counteract bargain basement low self-esteem.

Needless to say, I’m beginning to slide down a slippery slope of breaking that oath.


I was familiar with Botox as I’d written about it at the ripe young age of 28, back when I was idealistic and believed that I could still be desirable with or without neurotoxic proteins injected into my face. I had some wear and tear after ten years of hard living, to be sure, but my concerns at that time were more over which tattoo to get next, if I should employ a personal trainer, and what to do about my lack of breasts while still attempting to be exuding confidence and sex appeal. After hearing the crunch of my frontalis muscle being penetrated by the 6mm needle and the botulism shot into my little face back then, when I didn’t exactly need it, I’d decided that, while the results were certainly apparent, I didn’t have to continue with the heavily-suggested frequent tune-ups that my overpriced Manhattan dermatologist prescribed.

Fast forward five years, now living on Long Island and consulting with a new, local derm on my sensitive skin. It was in this new office that I met Beth, the RPA-C who was on staff that day.

If there’s one thing I’m a sucker for just as much as bald men, it’s a pretty face. While I’m sure she would be a stunner in any profession, Beth’s proximity to cosmetic dermatology certainly had bolstered her already perky, bright-eyed, plump-lipped smile. I quickly unleashed a verbal torrent of questions that she patiently answered, and somehow or another wound up agreeing to another round of Botox. (Note: “somehow or another” meaning that I complained about my wrinkles and she suggested Botox.)

“Great!” Beth said to my consent. “How much mobility do you want in your face?”

I looked at her, waiting for the visual cue to laugh at her joke. None came. Perhaps because her face was stuck?

“For example, I have a moderate amount of mobility now,” she said, raising her gorgeous forehead a millimeter, furrowing her brows together even less. “I used to have a lot more, but I’ve let some of it wear off because I felt like I looked a little bit frozen.”

I thought for a hot second and decided that I would be comfortable with anything from the facial mobility of a statue to the emotional oscillations of an inanimate object.

“I don’t care,” I replied. “Just make me look like an unaffected fifteen year old.”

“Perfect! We can do that!” she chirped.


One week later I was back in the chair, trying to chat up my blonde Botox goddess to no avail. Crunch, crunch, crunch went the needle into the muscles of my forehead and the tissue around my eyes. She sent me off with an ice pack and instructions not to lean over, exercise, and to call if my eyes “went numb,” as there were drops for that. Also, no aspirin. Also, come back in two weeks, in case my muscles overcompensated, whatever that meant. Also, if I stopped breathing, felt itchy, or passed out.

She did not show me a mirror. She asked me if I was okay.

“We injected a lot,” she said. “But I think there will be minimal bruising. You should be totally fine, but call if you have any questions.”

I stuttered a thank you, smiled, and left in a rush, anxious to check my new face out in the car.

I’d forgotten that not all cosmetic procedures are as evident as coming to in a recovery room with a sudden five inches of increased frontage and a bandage covering new breasts. My face seemed…the same. Only now with a few barely visible needle pricks like microscopic freckles along my brow. I sighed. At least it had been considerably cheaper than my previous, limited excursion.

Within one day, my disappointment had settled much like the tracks of time had settled on my face. What was worse, I battled what felt like an epic tension headache for thirty six hours after my tête-à-tête with the toxin.

“Do you notice any difference?” I asked Bean when we were browsing at Topshop in the city, as I rifled for yet another dose of Tylenol for my headache.

“Nope. But I thought you were cute before,” she said.

I tried to shop the years away and bought a fluffy tulle skirt that made me feel six years old, knowing that I’d never wear it without looking like Willem Dafoe in a tutu.

Maybe I should just accept my age, I thought. Mature with dignity. I mean, look at Hellen Mirren, at Dame Judy Dench…

Certainly I could be in good company as my slowly decaying youth paraded its way across my exterior. At least I’d be young at heart! (Untrue. I have no heart.)

Several nights later, while hanging out with friends, I felt something I can only describe as similar to ice cream headache only without the pain creep along my brow. Nothing terrible, but persistent, I ignored it. As I got ready for bed later that night and turned on the shower, I glanced in the mirror.

My face.

Was.

Frozen.

Also, wrinkleless. Suddenly I was sixteen again. While I couldn’t express it, at least not through my features, I was overjoyed. The Botox, it seemed, had set in. (After a quick Google search, I learned that the injections start to work within two to three days, with their maximum effect taking hold about a week after the appointment, on average.)

tox
Since then, I still can’t feel my face, but trust me, I feel great. And I can suddenly deadpan, something that had previously alluded me as a skill. Although I default to giggles as quickly as ever, my automatic eyebrow raise has been stopped in its tracks, literally. As with the boob job, I’m thrilled with the results. I’ll maintain this facial paralysis until I’m locked away in a nursing home to rot in front of my game of mahjong…which I’ll be playing with my husband, who will undoubtedly soon be secured as a result of my childlike countenance and teenager tits.

Though I swear, guys, this is it. Duck lips and hair extensions won’t be next. Maybe.

All You Need Is Love

The disclosure of my sexuality was never really a big deal to me growing up. Even though I wasn’t lucky enough to be a child with LGBT-friendly legislation being passed, or shows like RuPaul’s Drag Race and The L Word on television, or even total babes like Kristen Stewart and Ellen Page blazing trails with their unabashed, unapologetic declaration of who they are, I never really wrestled with coming out. Perhaps it was the result of already being a haughty weirdo with a chip on her shoulder as a result of hours spent watching Headbangers Ball on MTV and going to the Warped Tour, or from attending invitation-only writers workshops at liberal arts colleges when I was in high-school. Regardless, I pretty easily embraced myself through the ever-mutable kaleidoscope of self-expression as a teenager. When I realized that I liked girls, the result of some summer camp experimentation with fellow hormonal pipsqueaks at French Woods, I told my parents, and my classmates, with little more than a fuck you glance. At those who scoffed, I simply insisted to whatever faculty member would listen that our Quaker high-school needed to organize a LGBT committee for kids to discuss their sexualities as they came of age.

Now as an adult, with one ex-domestic partner and a slew of ex-boyfriends, ex-girlfriends, and andro former play partners, I’m emerging from the cocoon of singledom and into the dating scene in a different environment and with a different outlook entirely.

Somewhere in the mid-nineties, it became a supposed ‘trend’ to call oneself bisexual. From the girls in Hole making out with each other to Britney, Madonna, and Christina (or was it Xtina then?) sucking face in a threeway on MTV, there were legions of girls licking their friend’s tonsils for the approving hoots and hollers of bros and a few comped Long Island Iced Teas.

Years later, these girls are married and popping out kids once the dust of their early twenties has settled. Their crop tops, thongs, and low-rise jeans have been relegated to the back of the closet, much like their weathered bisexual brethren. As an actual bisexual, this leaves me floating without flippers in the deep water of the thirty-something dating pool.

And when I say ‘actual bisexual,’ I’m not being glib or misusing an adverb.

I once had it pointed out to me by a former male roommate that not everyone is attracted to both genders. This baffled me. Much like trying to describe a color blindness to someone who doesn’t suffer from it, I couldn’t comprehend what it would be like to go through life with a limited scope of romantic interests. It’s a subtraction problem I still can’t fully grasp.

Considering I began puberty knowing I was bisexual, claimed my early sexuality as a lesbian, meandered into full-fledged bisexuality in my twenties, and last was in a relationship with a man, I can cite more than one example as to how I truly don’t understand preferences discriminating. I mean, I guess if I were to interpret it, it’s like how I don’t like overly-muscled men or women who wear a lot of makeup. I can appreciate the effort that goes into both, but neither wiggles the needle.

That said, dating, especially using the aid of a website, is further complicated when you can’t simply check one box. Certain popular sites only allow for you to be searching for one gender, while others are basically the online equivalent of a bar with shot specials, anything goes and nothing matters. What about if you’re genuinely split between the two?

The problem I initially faced was knowing that my sexuality was being written off as a trite “all-inclusive,” liberally minded statement on my beliefs by male perusers to my profile. This was fine, as I figured that there were far higher hurdles for them to clear before we had that discussion, like employing proper grammar in their messages and not believing that their band was “really gunna make it thz yr ;)” [sic]

Moreover, I was guilty of the same judgment, ruling out girls (and guys) who, like me, were marked as ‘Bisexual.’ The real label I should have had on my profile was ‘Hypocrite.’

nod

But soon a more thorny, more rattling problem presented itself. I found myself looking at lesbians’ profiles and realizing that I came across as the type of girl who was probably just looking to sow some thirty-year-old oats and experiment a little.

I cringed at the thought that these women, many of whom had well-written, introspective profiles (even if their musical tastes differed from my own) would perceive me as using their hard-fought self-awareness and minority status as a mere stepping stone to some idiot’s self-actualizing enlightenment, much like a post-college trip backpacking across Europe or a Kripalu workshop on transcendental meditation. I found myself fawning over these girls from afar, browsing anonymously and fearing rejection to the point that I wouldn’t reach out.

And this is just in the online dating arena, where single misfits meet one another behind the pixilated velvet curtain. What of my family, coworkers, and acquaintances who have marginalized my same-sex sentiments in favor of the more comfortable mainstream, viewing the B in LGBT as an improper fraction where the straight outweighs the gay?

“That’s their problem,” my close friend Bean would say. “Anybody who loves you already knows the way you are. And anybody else shouldn’t care.”

I suppose that brings me to the pointed tip of the arrow. Straight, gay, or bi, male, female, or trans, when dating goes from casual dinners to an actual connection that demands to be seen as a coupling, that’s a scary thing…for anyone. (Yes, even conservatives and the polyamorous kinksters.) Having a significant other is, well, significant. And perhaps that’s where my trepidation truly lies. It isn’t so much a fear of coming out again with regard to my sexuality, it’s coming out again as somebody who is emotionally ready and stable enough to be in a relationship. And that is something that can be as frightening, undeniable, and hard-won to accept on a personal for me, even more than realizing that my feelings for our high-school soccer captain weren’t simply athletic admiration. I guess when it comes to realizing that one day I will be in a relationship, I mean it in every sense of the expression that I really can’t think straight.