Updated: May 3
As I shared in a previous post, I struggled a lot with the idea of me being a massage therapist. The acceptance and validation structure I had created in my mind didn’t really define ‘success’ as something that could be accomplished as an individual massage therapist I guess. I didn’t have things lined out nicely in a binder on ‘how to be successful’ or anything, but I had made mental notes throughout my life on what types of activities or achievements receive more validation than others.
One thing that I have heard a lot of since starting this blog is folks saying things like “you just had a lot of assumptions about what success looked like in your head that weren’t true.” That is absolutely right - as a closeted gay boy who was raised in a conservative religious environment, I was not providing myself with any internal validation other than praising myself when I got something “right” because that meant I would be viewed with good graces by those around me. On top of that, I was starting my self worth rating at less than 0 or “average” because I felt like I was an abomination for being gay. Translation - I was working HARD to find and achieve that external validation. I was like the Nancy Drew of validation, or a validation truffle pig looking around for all the validation I could find, y'all. All that to say, while I think I have a unique relationships with shame and societal expectations due to my story and background, I don’t think I was (or still am) the only person in the world feeling these pressures (listen while you read!).
The fact of the matter is that our society is REALLY good at telling us what to do and the unfortunate thing is that she tends to point us down the road of fancy corporate jobs in a large high rises downtown. Our worth is tied to our earning power, plain and simple. It is no secret that one of the first 5 things that are commonly asked in a first encounter is “what do you do?” Previously, it was just important to do something of worth - something high paying - to be seen as successful, but now with our culture’s rising (and good) shift towards corporate social responsibility and following your passion we have the additional hurdle of also doing something we are so. absolutely. passionate. about. The problem is that while we are wanting folks to follow their passions, we are still very much holding that previous worth measuring stick in terms of how much they make, what house they have, and what car they drive etc etc. Give me more, give me excess, give my Fyre Festival, give me social media influencer, give me trust fund "the hardest thing in my life is finding my true passion" realness! Yas!
I know that I am not the only person under pressure, because I have two eye. As someone that is starting to get in tune with their emotions (versus the emotions I had about what other people think of me), I’m starting to realize that I am a truly highly sensitive person.
I started hearing about this term of a highly sensitive person (HSP) in my therapy sessions and in some of the books that I was reading on shame and self worth. It can be defined as someone with acute physical, mental, and emotional responses to external (social, environmental) or internal (intra-personal) stimuli. While there are many positive things about being an HSP such as:
greater ability to listen and affirm,
greater empathy and intuitiveness,
better understanding of others' wants and needs,
there are also negatives like:
difficulty letting go of hurtful thoughts and emotions,
allowing bad days to have lasting impacts on eating and/or sleeping habits, and
tendencies to “beat oneself up” when falling short of own expectations.
I found it hard to believe but it is a truly a thing and term accepted within the world of psychology.
The first of my therapists to bring it up was basically like “Are you familiar with empaths?” I was but only vaguely thought they had some sort of physic ability. The short answer, he explained, is that they don’t, but they do have a strong ability to sense other people’s thoughts and emotions.
It is a bizarre and surreal experience to have a medical professional rattle-off symptoms that you are exhibiting without you having told them about those symptoms. My psychiatrist, has done this a few times with me. The first was in our first session almost a year ago. He had me fill out a piece of paper that was supposed to ‘test’ me for a potential disorder. I gave a lot of 5 out of 5s and was like “how does this test know so many random seemingly unrelated aspects of my life?”
As I was filling out the test, my psychiatrist was prattling on about how it would be checking things like my mood swings, inability to multitask, inability to find my phone, issues with time management etc etc. When I was finished, I totaled my score and told him the answer. He said, “Great.”
“What does that mean?” I asked visibly interested.
“I don’t need to look up the answer key on this one.” He said with a wry smile that I have come to find out he gets when he is the only one in the room with the answer.
“Why don’t you need to look it up? I need to know what I got on this test?!” I clucked starting to get visibly frustrated.
“You have ADHD,” he said, “and I have known that from the moment you got in here. You profusely apologized for being late, you mentioned inability to focus at work and in your life in general, and you are showing signs of anxiety. It seems like you are choosing your words wisely to make sure you show me urgency without offending me or making me uncomfortable. That is truly fascinating to me. ” That verbal dressing down smacked me in the face.
“I still need to know what my score means from the test.” I pressed.
“Of course you do. I have introduced a new 'test' where you can succeed and potentially gain some much needed external validation, and you have to win at it. That is something else entirely, but the ADHD makes it worse,” he mused.
Over the course of a few weeks, we got to the bottom of the notion that my ADHD causes me to be worse at some things that are deemed as ‘desirable’ traits by our society: time management, multitasking, and ability to handle stress to name a few, but it is my desire to impress the world fueled by low self-esteem from growing up closeted, that leads me to suppress showing weakness in those areas. Basically, I try to minimize or hide my shit so that I can be accepted. We’ve all been there, can I get an amen ladies?
The second time my doctor listed off symptoms in this fun game of lets hang Lance in suspense while talking about his disorders, is when he told me he thought I was a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP). He said that I was very perceptive and conscientious, but that I also seemed to withdraw often, have issues with time pressures, and absorb or change my mood around different people. “These are all signs of HSP,” he said.
I have started to believe this about myself. I have countless examples of it but one is that I have trouble seeing physical harm happen to other people without imagining it or almost feeling it myself. I have to change the channel when I am watching something gory and I could never do anything involving needles or blood in the healthcare world.
So I have started to recognize things that I do as a highly sensitive person with ADHD who is experiencing this world one slow-motion day at a time. A big observation I have seen is that folks are under pressure from societal standards, and it sucks.
I’ve been in massage school for a little over a month now and I have definitely learned a thing or two about pressure. Pun…intended.
But seriously, what I mentioned before about not being sure that a career in massage would work for me is a feeling that many folks in the 28 person class can empathize with. There is a fair amount of us (close to 7 or so) that are there after leaving (or some still in) the corporate world. We were talking about it in a class the other day and I shared how I was interviewing at other places while deciding about massage school mainly because I just couldn’t wrap my head around taking the plunge to go all in.
One of the jobs I was gunning after was a General Manager position at a new gym that would be offering 1:1 assisted stretching services -kind of like a massage appointment meets a personal training appointment that focuses solely on flexology, pressure points, and stretching to improve range of motion. It was a fantastic concept and I truly loved the couple I was meeting with who were the owners of 6 brand-new locations in Austin. As an aside - they are called StretchLab and I HIGHLY recommend checking them out when they are up and running if you are in the Austin area later this year. I sure will be! In the end, I decided that even though that position would be helping people, I wanted to be able to help people completely on my terms so that I could have more control not only of the pressure I exert on my clients to assist with healing, but also the ability to relive mental and societal pressures on myself.
One thing that has really resonated with me in massage school so far has been the concept that while we as LMTs are not healers, we do help facilitate the body’s ability to naturally heal itself. We do this by:
improving the circulation to muscles which can help relieve pain, by
reducing stress levels and symptoms of depression/anxiety through human tough,
promoting relaxation for better sleep,
boosting immunity by increasing white blood cell count, and
decreasing the frequency and severity of tension headaches.
I have felt some of these benefits through my prior experience receiving massage, but I am excited to start analyzing that journey more thoughtfully now.
It is interesting the types of associations that folks have with massage. While I did have these negative thoughts of me pursuing massage as an option when transitioning back to the health and wellness world, I absolutely LOVED receiving massages! I have been drawn to and wanted to get a massage license for many years, and it is probably because of the immediate effects I always felt when I was able to get one.
Some folks have doubts about massage or have barriers to trying it out. Those can include perceptions of body image, the struggle to relax, the lack of control, general discomfort with being nude and/or wearing minimal clothing, or just a general skepticism about whether there are any real benefits from it. That is completely fine - it is so important to meet folks where they are at.
What I know right now is that I am so excited to get started with massage work. I now have a massage table and we have learned a full-body Swedish massage so I am ready to start practicing! I am hoping to get started practicing this weekend when my boyfriend and I visit my hometown of Comanche to celebrate my little brother’s birthday. Free massage practice for everyone! Down the line, I will need a certain number of massage hours while working for free at the school’s internship program. Those massages will be discounted at $40 for a full hour so I will let everyone know once I am ready for that in case you’d be interested in letting me practice on you at the school in Austin.
In the meantime, I want to know, what makes you keep going back for massages if you are a regular massage client?
If you have had only a couple experiences, how did they go? Did you like them or were there aspects that could have been better?
Finally, what are some reasons why you are hesitant to get a massage?
I’m curious to hear all that and more! I want to learn massage, obviously, as my new craft in the wellness world to work with others in a job that works for my mental health, but I am also very interested in learning perceptions around massage as well.
My ultimate goal is to help others better heal themselves so that they can go out into the world and do good works, but the only way to do that is to meet someone at their current pressure level.
So that is my question - are you feeling the pressure? If so, how can we make the pressure of massage help with relief?