Monday, November 4, 2013
Massage Therapists: Be Your Own Body's Best Advocate
As a bodyworker, the most important title you have isn't CMT (Certified Massage Therapist) ~ it's "YOBBA" ~ Your Own Body's Best Advocate. Working as a bodyworker, the very essence of your job is to be an advocate for the health and well-being for other people's bodies. Your hands and your touch are literally advocates for your clients' bodies. In the process of doing your job, especially if you work in a resort setting, you are bombarded with exotic bugs from all over the world all through what is usually your busiest, and of course, most profitable part of your year ~ "High Season." Survival instinct and your boss urging you to work through it may be difficult to fight, but in my experience, the best thing you can do for yourself and your future is to be your own body's best advocate and stay in bed and drink plenty of fluids. There's a reason that that's the conventional wisdom ~ because it works.There's nothing better than a new year. You get a fresh slate, a blank page on which to write your story ~ one that may not have gone as you'd planned the year before. I like a new year and I'm thankful that every twelve months we get an automatic re-do. For most of my life, the end of the year has usually meant some type of cold or flu, ruining the holidays or at least making them more stressful. Thankfully, though, by the time the new year comes around the annual cold or flu is a faint memory. For the last eight years or so I've been quite fortunate in that I've been spared from any type of plague, annual or otherwise. This new year, I'm afraid I've not been so lucky.For two weeks now I have been battling an unfortunate case of influenza that morphed into bronchitis and is now an annoying, lingering cold. It's amazing to me how much snot a body can make in the process of an upper respiratory infection ~ I think I'm on my seventh or eighth box of tissue. For probably two or three weeks prior to that, I struggled with "something" trying to land on me. Tired of the just-on-the-edge feeling, I finally said out loud, "If you're going to get me, then just get me!" Naturally, as soon as I gave the flu permission to invade my body, it did ~ the very next day. I know better than to give my brain permission to let my body get sick. I'm thinking that's the last time I'm going to do that. Next time I'm going to say, "I'M NOT SICK!!"As I've been battling this super bug ~ the first I've had in a very long time ~ I've been reminded of a very dark time in my bodywork career when I failed to do what was right for my body and allowed myself to succumb to pressure from my workplace and my bank account. I failed to advocate for my own health and I paid a steep price for my negligence.Approximately eight years ago, I came home with a horrible bug I may have picked up during a weekend workshop in Arizona, or that I'd been exposed to before I went. Nonetheless, under extreme pressure to work as soon as I could and longer than I should in my busy spa, that bug soon turned into walking pneumonia and then horribly and inexplicably turned into a medical nightmare that nearly killed me in the process. I also ended up having to leave a job I loved, and lost all of my savings because I was unable to work full-time for nearly a year. I won't go into detail about my medical nightmare because it's a long story that needs to be told completely in order for the entire process to make sense. Long story, short, I'll just say that due to a combination of overwork, stress, and careless and arrogant doctors, I miraculously lived through something I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy.It's important that massage therapists and bodyworkers be their own bodies' best advocates for the health of their bodies. Whether it's saving your thumbs or hands, your elbows, your shoulders, your back or just staying in bed when you have a cold or flu, you are the best advocate your body has. No one else is going to care to protect your body more than you do. Too many spas or massage establishments, unfortunately, care about one thing and one thing only ~ their bottom line. They will push a therapist as hard as they're allowed ~ by the therapist ~ to produce, often far beyond what a therapist's body is capable.In my case, not only did I have pressure from my spa to come to work before I should have and work on too many bodies each day, but I put pressure on myself as well. I was extremely fortunate to work in a situation where I made a lot of money ~ I mean a lot of money that all therapists dream of making ~ and worried that if I dared to take a few days off to get well I would lose too much money that week. So I and my spa contributed to my ultimate demise. By putting a week's pay and my spa's needs first, I lost far more than a week's pay. I lost nearly a full year of full-time work because my body was too weak to handle more than one or two sessions a day ~ a few times a week. I also calculated that combined with my lost savings and lost work, that week's pay I was so worried about cost me about $65,000 that year! What a lesson I learned, right? My own body's best advocate put her bottom line first.It's very difficult for me to write about this experience in my life because it's a disturbing reminder of how a stupid and short-sighted decision on my part jeopardized my health and my livelihood. But it's important for me to remember and share with others as an example of what not to do when faced with a decision regarding your health and your body's well-being.As I mentioned earlier, as a bodyworker, you're going to come into intimate contact with exotic bugs carried into your massage room by your clients. Sometimes they may just be unaware carriers, but too often they're sick themselves, selfishly putting their own comfort ahead of their therapist's health. In obvious situations you have the option of wearing a protective mask, or if your client is glassy-eyed and running a fever you have an obligation to them and yourself to cancel the session. I've worked through many sessions using a protective mask, telling my clients I cannot afford to get what they have. When I've suffered through allergy season I've also worn a mask even though I knew I wasn't contagious because I wanted my clients to know I cared about their health and well-being. It's possible to advocate for others' health while still being your own advocate.When I was a new therapist, just starting out, I worked for an upscale hotel spa during the SARS scare. A group from Toronto came through and one of my guests had an obvious cold and a cough. I panicked because we didn't have masks available and I was afraid to cancel the session because I didn't want to lose my job. It was a very stressful session for me, not to mention the following weeks as I waited for SARS to strike me dead. That is an example of a spa putting their sick guest ahead of their therapist ~ and of a therapist putting something/anything ahead of their own body's safety. As I mentioned, I was a fairly new therapist and worried more about my job than my own body. I didn't fully understand my responsibility and obligation I had as an advocate to myself to protect my own health.As I continue to battle my new year bug, I hope that by sharing my past experience I can make an impact on other bodyworkers and how they view their role as advocates for their own bodies. I cannot emphasize enough how important it is for you to be your own body's best advocate. No one has a bigger stake in protecting your health and well-being than you, except, of course your family. If you're too sick to work, don't. If you're injured, don't work injured. Remember, the decisions you make today don't just affect tomorrow. If you are your own body's best and most insistent advocate, you can practically guarantee health and longevity in a tough but rewarding career where you can also continue to advocate for your clients' health and well-being.