The Cranky Masseuse and Other Stories

A friend wanted to do me a kindness, and offered to pay for a massage.  I travel a lot for work, and I get stiff and sore from sitting in airports, on planes, on buses, in taxis, and in rental cars.  So my response to the offer was an enthusiastic “Thank you!”

The masseuse greeted me nicely with the usual questions about any injuries she needed to know about.  When she asked about problem areas, I told her that my stress centers in my shoulders–always has.  Hard to say if it’s from a serious injury I suffered as a child, or if it’s “just me”, but it is what it is, as they say.  I also told her that I had been traveling a lot for work lately, so the lower back and hips were feeling a bit stiff.  I should add that I go to the gym and work with weights and swim, so I’m fairly limber for a woman “of a certain age”.  But she decided I should be “more” limber I guess, and clearly she was not satisfied by my lack of cooperation (I didn’t know body parts could be twisted that way!).  And then there were my shoulders. . .

Throughout the massage, she poked, jabbed, rubbed hard, and repeatedly told me to relax, to breathe, to “let it go”–all to no avail, of course.  She told me to do exercises I already do.  I could hear her becoming tense, and her breathing more labored.  I knew she didn’t believe me.  I couldn’t help it.  I laughed.  “I told you that’s where my stress goes.”  She became terse, her lowered voice betraying her tension.  “Just breathe!”  “Let it go!”  Her jaw tensed, and finally she muttered testily, “Be that way!”  That, of course, made me laugh more.  I couldn’t help myself.  “My chiropractor has been telling me this for nearly 40 years. . .” I began, but she was having none of it.  Personally, I don’t think I was so awful a customer.  I tried my best to cooperate!

It made me think of folks I know who go into the mental health field thinking they have or should have all the answers or that they can or should make everything “right”.  I know I try to make things right, but sometimes things don’t work the way I’d like them to.  One family is struggling with their young adult son, while another is finally finding amazing levels of success.  I am working hard with both families.  Is it my “fault” that one family has had a terrible experience while the other could not be happier?  Could I have done something differently?  Or is it the “fault” of the program?  Or the parents?  Or the young man?  Is he trying to cooperate?

There are never any easy answers when a family is in crisis, when one is dealing with the emotions, experiences, abilities, strengths, weaknesses, health, fears, wounds, and destructive or malevolent tendencies (or not) of an individual and their family system–whatever that looks like.  What works for one person may not work for another–or might work for different reasons.  A great deal of interest is piqued by genome testing to see if one can metabolize certain drugs, as even pharmacology is called into question as to its efficacy in treating any number of mental illnesses.  And is it a mental illness or a developmental delay?  Or is it temporary, say in the case of a situational trauma?  There are many “ifs” and many stories that must be examined along the way.

Part of my job is to begin the intake and analysis so I can guide a family forward.  The deep tissue stimulation begins with capable Marriage and Family Therapists, Psychiatrists, Neuropsychologists, Occupational Therapists, Mental Health Counselors, Speech and Language Pathologists, Addictions Counselors, Special Educators, Residential or Field Staff, and/or Tutors who work with a student.  Those professionals then give me ongoing feedback about what they find.  The next part of my job is to analyze all of this new information in conjunction with the student’s history, and provide ongoing feedback to those professionals working directly with the student.  I am part of the process and part of a team that includes the family as well.  Many voices, many stories, are part of one hopeful expectation–to see that student succeed.

So, when things don’t work well–well, it is awful.  It is rare that there is a clear reason “why” things did not work, just as it is rare that there is a clear reason “why” things do work.  We are dealing with human beings, with all their foibles and joys.  I am very disappointed when a student and/or their family doesn’t succeed, no matter the reason.  And there are many stories out there, both joyous and tragic.  It is difficult to realize that just as one cannot reasonably take all the credit for another person’s success, neither can one take all of the blame for another person’s failure.  We like to receive credit, but we don’t want blame.  But in our hurt, we place blame with others.  This is our bitter reality.

I do my best not to be the cranky masseuse.  It hurts when families look to me for help then blame me when things go awry–or take all the credit when things go well!  Still, it is not my job to be all things to all people.  I do my job, and I do it well.  As long as I continue honing my craft, as long as I keep listening, as long as I keep learning, then I know I have done my best.  And if a family has stiff shoulders, so be it.  I do, too.  And I have learned to laugh about it.  Hopefully, someday, they will, too.

The Cranky Masseuse and Other Stories