I picked the Florida School of Massage because it was rated one of the top schools in the country, and having grown up in New Hampshire, I was tired of being cold. Go south, study in a serious program, then go directly into a program that specialized in muscle therapy for horses. The program had a requirement that all incoming students should have received 3 hours of professional massage. I hadn't received any.
That summer before the program, I was in Christiana, PA taking care of an aunt and uncle's horses and farm while they both traveled a lot for work. While riding one of my own horses, I had a fall that brought about some back pain. After a couple of days, I landed at a chiropractor's office where x-rays revealed a hairline fracture of my coccyx, my tailbone. The chiropractor adjusted me and asked if I felt I was under a lot of stress. I don't remember my response, but I do remember my surly contempt for people who talked about stress. I probably rolled my eyes and kept a thought like the following to myself: "What person with half a wit and an ounce of motivation isn't stressed? Could you just do your job and fix my back please?"
But the chiropractor kept asking questions. She said there was tightness in my body that was unrelated to the recent injury. She was sure that I was stressed. I wasn't claiming that I wasn't, but I definitely wasn't interested in discussing it. She wanted to know my work situation, my physical activity, details about my social life, how I felt, how often I could come in for treatments, what goals I had for myself. I thought she was unnecessarily nosy. I was suspicious of her intent. I wasn't interested in being her friend. I told her as little as possible. And, in all honesty, told her I couldn't afford to come in for adjustments very often so that it might be the last time. She told me the office would make a plan with me that worked for me, that she wasn't going to let me leave until we agreed on a treatment plan. Though it seems unreal to me even now, I think I paid $35 that day and signed an agreement that they would treat me as often as I needed for the remainder of the summer without paying anything additional. Right up until the end, I wasn't sure I could trust her. I was sure the office was going to come asking for money later. I just couldn't grasp why they would do something like that.
The chiropractor also talked me into getting my first 30 minute massage and my only massage before I started massage therapy school. I was, quite possibly, the most awkward first-time massage client a therapist has ever encountered. I left my shoes on. I left my pants on. I took my shirt off and left my bra on. I took the pillow out from where it was supposed to support my legs and put it under my head.
In hindsight, and even then, it was not a great massage. The therapist, unlike the chiropractor, had little interest in me and even less patience with my lack of knowledge. She sighed heavily and told me in exasperated tones at least a dozen times that I "should just relax". I was less than impressed, but was already signed up for school and scheduled to get on a plane to Florida in a matter of weeks.
Luckily for me, I went to a great school, and the teachers, with a much more subtle approach, asked questions and built connections of a whole, interconnected body, mind, and heart. No, I didn't buy into it entirely. Some of it was just too "hippy-dippy" for me. But I loved giving massage, loved letting my hands guide me. I remember telling a teacher that what I loved about giving a massage was the process of "diving in and then swimming around and seeing what I found". I still love that.
At the end of school I was willing to admit I liked giving massage to people, but was still more than comfortable opening a conversation with a line like "I don't really like people...." It is fortunate for me that people were generally amused by that, found something heartening in my oblivious honesty.
I moved to Connecticut, enrolled in a program that focused on muscle therapy for horses, and began building my massage practice. I split my time between a day spa and a wellness center and worked with clients who came in for chronic pain, acute injury, and many who kept coming back because they learned from experience, as I also did, the benefits of working in the layers of the body on a consistent basis.
After 6 years of practice, I took a break. I liked people ok at that point, had even adjusted my story about preferring to work with animals. It was no longer true. But I needed a break. My mind was edgy, and I decided to move to a new city and go back to school.
It's now been almost ten years since I first set my sights on Portland. I've completed an undergraduate degree, have worked as a spa host, a caregiver in an assisted living facility, a skills specialist for teenage girls in residential treatment, an assistant in a special education classroom for students with autism, an administrative assistant and events coordinator at a local non-profit organization, a patient care coordinator and front office coordinator at a medical imaging center, and finally, a graduate student in an MFA program focused on my own writing, teaching writing workshops, and building, again, my massage practice.
I am acutely aware of my own process, the way my own choices have drawn me toward things that I really needed without ever knowing what or why. Massage is definitely one of those things. Writing is definitely one of those things. Now, undeniable parts of me.
And as I think back, I'm really not sure how this story would have turned out if it wasn't for a caring, well-meaning (if pushy) chiropractor who saw through me and didn't give up on me.