It happens every so often. I go to the grocery store on my way home from a massage and get a chatty cashier. “How are you today?” the young woman chirps. I’m always in a bit of a fug after a massage, and I say “I’m in a massage coma.” “Must be nice,” she sighs.
Not especially. Not that my massage therapist, Skya isn’t a miracle worker—she is amazing. She helps me function as highly as I can in this body. But it takes some pain to get there. For hours after a massage, I gingerly try to preserve the relaxation, because when the tension comes back, it’s going to hurt like the bejeezus. Sometimes I sleep well the night after a massage. Most nights I wake up agitated, having hot flashes, and kicking my poor cats every which way as I thrash around. I’ve learned to transition better with some light stretches my Tai Chi master taught me, but it’s not a perfect science.
I turn down invitations from friends to go to pub trivia after a massage; sitting at a table for 3 hours would undo all the good. Alcohol doesn’t help either, and a soft drink doesn’t cut it for me at pub trivia. A massage commits me to special routines up until bedtime. No crocheting while watching TV, no typing and especially no texting; my reattached hand is fully enervated and I want to enjoy it as long as I can before it goes numb again.
This is not self-indulgence, it’s trying to get my money’s worth on a service that is not covered by my insurance (it’s applied to a high deductible) and I can’t have as often as I need it.
I had a spa massage once. I got a gift card to the Nordstrom spa from my boss. I think she wanted me to get an expensive haircut and buy some makeup. It was a mean hint gift, like when Elaine gave Sue Ellen Mischke a bra on Seinfeld. I used the gift card on a Swedish hot stone massage and an Ayurvedic hot oil treatment for my gloriously bushy hair. I wore the plush white robe in the waiting room while someone brought me wine. That experience bears little resemblance to what happens in Skya’s studio.
Mind you, Skya has a nice studio. It’s a tiny building in her wooded backyard, surrounded by a garden and an enclosed cat run. It’s perfectly suited for a peaceful massage. The massage is lovely and mostly relaxing, but she has to get into some sore parts, and anyone who has ever had their iliopsoas released knows it’s not a comfortable procedure. It involves digging fingers under your hipbones and applying pressure for a full minute. Lately, for my knee injury, we’ve been doing traction on my leg. It helps so much I can hardly believe it, but it’s not a pleasant thing while it’s being done.
I usually take a break during my work day now to either take a bike ride or go to the public pool and swim. If I don’t do this, I decline very quickly. I become a stiff old person in a few weeks, and I’m only 54; I’m not ready to buy a walker just yet. Daily exercise is critical to keeping my body flexible, strong, and healthy. People then think, “She’s fine, why can’t she work all day?” Because if I did that and stopped my daily exercise, I would have a sick, painful body all the time. That stuff they tell you about “work toughening” in vocational rehab programs does not apply to people with chronic pain.
I need to work shorter days and do that work from home, where I can take breaks and even naps as needed. My work pays well; I’d like to make the full-time salary, but I can’t do the hours. It takes too much away from my self-care routines. Sometimes when I check the mail at the big communal mailbox on my way in from a bike ride, my neighbors stop and hrrumph, “Must be nice not to have to work.” Who says I don’t work? Just because I’m not working all the time. They’re not working right now either if they’re there to see me not working, but I’m not casting aspersions on how they spend their days. It’s none of my business—a phrase that seems lost in the age of social media.
When we make time to care for ourselves, it’s often seen as self-indulgent by people who function just fine without needing that. They would like to take time off work; they would like to get massages and acupuncture and whatever else we’re doing. Would they also like to live with partial paralysis in their dominant hand? Would they like to be dependent on pain medicine? Perhaps they’d like to stay home with the cats and watch Netflix while missing events they really wanted to attend, maybe even paid for but just can’t get there on that evening.
And here’s the thing—I don’t believe in the 40-hour work week for anyone. I think ordinary people should be free to have the same self-care routines I do. I think we’ve reached a stage in industrialization where we no longer need everyone working full time, and we should raise salaries, drop the standard work week to 32 hours, and enjoy the leisure economy we worked so hard to build. But that’s another topic for another forum.
If I find comfort in my treatments and I create joy in my life around my necessary routines, I won’t apologize for that. I won’t put on a pitiful front to justify my self-care. If I’m secretly glad to use my social get-out-of-jail-free card once in a while, I get to have that. I came by it honestly.
How about you, has anyone ever given you a hard time for insisting on proper self-care?