Life · mental health

Self-Care and the Art of Forgetting How to Breathe

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Earlier this week I got a much needed massage after work. While I was there I thought about something I wrote last year when I was working on short stories for a self-care book idea I’d been throwing around. I have no idea if that idea will ever go anywhere (probably not), but I felt like sharing my story about massages with you anyway. (It’s a little lengthy, so I apologize if you were looking for a quick post.) Enjoy.

~~~

I got my first massage when I was 25-26 years old. It’s somewhat absurd that I even waited that long, given that at that point I had spent a good 10 years whining about the neck and shoulder knots that I suffered from frequently. Prior to that I had been a little weirded out by the whole concept. Laying on a table with a stranger touching your naked body sounded more like something you’d see on Pornhub, not something that I would voluntarily pay money for. (I mean, porn is free nowadays. Why would I pay for it?) I finally changed my mind when one of my massage therapist friends, who I imagine was tired of listening to me bitch about my shoulders constantly, told me to man up and just do it already.

And that’s how my career as a porn star began.

Not really. It was, however, a life-changing moment for me. It had opened up a whole new world of pain-relief and relaxation that I had never experienced before. I walked out of my first massage feeling like I was swimming in a bowl of warm Jell-O. There wasn’t a single tense muscle in my body. Why had nobody told me how amazing massages were?! (Oh, yeah, they did. I was just too busy creating pornographic scenarios in my head to listen.)

Since that day I’ve gotten one or two massages a month. It’s a tad expensive, but the effects it has had on both my physical and mental health have made been totally worth it.

Despite how much I enjoy massages now, I can’t lie to you and pretend that it’s not still a little bit awkward at times. If you’re as socially inept as I am, receiving any kind of service from a stranger is going to be at least mildly uncomfortable. I am one of those people who will literally pay an extra ten dollars to have food delivered to their house so that they don’t have to go to a restaurant and interact with the people there. This solution does present its own set of problems. Like the fact that I have to answer the door and talk to the delivery person. I never know what I’m supposed to be doing when they show up. Should I be ready, waiting at the door when they arrive? Should I just open the door before they even knock or is that creepy? Should I be in some other part of the house, pretending that I actually have better things to do than stand around and wait for my food for an hour? And let’s not forget what I’m wearing. Am I supposed to change and put on a normal-looking outfit or is it okay to be in an adult onesie, completely unzipped in the front with my bra hanging out? I mean, delivery drivers are probably used to seeing all kinds of stuff when they show up at people’s houses. Would they even notice if I was half naked with bunny-clad feet?

I always envision myself acting completely normal in situations like this: There’s a knock on the door. From somewhere down the hall I casually yell “Just a minute!” because it’s Friday night and I am actually doing something other than stalk the pizza guy through the window. Perhaps I have a cute outfit on and am in the process of getting ready for a date. Or perhaps I have my glasses on and a pencil tucked behind my ear, indicating that I’ve been working on the next great novel. I answer the door with a smile and say something like “Oh, that was fast!” Then we exchange money and make brief small talk about the weather or our plans for the weekend, before I calmly shut the door and go about eating my dinner.

That’s how I always expect things to go. That’s how it probably plays out for normal people.

For me, this is what actually happens: There’s a knock on the door. Having been pacing back and forth, staring out the window for the past hour, I already know the delivery person has arrived. At the first sight of their car I quickly duck behind the nearest piece of furniture so that they can’t see me looking out the window. Once they knock I panic a little, wondering if they saw me act like a spaz through the curtains. I try to casually yell “I’m coming!” but it comes out much higher-pitched than intended, because apparently I’ve turned into a twelve year old boy going through puberty. I open the door just a crack because I don’t want the animals to escape. I don’t open the door far enough though and end up tripping over myself in the process of trying to get onto the porch. Meanwhile, the dog senses that someone has arrived with either food or the intention to kill us (possibly both), so he gets in the window and barks his head off like a small fluffy asshole. The pizza guy mumbles something at me that I can’t hear because the dog is so loud, so I just stare at him blankly. He repeats himself, this time a little louder and more slowly, because obviously I don’t understand English that well. We exchange money and he hands over the food, which is the perfect cue for me to try to make the situation even more awkward for both of us. I try to say something clever, but it comes out in one long mumbled string of words. Howaboutjsjfjhrummphummmsausage. Heh. He then realizes that I am completely unbalanced and possibly contagious, so he says good night and runs away from the porch as quickly as possible. I then attempt to squeeze back inside the door with as much grace as possible. This proves to be difficult, however, as the dog is still in a frenzy and trying to run past my feet and because I now have a pizza box in one hand. At that point, I abandon all hope of resembling anything close to normal and hope I just gave the guy a good enough tip that he doesn’t black list my house.

Is anybody else hungry now? I feel like I need to order a pizza.

Can you see why having to spend an entire hour in the presence of a stranger could be a little bit of an issue for me? (We haven’t even gotten to the part about being naked yet.) I can’t even interact with a delivery person for thirty whole seconds without going into full moron mode.

The good part about massages is that you aren’t expected to talk. You’re allowed to talk, but if you prefer to lay there in total silence the entire time then that’s fine, also. It’s supposed to be your hour to relax and unwind and it’s probably a lot easier to do that by not talking the entire time. This works out in my favor, given that chit chat is obviously not one of my specialties. Howaboutjsjfjhrummphummmsausage. Heh.

My comfort level with a massage therapist depends on how well I know the person. If I am receiving services (That sounds dirty, doesn’t it? I swear that was unintentional.) from someone that I have met previously I am going to be more relaxed and less self-conscious about the whole thing. If you’re lucky, like my friend Christy, who is a massage therapist and services me regularly (Okay, that one was intentional.), then I will be comfortable enough to show up, get naked on the table, and proudly announce that I haven’t shaved in a month and am starting to look like Sasquatch. Poor Christy. Why she even lets me schedule appointments with her anymore is a wonder.

Now, on the occasions that Christy or my other preferred therapist is unavailable, I am willing to see someone new. This is where things can get a little weird. There are very few places you show up, are told to take all your clothes off, and try to relax. At least when you go to the gynecologist, or some other medical appointment, they know how uncomfortable you are and try to make the whole thing go as quickly as possible. It’s probably super uncomfortable and embarrassing for them, also, so it makes sense. When you show up for a massage, however, it’s a completely different kind of atmosphere. There’s dim lights, soothing music, and the pleasant smells of aromatherapy. (At least, I assume they are supposed to be pleasant. Personally, I think it just makes you smell like a hippie.) There are table warmers and soft, comfy blankets. It’s easy to see why most people are instantly relaxed in that kind of environment.

As you’ve probably noticed, I am not like most people.

Having anxiety means that I have a very difficult time relaxing. Even when I am actively engaging in a calming activity, my brain never shuts off. Nobody’s brain ever really shuts off (except those people who think that “raw water” is a thing), but you know what I mean. Most people can quiet their brains and stop thinking about important things when they need to. They can just enjoy the moment they’re in and experience what’s happening around them. I hate those people. I am jealous as fuck of those people. For me, turning my brain off means that I am slightly less fixated on the one hundred potential things that could go wrong at that given moment or in my life, in general. I can’t even turn my brain off at night when I’m supposed to be asleep, which is why I frequently have insomnia. (If you’ve never stayed up all night worrying about whether or not fleas were going to form a small battalion and take over your bedroom you’ve never really lived, my friends.)

Compound my anxiety with my general self-consciousness, it’s virtually impossible for me to just relax around strangers. I make a valiant effort when I am on the massage table. I know that I’m not going to get much benefit from the whole thing If I am tensed up and feeling stressed out the entire time. Even still, there’s no way I can just lay there and put my brain on “Do Not Disturb” mode. (It would be really handy if this was an option though, no? Dear smart people, make this happen in the future.) Instead, I oscillate between forcing myself to relax and being hyper aware of myself.

Here are some examples of the things that pop into my head while I’m getting a massage:

Therapist: “Just take deep breaths and relax.”

Me: Am I breathing deeply enough? Did they say that because they know Im not taking deep breaths? Okay, try to focus on your breathing. Just breath in and out, very slowly. *Takes a few deep breaths* Who the hell needs to be told to breathe? Me. Thats who. I cant even be good at BREATHING. What is wrong with me? Okay, stop. Just freaking breathe and stop worrying about it. *Takes a few more breaths* Am I breathing too loudly? Am I supposed to be breathing through my nose or through my mouth? Oh shit, has my mouth been open this whole time? What if I fucking drool on the table? Thatd be so embarrassing. I wonder how many other people have drooled on this table before.

*Therapist pulls blanket down to massage my lower back*

Me: Wow, this feels amazing. Im basically laying here topless. I wonder if he/shes picturing me naked. Im glad they cant actually see anything, even though Im technically naked right now. Oh my god, is my vagina hanging out?! Im freaking naked in front of this person and Im probably exposing my vagina. *Panics* Okay, seriously, stop it. The blanket is draped over your bottom half. How would your vagina be hanging out? Youre being ridiculous. Just focus on your breathing. Fuck, have I not been breathing again? How do I keep forgetting to breathe? *Takes a few deep breaths* I wonder if theyre going to touch my butt. The last guy touched my butt without any warning. I mean, I guess its okay because hes supposed to do that, but still, it would be nice to at least warn someone before you go touching their ass. I wonder I anybody has ever farted while getting a massage before. That would be so embarrassing. *Represses the urge to giggle* Mmmm, this is nice…”

*Therapist moves blankets so they can access my legs*

Me: Is my vagina hanging out?! How do I check? Should I say something? If I was exposed they would be nice enough to readjust the blankets and cover me up, right? Stop it, Kiersten. Your vagina isnt hanging out. Relax, damn it. *Takes a few deep breaths* I really hope I remembered to shave this morning. What if I did, but I missed a big spot? Theyre probably going to tell the other therapists that I dont even know how to shave my legs properly. Ugh.

Therapist: “Okay, you can flip over now.”

Me: They didnt even touch my butt. *Repositions self under blanket* Now what am I supposed to do? Should I keep my eyes closed? Otherwise its going to look like Im staring at them. Yeah, thats it, Ill keep my eyes closed. *Opens eyes to see what therapist is doing* Oh shit, they saw me. Do they think Im being creepy? Should I say something or just keep quiet? Just close your eyes and breathe again. *Takes a deep breath* But seriously, how do I know if Im breathing right? Why dont they go over this with you in the beginning? Oh my god, did I just fart?

Therapist: “Okay, our time is up for today. I’ll meet you out in the hall once you get dressed.”

Me: “Thank you.” *Checks to see if vagina is hanging out*

By the time the whole thing is over my muscles feel fantastic and I have no choice but to feel relaxed, as my brain is so exhausted from playing ping pong with itself that it eventually goes numb. I put my clothing on, thinking about how great I feel, and wander over to the mirror hanging on the wall. That’s when I discover that I am as much of a mess on the outside as I am in my head. My hair is typically in a bun directly on the side of my head, there’s black makeup smudged all over my eyes, and I’m so greasy from all the oil the therapist has used that my skin is actually shiny. (Not to mention that I smell like a hippie.) At that point, I walk out of the room to meet my therapist and casually ask “So, was it a good for you as it was for me?”

Fortunately, most of the paranoia I experience during my massage sessions are unjustified. Pretty much everything that I am worrying about has never actually happened to me. There was, however, one particular incident that had me wishing I could crawl under the table and light myself on fire.

I stopped by the massage studio after a particularly exhausting Monday at work. The therapist was someone I hadn’t been to before and he was really good. So good that I actually let myself decompress and just enjoy the massage, rather than lay there overthinking about whether or not I was breathing. (For the record, I don’t take very deep breaths. My anxiety makes my breathing somewhat shallow most of the time. This may or may not be why therapists are always reminding me to breathe. They’re probably paranoid that I’ll pass out or die on their table and that wouldn’t be very good for business, would it?) I was proud of myself. I was being less weird than usual that day. The therapist and I even chatted a little bit at the beginning of the session. Maybe I could act like a sane personal after all!

That’s when I touched his crotch and ruined everything.

To clarify, I didn’t intentionally grab his crotch. It just ended up in my hand. I don’t go around touching other guys’ genitals at random, even if I find them attractive. This was completely by accident.

I had been laying facedown on the table while the guy worked on my neck. He went to reposition himself from the side of the table to the top of it, near my head, and that’s when I got a handful. At the exact same moment I lifted my arm to move my hair out of my face. The movement was intercepted by the therapist’s junk, which came directly into the path of my hand.

For a few seconds I wondered whether or not I had actually made contact. “Maybe I just brushed his leg,” I pretended. But alas, I couldn’t even lie to myself to make it less embarrassing. I most definitely touched his crotch. It was like an unseen force had guided his penis directly into my palm so that for the rest of all eternity I could look back on that moment and be forever humbled. (“You got a promotion at work? That’s great news. But hey, remember when you accidentally felt up your massage therapist? Haha. You suck.”) Well played, universe. Well played.

My heart rate spiked as I silently panicked over what I should do. Should I apologize? Should I assure him that I was not trying to sexually assault him? Should I make a joke to lighten the mood? I couldn’t have thought of a joke even if I had tried. The universe was already laughing its ass off at me. I was clearly the joke here.

I did nothing. I was too mortified to even say anything, so I just laid there for the remainder of the session (which, thankfully, was only another ten minutes) and tried to will myself out of existence. The therapist never said anything either. He went about his job and pretended that nothing ever happened, which I suppose is a sign if professionalism. Or perhaps he was also as mortified as I was. Who knows.

I got dressed and left that place as quickly as possible, but not before leaving my digits with the lady at the front desk. I didn’t want to make him feel cheap after that tender moment we had shared together. Believe it or not, he never called.

Since I’ve started getting massages I’ve learned a few things:

  1. For starters, massage really is a good form of self-care. This won’t be the case for every single person, but for me it’s been beneficial. Despite my awkwardness and my tendency to be slightly paranoid while I’m on the table, it has been great for my overall well-being. My depression and anxiety can make me feel pretty shitty, both physically and mentally. Even on my good days, my body is pretty tense, which causes a lot of knots in my neck and shoulders. This tends to cause headaches. I can’t speak for everyone, but I find it difficult to go about my day and try to maintain a positive attitude when I’m in pain. Massage has been a great way to help me alleviate some of that pain and make me feel a little better overall. I’m not going to call it a cure for anything, but it’s a nice way to unwind and make my body feel good.
  2. I suck at relaxing. I’m not even good at relaxing when I am actively trying to relax.
  3. Apparently, I also suck at breathing.
  4. Under no circumstances is it ever okay to grab a random stranger’s crotch.
  5. Lastly, and possibly most importantly, you should always check to make sure that your vagina isn’t hanging out.

7 thoughts on “Self-Care and the Art of Forgetting How to Breathe

  1. The ma is a massage therapist and so I have been getting massages ever since I was little and she went to massage school. Now that I don’t live near her I have to a) pay and b) see strangers. It is still weird but I remind meself that they be professionals, take a deep breath, and move on. I recently went to a spa (in another country) where the massage therapist brushed me hair as part of the treatment and it was seriously the most sensual massage ever. I was so relaxed that I couldn’t even find the locker room and he walked me toward it. And I spontaneously hugged him. He actually laughed and thought I was funny. I was slightly embarassed but also so relaxed that I immediately shrugged it off. I am overdue for another massage. Loved, loved, loved this post. Ye rock.
    x The Captain

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s interesting about the hair thing. It’s good that you enjoyed it though and didn’t get weirded out. I realized that massage standards are different in other countries when I got one in Canada. You know how in the US they keep your bottom half covered with the blanket? The massage therapist in Canada just whipped the blanket right off and my ass was exposed. It didn’t really bother me, but I hadn’t been expecting it and wasn’t sure what to do at first, haha. (They covered me up when I flipped over onto my back though…thank goodness)

      Like

  2. This was awesome! And so funny. I’ve had a few massages but honestly I do not like them. I’m EXTREMELY ticklish and it’s just uncomfortable for everyone involved. Plus I HATE having my neck touched, like my whole life, so nope, can’t do it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I totally get the ticklish thing. I’m really ticklish in certain places (especially my feet) and there have been times where I started to giggle during a massage. I can see why people who are super ticklish might not feel relaxed in that situation.

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