Natural, Free Neck Tension Relief

I don’t know about you, but neck tension is just the pits. I get it bad. Sometimes it gives me pains all down the lateral side of my neck. Other times my occiput gets this stabby thing. Ugh.

Just about every place in your body, you can get to and stretch. You can roll it out with a roller, or do a yoga pose, or rub it out yourself. Neck tension is hard to get rid of, without someone else to do it for you.

I have a very dear friend who lives far away from me. She has neck tension. If I could get to her neck I would, I would just rub the hooey out of it, but I can’t because there are just too many miles between us and that would be — without a shadow of a doubt — the longest distance I’ve ever traveled for a house call.

She was hoping I could give her some “natural, free” ideas of how to reduce some of her neck tension. I started compiling a list in my head and then I thought, why not share it? So here are some ideas, and if you have one that I’ve missed please add it to the comments below!

(And by the way I’m not going to say anything stupid like “reduce your stress level.” I find it more stress producing to say things like that! The chance of our stress level magically going down is pretty slim, and besides, some of the things that stress us out, when considered, give us pleasure and happiness too. Would we take those things out of our lives? Probably not. You know the only thing I think doesn’t have stress? A bagged potato. So. Here are some ideas of natural, free, and manageable ways to reduce neck tension. And by manageable I mean easy.)

Water. Give it a try. I was gonna get all up in my panties about the necessity of drinking water but then I realized it’s just another thing that can stress us out (“am I drinking enough water? Am I doing it now? NOW??”) and besides there is no clear, unequivocable evidence that drinking a lot of water is going to fix anything. Instead, please read this amazing article by Paul Ingraham from painscience.com: “Chronic Dehydration Fear Mongering.”

One of the best quotes, for me, from this article was this:

Drink your 8 glasses per day (or 10, or 14), and ignore anyone who tries to get you to worried about it … or who tells you it doesn’t matter. It does matter. It just doesn’t matter much! – Paul Ingraham

YOU know how much water you should be drinking. When you have neck tension, and you can feel it ratcheting up, just check in: “have I had a glass or two of water recently?” Go have a little. Or a lot. Follow your thirst. It can help reduce your tension, certainly stave off a headache.

If you have no idea if liquid has passed your lips today, what you drank or even what your day was like, then we go on to…

Soak.  Getting water into your system is a challenge. Soaking in a bubble bath? Are you kidding me? Who has time for that? Plan a treat. Soak your feet.

Pick up a dishpan, big metal bowl, even an 8-quart kettle if you have nothing else. Put in some epsom salts or sudsies or smelly-goody thingies, throw a bunch of hot water in there, grab a towel, and have a soak.

You can soak your feet and: catch up on reading, watch TV, listen to someone sing. Or examine seed catalogs. Whatever. If you are sitting down, even for 10 minutes, you can soak your feet. You can even draw water into your tub, sit on the edge of the tub, and soak your feet there.

Believe it or not this can make a difference for neck tension. Relaxed, warmed feet can relax you, overall, and if you are relaxed overall your neck might also let go.

In lieu of a soak, I also heartily recommend a very hot shower with the water pounding on the top of your head for a spell. Speaking of your head…

Orientation. Where is your head? In time and space? (here I must insert a link to the classic Pixies song Where Is My Mind)

Locate it. For every bit of forward head movement there’s more, more and more weight on your neck. If you don’t believe me, please check out this article from The Washington Post, ” ‘Text neck’ is becoming an epidemic and could wreck your spine.”

“Ahh ha ha,” I hear you retort, a little smugly. “I do not text, you foolish woman. So there!”

To which I counter, well. I believe you could replace the word “text” with any of the following: computer, book, cheffing, Kindle…knitting neck even…any activity where your head is dangling off the front of your body as you focus on what’s in front of you.

Your neck is not designed for this. Bring your head back into alignment with your shoulders. If you can’t see your shoulders in your peripheral vision, then your head is probably too far forward. And, you look a lot more like a turtle than you could possibly imagine.

For the health of your head and neck – and, because, like me, you are just a tiny bit vain (just a tiny bit) – get your head back on top of your body.

SWING. Whatever physical activity you do, is awesome. I encourage it. Even if it’s an energetic blitz from the parking lot into the store, or trying to catch a train. What I am encouraging here is getting your arms going. I mean to the point of dorkitude.

WALK with PURPOSE. Dance like you’re at a concert – arms up and waving about. Swim, and really dig into the crawl or backstroke. Just stand in the kitchen and flop your arms around for crying out loud. I’ve noticed, when I mobilize my shoulder girdle, I start to feel blood flow up into my neck and my head clears. Try it for yourself.

Speaking of crying…

Cry. Okay, if you’re like me this is not something you want to aim for. But pushing to get through (and, if you consider it, the physical act of pushing through something requires you to tense up, hunch over and lead with your head…hmmm) stuff, we get winched up: physically and emotionally (there’s no barrier between the two, remember).

We fight back our words, instincts, and tears. Pretty soon we are bottling everything and we might not even be aware how restricted we’ve become: in thoughts, words and deeds.

Crying is, actually, not only good for your emotional/mental health but seems to help the physical health of your neck too. Again, I’m speaking experientially here, but if I allow myself some time to feel what I feel – or, if I can’t go there, feel what someone else might be feeling (ergo compassion) – the tears come.

And my head lets go. And my neck muscles let loose.

And here I must post a link to the classic “Free To Be, You and Me” children’s album from the 1970s: dear Rosey Grier singing “It’s Alright To Cry.”

It might make you feel better!

 

What We Do Not See

We went for 3 weeks without a sunny day. A lot of us started to develop a skin over our eyeballs. We woke in the dark, fumbled through our day, yawned until twilight then curled into blankets and rolled into another deep sleep, crowded with dreams set in murky depths.

The winter solstice was also a New Moon, not that any of us would have noticed, having long forgotten what lit orbs in the sky looked like, and even if they were there, we would not have seen them for the seamless overhang of clouds. (Long forgotten. Yes, we have a terrible memory.)

When the sun finally did arrive it was Christmas afternoon. The ponderous grey rolled back and exposed a blue sky and blinding sun. Not only had I forgotten that the sun could be so strong, but so had my entire eye anatomy. Everything cramped.

My eyes were sore for a while.

Bunny.Moon.nationalgeographicThe sun is there when we don’t see it. So is the moon. So are a LOT of things: magma, the stratosphere, bacteria, plumbing. There’s enough evidence it exists. So we say it does, even though our eyeballs forget and strain at the re-membering.

Believing in what we do not see goes beyond the physical. There’s the deeper physics of relationship. What is thread that binds platoons, believers or indoor soccer players? Well, it’s that psychological fabric, the warp and woof of commonality. It’s invisible, but take it “away” and what you have is just a random assortment of people. With it, you have community.

Even more ephemeral – yet perhaps most strong – are conditions of the heart and mind. Faith. Peace. Love. We feel these things, and we offer them to others, who feel them in return. They are more real for some of us than anything visible. They are true.

As a massage therapist I touch bodies for my work. I do it with care, curiosity, with the intention to accomplish something. Interestingly I do not ever see with my eyes what I aim for with my touch. If you are a bodyworker you know this is true.

My intention is like an X-ray, and combined with hands that know and a brain that recalls, I think I “see” the soft tissue I address and the bones cozied within, but I never see them. What I see is skin. What lies millimeters beneath that skin, and what I envision, shall never actually be in my hands.

Regardless of how we feel about our palpation skills, our anatomy knowledge, the tremendous (or paltry) therapeutic experience we have locked into our hands after years (or just a few months) of massage: there is more we do NOT see, as massage therapists, than what we do.

Which leads me to my next thought, which is: we may be one of the most guessing-est professions there are.  It’s essential we’re trained well, and we consistently update our knowledge, but that aside? I feel there is an element of wizardry under the learnable skill set of therapeutic massage, and it makes the difference between a massage therapist whose work we like OK, and the massage therapist we can’t wait to have another session with.

There’s your professional magician. And then there’s the lady who’s been to Hogwarts.

This kind of talk will get me in trouble with schools and professional organizations. I’m not dissing education or professionalism, at all; I expect the highest from all concerned. But the people who’ve touched me best, touched me most deeply and made the biggest difference for me have been educated, trained, and then gone sidling up to realms unseen, within me and around me, and partnered it for a while. Quietly, respectfully, but wholly.

This is true of great artists of all kinds…spiritual leaders…politicians, even… detectives…

Did I say wizardry? I meant to say sleuthing. As massage therapists there’s a lot of clues we have to track down, pieces to put together, answers that only become clear over time, to solve mysteries. We need be like Miss Marple or Hercule Poirot and use our imagination, as well as our brains, to arrive at the truth.

One of the most interesting columnists, to me, in the ABMP‘s (Associated Bodywork and Massage Professionals) magazine, “Massage and Bodywork”  is Douglas Nelson and his column “Table Lessons.” He reminds me of a modern-day Sherlock Holmes, and his columns are written like small mysteries to be solved.

In his article from the July/August ’14 edition of Massage and Bodywork, he commented:

Words and images have powerful effects, both positive (placebo) and negative (nocebo). X-rays don’t always tell the whole story – there isn’t always a direct relationship between what is seen and the pain a person is experiencing.

What is not seen is more powerful than what is visible, perhaps? Well I could get behind that.

And then there’s David Lauterstein, whose writing and Deep Massage technique and, frankly, personage, I love and adore and will champion until the cows come home. He has been my teacher and my friend for a few years now.

In his FaceBook page The Deep Massage Book David wrote this past week:

Many of the meanings of energy are not objectively verifiable. They are primarily subjective experience. But the content of massage is as much the subjective experience of wellness, of restored energy, as it is verifiable anatomical or physiological results.

Bottom line,  the massage therapist we love most? The one we reschedule with and who gets our precious positive word of mouth? Is the one who travels all the worlds of us.

It is really a very easy thing to offer someone else. It looks a lot like love.

Wounded But Serving

I think it’s a good thing to talk about self-care and how we can optimize ourselves for being the best practitioners we can be, but we need to get real: individually and as a profession. There’s self care because you need to be a little physically stronger, a little less sleepy in the afternoon: then there’s the self care of the truly wracked, anxious, woebegone and frightened.

Trying to get a toehold on sanity, and working that line, hour by hour, minute by minute, and also seeing clients.

I am writing this blog post now because I couldn’t write in August.  A situation with mental illness and addiction in my family reached new crisis levels. This person was rushed to the ER and admitted to a psychiatric and addiction center, for the second time this year.

 

There is, as of this writing, 30 days of sobriety, good prescriptions, and a will to live. But it has been rough. I became ill, too. The name they give it is Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), which feels pretty weird for someone who spends 8-10 hours a day helping people reduce theirs.

I was doing all the good stuff (more salads. Less caffeine. More sleep. Less sugar.) but a lot of it wasn’t working, when I desperately wanted it to. It just didn’t. There for a while I had a small bag I carried, along with my purse, holding all the tinctures, supplements, flower essences and powders I’d collected so I could dose myself all day.

I’m doing better (due to many kinds of support, which I won’t get into here), but there were plenty of moments when I walked into a session, hoping to help others, but feeling utterly broken and full of despair inside. This was a deeply painful place to find myself.

I felt guilty for barely holding it together and still seeing others in a therapeutic setting. Is there room in our profession for those, like me, hoofing it on the edge of darkness?

 

Consider your stereotype of massage therapists. We see a practitioner who is happy, relaxed, completely absorbed in the needs of the client, serene, centered, thoughtful…quite possibly the embodiment of health and sanity. (I mean, when I go get a massage, that’s kind of what I hope to experience, even just a little bit.)

There are massage therapists like me who have a loved one up to their gullets in mental illness and addiction and who, themselves, are in real danger of becoming sick and/or addicted themselves.

There are massage therapists with mental health issues.

There are massage therapists who are addicts.

There are massage therapists whose children are in jail or who have gone missing: whose loved ones are battling cancer or HIV, ALS, PTSD: who are facing foreclosure or eviction.

There are massage therapists who feel maligned or weak or increasingly concerned by a physical ailment or a state of mind: whose might have family members threatened with violence, deportation or incarceration: who feel endangered or misunderstood where they live.

How do I know this? I don’t, for sure. But a lot of humans have lives like this. Lots of people, navigating terrifying swells in a boat that is taking on water. Massage therapists are human: ergo, there are probably more of us working our hearts out to give to others, and doing so from a fragile place, than most of us realize or want to acknowledge.

Standing and serving in the midst of profound confusion and pain is okay. If we think we have to have it all together to work, that’s something we need to examine. We have compassion for our clients in the midst of their trouble: it’s the least we can do for ourselves.

Also, some days the best part of being massage therapist was leaving my self outside the treatment room:  stowing my fears for a few hours while I worked to make a difference for someone, anyone. For all my technical skills, essential oils, good intentions, I could do nothing in my family. But at work: there was hope.

In your life, a bomb will go off. I promise you. Everything you thought about yourself and your world will melt like late winter snow. Who are you, then, as you stand in the wreckage, and also wish to work? Watch your illusions of control dissolve, one by one, until you’re seeing clearly, and wishing you didn’t. Until, one day, you don’t mind.

There is a moment, in the chrysalis, where the goo inside is not caterpillar, not butterfly. It’s an amorphous gel of who-knows-what. The entity that knew itself as Caterpillar no longer exists. The promise of Butterfly is too much to hope for.

There’s where you work from, as a practitioner, and in the midst of the life you’ve been given. This is what anyone, groping for a way, knows. Don’t be fooled by the nice smells, pretty colors and soothing music: massage therapists are right there too.

Caterpillar to chrysalis: for your encouragement (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-gsm_ZyJz_s)

I feel it’s important to have boundaries about a lot of things but I’m equally convinced it’s important to share what you know, when you can, especially if it will help someone else, maybe remove stigma. So: I’m a member of Al-Anon. It has changed my life and saved my sanity.

Curve with a Name

“But I never would have guessed you have scoliosis.”

I do have it, I hide it well, although lately I have to say it has not hid itself from me. My lower left lumbars are aching in a deep way, confused, sending little unhappy bleats down my left leg all the way to my toes. You might not really understand the immediacy and power of your nervous system until you injure or pinch a nerve, even slightly. The messages are varied, yet continuous.

CurveTypesMy left hip seizes up when I get out of a chair, and currently I’m enjoying a slumbering right psoas: one of the strongest muscles in the body. When it’s strained, lifting your leg becomes either impossible or fills you with stabbing pain, like someone jabbing an ice pick into your hip joint. It slumbers and then when roused – like, when I want to move in and out of my car – behaves like a hornet hive that’s been poked with a flaming torch.

I would never have guessed I had scoliosis until I injured my back two weeks ago, and now my scoliosis is all I think about. Ever since I was diagnosed with it when I was 11 years old, I’ve seen chiropractors (waaay back when they were quack status) and received massage, done yoga and powerwalking, and in the past four years added in Pilates and a little moderate weightlifting. Nothing regularly unfortunately, and nothing with vigor.

I blame my current constant pain and inability to move with ease, as is my custom, on my twisted spine, which seemed to be bearing up under sporadic attention just fine until now. Is it fair, to be peeved at a body part when it says, “Enough’s enough”? Aren’t our bodies allowed to speak out, set boundaries, communicate directly and try to resolve conflict with us, just like we feel we are entitled to do with other people?

What does it mean to be not curved from front to back, but side to side? Our spine is meant to roll fore and aft, thoracics to lumbars, not severely but gently, to cushion the blow of living and act as a spring, boinging finely at the center of our being. You can go deep into a body and the deepest place there’s bone, doing its glistening slick oseous job.

Deepest and most profound in its construct is our spine. We ask so much of it: sitting for hours hunched, sleeping splayed or curled, jerking it around lifting heavy things that sheer will deems doable. (“I can lift that.”) And our spine not so much. (“Well that was a bad idea.”)

It would be a lot better for us, wouldn’t it, if we wouldn’t just assume everything we feel like doing and want to do with our bodies is OK with our body. We would be accused of behaving selfishly, carelessly, if we constantly dealt with friends and associates with the sometimes breath-taking lack of sensitivity we show our own frame.

What we take for granted! Whole systems working tirelessly, painlessly, and then when injured, begin to let us know. “How annoying,” we say with disgust, and throw painkiller or hydrotherapy at it, hoping it goes away. The mendicant at our gate is body, and rather than feed it, we take the other way out of the city.

The first chiropractor I saw when I was 11 was a large, soft, dusky grey man in a poorly lit room who talked sweetly to me and my mother, and touched my back with big meaty hands that felt like giant warm paws. I remember looking up at him and my mother, like a bunny in the woods, waiting to see what the big animals would do.

He did some acupressure points in my ears (a sensation I’ve never forgotten, maybe why I love doing auricular massage to this day) with a metal stylus, told me everything that would happen, helped me onto his electronic table, and adjusted me. I was not afraid, not for a minute: I was just as curious as he was about what he could do to help me.

My mother did not do the surgery on me everyone said I should have, or the body cast: she chose hands-on healing. I wasn’t fixed by this man’s hands: but I had a strong sense that he understood me. He did not look at my malformations as something to be conquered, but something to be kindly spoken to.

Now the adult who must tend my inner child, I am both big bear and the small rabbit: and it’s my job to talk sweetly to the injury I have, and the torqued, tense mass of my lower left lumbars. Good luck has run out. Now it’s my turn to pay attention, and explain everything that’s going to happen, and not conquer my frame, but speak gently.

Should come easily, you know. I do it for a living. Ahhh, but who can do it for themselves? It is hard. To be that “wounded healer,” and give as generously to myself – in attention, exhortation, encouragement and affection – as I would a client? As my first chiropractor gave to me? That which I received, I give. That which I give: I must now receive.

 

Naked as the Day you were Born

Combine incredible stress and profound loss with a nurturing safe environment and being touched for the first time in months and you’d come unglued, too. My dear client lost her mother and feels alone, the most alone a person can feel, even if surrounded by tons of loving support, which she is not, which makes it so much worse.

Now she is undertaking building a house, her first, and also recuperating from a trying semester teaching brat kids and jousting with rotten co-workers. The woman’s a wreck. She’s on my table.

Re-drape. Grab the tissues and let her use the entire box if she needs to. Murmer consolations, good ones, don’t just pat absently and say “There there” or “awwww.”

Because I’ve known this woman for years, and I truly love her, I find myself rubbing her back between the wings, kissing the top of her head and saying “It’s gonna be okay. You’ll be okay” a few times until her sobbing stops and she starts to breathe naturally again.

“We’re gonna start over, with you supine now, with lots of pillows so you feel like Cleopatra on her barge!” I announce cheerfully, and make it happen quickly. No more snuffling into the face cradle: dignity and calm restored.

Massage therapists work parts: address limbs: move sheets and towels around like we’re doing some kind of horizontal semaphore code. We have these boundaries in place so everyone can relax and not worry about being exposed. There’s plenty of times, however, that exposure happens, whether we want it to or not.

Sometimes it happens when the client can’t help themselves, and they fall apart in front of your eyes. They just don’t care what you see.

I have a few who clutch at the linens when they roll either direction, exceeding even my careful work to keep them modest. That’s fine.  I understand. What’s more challenging to me is the client who starts taking off their clothing while I’m still doing intake. I think that they assume, since I am a massage therapist, that I will be totally okay with seeing their entire naked body.

Look, as much as I adore humans, I’d rather take my client in with my hands, not my eyes. Massage therapists have rites and rituals, and a sense of decorum, not to mention professional standards. While I will massage hinders all day long, I don’t want to see them up off my table, bouncing around the room. This is an art form, not a love-in.

But try telling that to an 82-year-old woman who is both so tired & so eager.  Before you can even get through your full gamut, the shirt’s off, the pants are long gone, and she’s sitting there in just her granny panties and footies.

I start into another question and trail off. “I take it you’re ready to get on the table,” I say.

She lets a pin out of her hair, and incredibly gossamer waves of long silvery hair billow down over her shoulders. I don’t want to look lower, but I do because it’s right there: two amazing breasts. Really. I don’t see many breasts up close, but these are unavoidable, and to my astonished eyes they look like they’re in great shape.

“It’s been a rough year, only getting rougher. Getting old is the pits. I feel like I’m looking at my life through the backwards end of a telescope,” she reports, as she goes to the table and skootches her hand under the linens, ready any time I am.  In her droopy drawers and her giant fuzzy socks, she looks like an elegant, aged fairy, a sage disrobed. I understand the time for my questions is over, and the time for me to work has begun.

Getting old is the pits, and over the next 90 minutes she goes into great detail about how much she has lost, how small her life has become taking care of her 92-year-old husband, all the things that have passed away. Maybe I’m the only person she can be wholly herself with, anymore, as she casts aside veneer and trappings, and speaks from her naked, weary heart.

Sometimes it only happens when the client is ready.

“Today’s a good day for a belly massage, I think,” says my longest-term client.

This is such progress I can barely keep from doing a fist pump. To spend as much time on his back and legs, as per his request, for over a decade, has meant that I’ve had to skip his arms and chest, as per his insistence. Which really is negligence:  the man’s got asthma, with profound breathing problems that have pulled his sternum down and affixed his anterior chest muscles to his ribcage.

I have only been able to guess at the condition of his thorax. Today, I get to see it.

“You got time?” he inquires.

Yes, lord, I do have time, I’ve had time for 13 years. Behaving as if it’s no big deal I drape his chest and let my fingers work  gently but persistently through the soft pine of his sternum, the branches of his ribs and around the scrying pool of his abdomen. I go over 90 minutes and don’t say a word about it: I know I might not have this opportunity again.

All of us in the industry have had these moments where we see a lot more than we meant to or hoped for. Despite all of our admirable attempts to keep it neat and tidy, things come undone. There’s a lot of grace in those moments, more than we could imagine. Trusting in all we do not see, we strive to meet fully what we do.

 

How to Admit You Need Help

Not all massage therapists need help. Lots have excellent boundaries, stable home lives, emotional equilibrium, or some healthy combination of the three, for most of their lives. Their families are normal, or at least, some of the darker aspects of human living don’t impede their quest for health and happiness.

There are, however, some of us who find things falling apart in our lives and realize we’re powerless to do anything about it. On top of it all: our mornings are black and our nights swollen with distress. Worst: our days are panic-stricken and filled with anxiety: we focus on our clients, not with curiosity and affection, but out of desperation, with tension shimmering beneath our touch, and when they’re gone we gasp and flop about, frightened and confused, like a guppy out of water.

By “we” I mean “me” of course.

Bluntly: I’m in recovery. There’s been a crisis in my family and I’m back in the Anonymous program I was in five years ago. I’m attempting two meetings a week, I have a sponsor, I’m reading literature, I’m working the Steps. I’m better. But there for a long while I was not. And things could get worse. I know that now.

With this comes time for little else: I haven’t been exercising nearly enough (sadly this would be true anyway, what with the relentless winter weather) and certainly haven’t tackled many projects that desperately need a tackle: my taxes, my client files, this blog. Homeostasis and maintaining sanity is a full-time job, on top of the other full-time job: maintaining my practice.

Projects and plans become back-burner stuff when you’re trying to keep yourself from having a meltdown.

“In every life there are peaks and valleys” so goes a trite saying that some people like to share with you when you’re suffering. (I would love to suffer such speakers a firm pinch on the nose, even though I know they mean well.) Oh ho: you know what? Sometimes it is just not a cute valley, all green and quiet and with a discernible end. Sometimes it is a yawning, howling cavern where you and your loved ones must walk, straight into the heart of darkness.

from a card I found at Coyote Moon in Belfast, Maine

from a card I found at Coyote Moon in Belfast, Maine

So: how do you know you need help? How do you come to admit the fact?

Interestingly, a big problem with knowing whether or not you need help is hardwired into the profession itself. From my perspective: I see myself as a resource for health and wellness for many people. I am used to making people feel good, all day long, by the sheer benefit of my presence.

“Thanks, I feel so much better” is a phrase I hear regularly in my day. Through a little effort on my part, I may not create miracles every time I touch someone, but usually there is big pay-off for me having everything under control: my clients are happy, I’m happy, even my officemate Jean is happy. (Especially when we have successfully and succinctly negotiated whose turn it is to resupply the TP and take out the trash.)

A whole day of getting paid for making people feel better spoils a person, particularly when you get back into the mess of non-professional relationship, i.e. family. It is really easy for me to advocate self care and dispense advice on health and wellness in my office: I have a little authority, and even when I have a client who is in the bowels of despair and/or pain, in about an hour they’re no longer my problem.

When standing in the heart of addiction with my family, we are on equal terms and whatever we’re experiencing together I cannot fix in an hour: not with all my technique, experience, good intentions, essential oils, nice music and sheets.

You know you need help when you think you can fix people.

You know you need help when you realize you have no control over others: you know you need help when you keep trying.

You know you need help when you realize another person’s behavior is turning you into a crazy person: when you catch yourself doing something, saying something, thinking something that makes you go, “Hey wait a minute. Whoa there,” but then you catch yourself doing it again. And justifying it, to boot.

You are just as out of control as everyone else. That’s when you need help.

I reached out for the Anonymous program because it was a perfect match-up for what my family and I were going through. I’m into a full month of participating in this free 50-year-old program and things are better. I am not looking for “perfect”: not anymore: but I’ll take better, any day, especially after the February I had.

If one of the Anonymous programs are not for you, there are other ways to ramp up getting help, beyond the occasional yoga class or acupuncture session (although both of these things are very helpful too). Talk therapy, meditation, meeting with your doctor are all openings into deepening your commitment to bringing yourself back to yourself. Getting massage more! (That ALWAYS helps, and in my next blog I hope to write about how the massage I got during this time of crisis felt like it saved my life.)

You might find certain authors really helpful, as I have: Richard Rohr (“The Art of Letting Go: Living the Wisdom of St. Francis“), Anne Lamott (“Help Thanks Wow: The Three Essential Prayers“,) Pema Chodron (“When Things Fall Apart“), Melody Beattie.

You may feel it’s time to re-engage with a faith community once again: perhaps a church, a synagogue, sangha or mosque is calling you. Try going. Maybe that’s what you need most right now.

Whatever you choose, let the dark valley you walk into wake you up to your true potential, and give you hope for your future. This is where I have found myself today. And it’s because I admitted I needed help.

After the Flu: Who’s In Charge?

One of the first things that clued me in that maybe not all was well within, was my raging fit over a new kitchen appliance. My husband purchased a modern pressure cooker that both of us were eager to try. Between the two of us, he’s more gifted in the kitchen (although I place a strong second); he was having no problem cranking out delicious, quick meals.

I, on the other hand, was still not able to make a recipe without scorching the food. Last Wednesday I was once again making a hash of things, and when he came over to see how I was doing, I unleashed upon him a vituperative spew that I spent the rest of the evening – and well into the next day – apologizing for.

“I honestly do NOT know what got into me,” I said to him, wholly contrite.

In less than 48 hours, I did.

We are relatively healthy, here: we eat home-cooked meals, do fresh juices and smoothies, buy local as much as possible. We exercise, and I don’t mean the gym: I feel strongly that shoveling snow, constant stacking and restacking of the woodpile, walks along country roads and the physical labor we both do for our jobs equates regular exercise, and that’s enough for us (for now). We take a few supplements.

Basically, after my evening of explosive anger, within 48 hours I was overcome by a deep mucousy cough (which I never get) and unrelenting body aches, chills, sweats, and pains for over 3 days. Someone swopped my brain with a bowl of gummy bears. I did a lot of sitting and staring, morose and unwashed.

A nice big fat juicy virus. In extreme close-up.

A nice big juicy virus. In extreme close-up. It wants entry to your cells, in a big juicy way.

As I slowly regained some strength, my husband started to tank, so there for a while both of us were wrapped in blankets, holding hands over the top of our quilts, mouths hanging open, playing game after game of Angry Birds (the irony doesn’t escape me).

And totally blowing up at each other, and then apologizing. Seventy-two hours of this.

“Oh yeah, it’s a cough, it’s terrible body aches and headache, and crushing crankiness,” said my friend when I inquired as to his health and found out he too had been ill for nearly a week. (It’s that time of year! And we’ve got it bad here in Maine.) I was relieved when he mentioned the bad mood, for it was our fits of anger that really bewildered me the most.

Certain emotions seem to welcome illness. But what comes first? The virus, or the emotion? Can the presence of an alien in our system – such as a virus, which is keen on setting up shop and replicating ASAP – create nearly alien emotional states in us as well?

Does it sap our immune system and also our bonhomie; our willingness to be egalitarian? When invaded, the body senses a threat and it doesn’t try to negotiate with the virus, see both sides of the issue, willing to let bygones be bygones: the body does not look at an invader and hope negotiations and treaties will result in a mutually beneficial resolution. It’s WAR.

I am wondering, then, if the war-like state of our 100 trillion cells might, just possibly, change our mood. Color our outlook. I know there is no real boundary between the body and our mind – the two are one – but I don’t think I’m alone, here, when I say that I sort-of assume my mind’s more in charge of things than my body?

But it’s not! Of course it’s not! All I have to do is look at the pleasurable outcome of body overriding mind: my own profession, massage therapy. This is precisely why massage therapy is unmatched at reducing anxiety and tension. After an effective session, stressful thoughts don’t chance a snowball’s chance in Fresno.

I have tried worrying after I’ve had a massage. I can’t do it, which makes me giggle with glee because I am a homegrown worrywart. (Another reason I’m so glad I found massage, and it found me.)

We put a lot of emphasis on personal efforts at mastering our own minds, but the body is the mind’s ultimate master. Whether through the discomfort of illness, or the bliss of massage, it picks up our mind in its gorgeous arms and says, “Shuuuuuuuush.”

David Lauterstein just posted this today on his Deep Massage Book FaceBook page: “The body is our teacher. Will this knowledge become common? Will the misplaced worship of the mind alone end as an embarrassingly long historical era?” Amen brother.

Two other things:

1) Being ill really reminds me the fallacy of “hurry up and get better.” Whether it’s the flu, or a persistent low back ache, or recovery from surgery: it takes the time it takes. There is no hurry. It’s the body. It has its own time-clock, and will slow you down to itself, if it has to, for you to get with its program.

2) I know, as a profession, massage therapists usually attempt (if not succeed) at modeling health and wellness, but if you’re never sick how are you going to understand someone who is? If you never suffer, how can you understand another’s suffering? Depression? Anger, sorrow? I’m not suggesting you go out there and intentionally invite disaster upon your person, but there’s nothing like a strong dose of it to help you open your heart afresh.

“I know, honey,” is all I’ve been saying to my husband for the past few days, “I know. I know, it really hurts. You feel awful. I’m so sorry.” And I’m looking forward to sharing this newly kindled compassion, personally won, with my clients too.

When you or someone you know gets the flu: “Your cold and flu symptoms, explained” — Courtesy of CNN and RealSimple.com. Why you feel the way you do: with remedies too!

Also, a very cool (if not slightly alarming) animation: “Flu Attack! How a virus invades your body” — Courtesy of NPR.org