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Who Am I, and Why Am I Here? (part 1)

June 9, 2022 Author: Renée

It's a great question, isn't it? It is the question we all seem to ask ourselves at one point or another: "What makes me, me, and what is my reason for existing?"

As a self-employed massage therapist, my reasons for seeking answers to this question are a bit different than when asking it on a personal level. Whether I am speaking to a group of people I am hoping will eventually become referral sources, or having a conversation with a potential client, I know that they are asking themselves a flip-flopped version of this question: "Who are you, and why are you here? What do you have to offer me, and why should I trust you?"

In order to find the answer to the business-owner version, I must learn the answer to the personal version. Who I am and why I am here on a personal level greatly inform who I am and why I am here (or, what I have to offer and why anyone should trust me) on a professional level.

Since the answers to both versions of this question are integral to my sole-proprietorship, "it's-just-me" business, I figured this is where my blog ought to start.

Can you imagine a massage therapist who is afraid of being touched?

Yep, that was me, just a short decade ago. The issue was a trauma that had rocked my world– potentially to the point of never returning to the massage room. Yet in addition to not wanting to give up the work that I loved to do, massage was the only marketable skill I had.

In order to return to the treatment room, I had no choice but to work through my fear. That was very difficult, especially when I needed to get massages myself. None of my colleagues at the time understood the triggers that caused me to hyperventilate, hold my body stiffly, and wish desperately for the massage to be over well before it was time.

I remember a conversation I had with a (non-massage therapist) friend at the time, wherein I mused that I wished that there was a way for me to use the unique set of skills and talent that I had as a massage therapist, combined with my own life experience, to help others who had experienced what I had to not be afraid to be touched anymore.

I did eventually find my way back into the massage room, but as is so often the case, "life happened" and I soon forgot all about that conversation. I was massaging again, but I was not finding the fulfillment and joy in my chosen career that I wanted or needed– my definition of a fulfilling massage career is NOT "mashing muscles for a living," and whenever I find myself thinking like that, I know burnout is imminent.

Wrapped up in trying to survive, I also forgot that I was supposed to be healing. I was reluctant to admit that there was anything amiss. I was unwilling to "identify" with the multitudes of others who had experienced the same sort of trauma that I had. I staunchly plodded to work and back home, trying my best to keep the bills paid and myself and my family alive one slow, painful day at a time.

Change began when I decided to go back to college. My idea was to complete the remaining prerequisites, and then apply to nursing school. That plan was sidelined when I went to the nursing program information meeting, wherein I was told no fewer than three times that I would have to "kiss my family goodbye" for however long it took to complete the program. I was not willing to be "home but not home," so I decided to simply take the few classes that remained for me to complete a basic Associate's degree and call it good.

One of the classes I had to take regardless of my plan was an English composition class. At first I was a bit irritated, because I had CLEPed out of that class <ahem> years before, in my senior year in high school. Even though that CLEP-out was on my previous college transcripts, the school I was attending required me to either obtain the CLEP transcript from the College Board, retake the test, or take the class. Since the College Board does not retain transcripts from as far back as <ahem> years ago, and I figured a lot had changed in those years anyway, I opted to take the class.

In that class, I ended up writing an essay on the very sort of trauma I had experienced. Researching and writing that essay literally changed my life. During an interview related to my project, I mentioned my long-ago dream of using my massage work to help people who had been through what I had to my interviewee, and their response was a resounding "YES! But first you should get trauma-informed."

That was the first time I had ever heard that term. My Internet searches for "trauma informed training for massage" came up disappointingly dry. I did find one intriguing class, but the cost of tuition, travel and lodging , plus the lack of ability to obtain or afford as much time off as I would have needed to participate in the class were prohibitive. I continued searching, but was unable to find much that was promising at all. 

What I WAS finding was slowly, but surely, opening my eyes to the reality of my own situation as a trauma survivor, and while much of what I was learning was depressing, I began to find much hope for my future, as well.

To Be Continued...