#90: The Massage

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Massage therapy makes every third of a year special. When it’s time to get a massage, my body usually feels the most ragged and disheveled. Like I’m in dire need of something new to refresh, loosen, and relax my muscles and joints. Usually, the therapist asks if there are any particular areas on my body that need special attention, and usually I’ll say my hand and back. Because my posture is never too good, my back and spine stretch forward too much, a feeling that the massage disintegrates. My hands need special help as a result of my carpal tunnel; I don’t know officially if I have carpal tunnel, but I show all the symptoms. Cramped finger joints abound. The only thing missing is the official diagnosis, confirming my status. When the therapist stretches out my fingers and twists them in just the right ways, it feels perfect for just a moment, like my body is returning back to its normal status. I know the feeling won’t last, but for the time after the massage, the post-massage feeling is the greatest.

Alex and I get couples massages together usually three times a year, scheduled around important or stressful events. When I was still a classroom English teacher, we would schedule around vacations or the start of school. A massage before school resumes is a perfect way to motivate a teacher. You don’t end up feeling so bad about the school year starting again. But this massage was scheduled awhile ago, resulting from the massage place messaging us with an awesome coupon. We didn’t schedule this one specifically for me to celebrate my new job, although I can appreciate the coincidence.

By the time this post goes up, on Thursday, I’ll have already had my massage, and maybe I’ll update this with the aftermath, reflecting on its effect on my body’s happiness.

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#5: Smiling Away from Work

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So much is communicated with a smile. But not enough to judge a person’s mental health.

At my last job, I tried to smile more, hoping it would make me happier. Much of my personality was communicated through personas and body language rather than authentic emotion. You can lead and laugh through a wonderful class while still feeling an overwhelming disappointment in yourself. No simple mistake, no factual error, no awkward gaffe escapes your ever-present self-loathing. It provides ammunition, evidence to support the thesis that you are woefully unqualified and unworthy.

You wonder whether your mind even wants you to enjoy this, whether that’s a possibility at all. Your mind is too preoccupied with its escapist visions of the future to be satisfied with the present. You remember the ones who enjoyed what you did for them. Compliments bounce off your outer shell, heard and appreciated but not internalized enough to make a difference. You remember the ones who dreaded you more clearly. They left a more indelible impression in your brain, and every little piece of those memories is brought back to the surface when you think about it long enough.

And yet I still smiled all day. I left meetings alone with a weight on my chest. I remember hearing about community-building exercises, networking opportunities, icebreaker activities. Every word worsened the sting. I remember pitching these opportunities to others, hoping someone would like them, even though I had no interest in them myself. It was an obligation. What I really wanted was to feel listened to, or heard in some way.

My heart nearly burst through me the first time I had to explode at someone. I could still feel my chest pain hours later. But that’s another story for another time.

I will continue to smile for no reason at all, even if it changes nothing. My depression does not mean I cannot find enjoyment in simple things. In fact, it’s the simple things that keep me falling off the deep end. It’s when I finally discover an outlet for my creativity that I realize I can beat this back. Thanks for reading.

#2: Peace and Pride

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Finding peace and pride in our past lives is terrifying. The idea that you can review the past objectively, without shame, is completely foreign to me.

In 5th grade, three boys in my class bullied me, called me homophobic slurs, and worst of all, imagined dirty, disgusting dares for me to complete during our bathroom breaks before returning to class. If I didn’t complete their dares in time, the boys would stand up from their desks and point and laugh at me as I returned from the bathroom. The teacher never stepped in, not even when my parents called the school about it.

This wasn’t the first, nor the last time I was bullied in school. But it comes to mind because, like most victims of bullying, a part of me has always blamed my own dweebishness for the treatment I received. I resented those boys, but never stood up for myself. I had braces, a lisp, an awkward gait, and regularly brought my nerdy interests to school during show and tell. I remember expressing total enthusiasm for my new Gamecube the day after Christmas break, and I remember feeling embarrassed when others didn’t take the activity as seriously as I did. In short, my peers encouraged a sort of cooled resentment towards sincerity. Sincere emotions, whether passion for a gaming system or sadness after school, were signs of a weak spirit. I didn’t get the hint until it was too late, until after my reputation had already settled in the school community.

One of the reasons it can be difficult to be prideful in the past is because history tends to repeat itself, allowing past failures to reconstitute into new forms that make you question whether you’ve really changed much at all since 5th grade. Even though you know you have.

Peace and pride come from accepting failure and absolving our past selves of guilt, from seeing through the facade of total free will and manifest destiny over our lives that justifies our victimhood. Nothing in this world is completely under our control. There is a nice calm from throwing your hands up in the air and admitting defeat in that pursuit.

When I realize that I was an ineffective and incomplete teacher, I find peace and pride in my decision to leave teaching. My decision to leave, on its own, is evidence of the fact. The world was corrected in some small way when I made that choice. 

#1: Human Connections

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My physician described it as an “exhausting process.” One that includes “bearing your heart out for an hour, to a total stranger, and then doing it again until you find the right therapist.” And instantly, I could see how exhausting it could be, how much it could drain you. 

Therapy makes me anxious because I am desperate to real human connection. Not artificial connections, lasting only through small talk until the clock runs out.

I relate a lot to Justin McElroy, who, on one of his many podcasts, talked about his “managed anxiety disorder.” And then, on a more recent episode of MBMBaM, Justin brought to the conversation an example from his driving trek home from Cincinnati, where he saw Jimmy Buffett. The example was about people on the highway, that car you see out of your periphery, the one that keeps showing up and never takes the exit, the person you’ve already imagined a picture of, and you feel, or at least perceive, a camaraderie building between you, even though there is no evidence that the driver or anyone else in that car noticed this happenstance connection building. A small relationship, made entirely from coincidence. Griffin called it the “grocery store shuffle”: when you accidentally bump into someone or try to sneak by them in the store and mutually apologize. Justin responded that he loves it because when the two people accidentally look up at each other and apologize, you forget everything else, the baggage. The hard feelings. You focus on the moment, and that brilliant but small moment where everyone involved feels at the same level, emotionally. You have connected the dots together. I loved when he spoke about that, because it reminded me so much of how I feel day-to-day, and how I wish others acted. I wish we were more appreciative of those small moments when people see eye to eye, not because of belief, but from situation or circumstance. It’s when I love people the most.