Anxiety, Crisis, And Recovery As A Massage Therapist
**The author of this post asked to remain anonymous, however, it is such an important topic we thought it VERY important to share and I can’t thank them enough for being brave enough to write this for all of our benefit.
I made the mistake of going to a cadaver anatomy class, not really thinking if it was something I was fit to be doing, and signed up like you would any other continuing education.
I was at the height of a generalized anxiety disorder crisis that had been building for months, and my cognitive functioning was not letting me make the best choices. I also failed to mention it to my psychologist who I had been seeing for three months and have a great relationship with.
It wasn’t until I walked into the cadaver lab and the smell hit me, and I saw the people in bags on the tables that I realized I might have made a bad decision.
The bodies all looked like my Father, who I watched die and be put into the same bag two years before. I was surrounded by them, laid out on stainless steel tables among buckets of tools from the hardware store and fans.
For some reason, because the money was non-refundable and I needed CEUs, I justified staying when I should have left. I stuffed my nose with vaporub, put on a mask, and took breaks every 15 minutes.
We were able to touch, move, and dissect.
I kept my distance and observed, and forced my way through. There are many things I saw, which I feel today I should not have exposed myself to, although there are a few things I learned that were positive and do inform my massage therapy practice.
After throwing out my clothes and changing in the bathroom, I was tired and worn out. I drove home, showered, and went to bed.
Anxiety And Spiraling Negative Thoughts
The next day I was in shock without really understanding I was, I took a walk down to the lake. As I was walking I had some anxiety-provoking conversations on the phone with family and was in a complete daze.
As the day wore on, I got more and more anxious, and by 10 pm I was holding on just waiting for my partner to get home from work. Something snapped in me, feeling like I was full of anxiety on the inside like a container and it was everywhere all around me, there was no escape.
I left the house and started walking really fast, blindly retracing my earlier walk. I was going to throw myself into the lake to escape the anxiety, thinking that hypothermia was the only way out.
I got to the lake but I could not see how to get in because it was dark and I was on an edge with a rock wall and vegetation, I didn’t want to mess it up. If I was going to do this I had to get it right. Delayed in confusion, I sat for a while on the ground.
Just then my partner called me.
I had left them a voicemail saying I was sorry and I had done everything I could, but it was too late.
They kept alternating in a calm voice asking me where I was and telling me they loved me until I was able to respond and say where I was.
They came to get me and brought me to the hospital where I was put on a 17-hour hold. This was on a Tuesday when I was supposed to be in my university classes. On Wednesday I was let out and had an appointment with my psychologist, and was unable to really think or move or speak and was just wiped out mentally, emotionally and physically.
Massage Therapy Providing Comfort
The only thing I knew to do then was to keep moving through the things I normally do and had set up for the week, despite fully letting go of everything and giving up in my head.
I let myself physically go through the motions of doing things. On Friday I had a hair appointment, and the following Monday receiving a massage.
The feeling of being physically handled when you have given up is a thing I can’t describe. It’s like you have decided to fall into a giant hand and let it protect you. During each, I knew I could no longer comprehend caring for myself and was relying completely on the outside world, and the people touching me and making contact.
It was complete helplessness with someone holding on to you.
I sunk deep into those hands and the relief I experienced with being able to shut down for a while and let others take over is the deepest relief I have ever felt in receiving massage and compassionate touch. I also kept all of my massage client appointments during this time, no matter how I felt or how long it took to get me to work. Once I was at work, I threw myself into my work and found extreme relief caring for others.
I spent most of the year working with my psychologist unraveling my anxiety that was now paired with suicidal ideation.
I am proud to say that my anxiety is very much managed with my preventative care as well as my suicidal thoughts. This involves being vigilant about checking in with myself about my stress and anxiety levels, and determining what I need in terms of self-care for the day, and following through. I also make time regularly to reach out to the supportive people in my life and connect.
Showing up no matter what to my massage appointments and doing the work saves me, connects me to clients through touch and our therapeutic relationship. No matter how I am feeling, generally within 20 minutes of working on someone I feel better, and a day at work always makes me feel great, as well as the clients. I am so grateful there can be comfort on both sides, and I can make a massage session all about the other person while receiving human connection. I am also thankful to have worked with an amazing psychologist during that time and having school to occupy my mind, and a fantastic partner.
Massage continues to save me. Those days that I wake up and feel not quite like myself, when I get to work and focus on clients it brings me back, and generally, at the end of the day, I feel amazing and lucky. I also continue to feel a tremendous amount of relief from anxiety as the massage client. I am unsure if it is the connection to people, or the actual massage process, or both that brings relief to me. I am grateful to massage therapy for helping my clients and helping me.
If you are struggling with anxiety or suicidal ideation, it is important to reach out to someone. It can be difficult to break through the guilt and shame or even be able to talk about it. But, taking the first step is necessary because it is difficult to think clearly in that temporary irrational state, and you need the help of someone else to get through it. I have learned you don’t need to explain, just be clear and direct, and say, “I am having thoughts about ending my life.” Start with calling or talking to someone you know, or if you can’t, go to or call your nearest community mental health center, or hospital emergency room. There is also calling 911 or the National Suicide Prevention Hotline, 1-800-273-8255 (U.S).
If you know someone that struggles with suicidal thoughts, call and check in with them occasionally, or spend some time with them. What keeps people well is human connection.
- Podcast Episode #29: Dealing With Burnout - April 11, 2023
- Podcast Episode #28 With Great Educational Power, Comes Great Educational Responsibility - November 8, 2022
- Podcast Episode #27 Myofascial Release And CLB, What Does The Evidence Say? - August 30, 2022
Can confirm, these techniques really helped me to overcome anxiety and depression. Still far away from the big “I am completely cured” thing, I definitely feel better after several sessions.
Still, I want to warn all the patients not to expect any wonders. You’ll feel better, but you still have to get yourself out of the confort zone in order to overcome your fears, your anxiety and depression.
The massage is a big help, but nobody can save you from yourself … expect yourself! You know your fears better than anyone and only you can take them out of you.
Oh, and by the way, I LOVE the featured image. As an agoraphobiac, I can totally relate to the photo.