You’ve just gotten some terrible news, news that brings you to your knees, news that makes you unsure about the future, news that breaks you open.
Perhaps a loved one has died or been diagnosed with a disease. Maybe your partner has lost their job. Maybe you have had a miscarriage. Maybe your child was in an accident.
Life throws us challenges that bring us down and may cause many emotions: anger, fear, sadness, grief.
As Massage Therapists, we are told to always check our emotions at the door. To enter our treatment rooms with a kind heart and open ears. To provide space for our patients.
But what if we don’t have space for ourselves? What if our devastating news has left us unable to have empathy or to listen to complaints that now seem trivial? How do we care for other people?
In September 2018, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I was 36 years old, had a one-year-old daughter, and had just gotten married. I had a busy massage practice, had applied for grad school and had big plans. I was so angry.
I love being a Massage Therapist. I love to listen to people’s problems. I loved to hold space and allow them to speak. I love to help people to feel better or get them moving again. Suddenly, I didn’t want to go to work. I was struggling to fight back tears when someone was complaining about the weather. I didn’t feel empathy.
In the coming months, I had a mastectomy, appointments at the cancer clinic and another mastectomy. I had a toddler and an amazing husband to care for. I had massage patients to care for and lastly, myself to care for.
Four Strategies To Get Through A Workday
While I know that we as health care providers are supposed to be present in our treatments, I also know that during times of challenge it is near impossible. So I came up with four strategies to help me get through a workday.
1. Allow Yourself To Grieve
While this post is not about grief I think it’s important to acknowledge that you might feel shock, anger, fear or denial. There have been many days that I have cried the entire drive to work. Once I got to work I was able to move on with my day.
Cry, yell, give yourself space to be mad and sad.
2. Do Something For Yourself Every Day
After my first mastectomy, I worked hard to regain strength and some form of normalcy in my life. I am a gym rat, I love to lift weights. I could just sit in a gym and feel good.
So, just a few days after surgery I was in the gym working on my range of motion exercises. It felt SO good, it felt normal.
I added in body weight leg exercises and eventually more intense rehab movements. I was back to work after a month and lifting heavy weights within three months. Getting back to doing things you love is so important, it can give you a sense of normalcy during a time that is far from normal. Find one thing you can focus on for yourself and make a point to do it.
3. Find Support. Talk About It
At first, I didn’t want to tell anyone I had cancer because I didn’t want my problem to be bigger than anyone else’s. I quickly learned that people care. People want to help. As hard as it is, let them.
You don’t have to tell everyone what is going on in your life. But it is important to find support from people who can give you coping strategies.
I joined several online young women with breast cancer groups. It has been so nice to have others who completely understand what I was going through. Reading other’s stories and comments and asking questions has been extremely helpful.
There are online support groups for various conditions and stages of life, I highly recommend seeking them out.
4. Trust Your Hands
I recently attended a workshop where the instructor said, “your hands are your brains”. It was much more eloquent than that, but I related to that statement.
Some days after my cancer diagnosis I didn’t have a lot of focus, I was too concerned with how long I was going to have to be off work, and if I could even afford that. I was too sad that I was losing my breasts. Did I mention I was angry?! On those days, while I tried hard to be present, I also just let my hands work. They know what to do, so I let them. Give your mind a rest and let your hands do what they are meant to.
Real life is hard. Everyone has something going on. Many massage patients come to us not just for us to rub their skin, but to share the good and bad moments in their lives with us. It takes a lot of energy.
Try to allow yourself time to grieve, focus on an activity you enjoy, give yourself permission to talk to someone and believe in your knowledge and skill to get you through your workday.