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  • No, I Can’t Fix You (Without Your Help)

    temporary fixFix. It’s something you do to something that’s broken. An object. An item. A mechanic fixes your car, an HVAC technician fixes your furnace, and a cobbler fixes your shoes. (Yes, there are still people out there who actually get their shoes repaired instead of buying new ones, and there are still people who repair them. But I digress…) In healthcare, an orthopedic doctor fixes your broken bone.

    But when you come to a massage therapist, you’re not broken. Your body may not be working optimally, or even very well, but you’re not broken. So there’s nothing to fix; not in the literal definition of the word anyway. Even so, I understand the intent when clients ask me to fix them. I also understand what they mean when they come in and say, “I broke myself, again.” I just think we do ourselves a disservice when we think of bodily dysfunction as broken, as something that can be fixed.

    Instead of thinking of dysfunction as something to be fixed, I prefer to think of it as a message that something is wrong. Not broken, just not working properly. It’s more important to find the cause of the dysfunction than to correct it temporarily… repeatedly.

    The problem is, it can be difficult to find the cause, especially if there’s more than one. Those causes aren’t always poor posture and horrible ergonomics, although those won’t be any kind of friend to you. To make things even more difficult, the problem(s) may be things you don’t want to acknowledge, let alone work on. Things like too much (or the wrong kind of) stress, personal responsibility or boundary issues, (lack of) self-care issues, inability to properly manage stress, mental health issues, etc. And once you find the cause, you have to take steps to correct it.

    When I first went to massage school, I was a mess; I may have mentioned this once (or a million) times before. I rolled my eyes at all the maladies stress could supposedly cause and the effects it could have on your emotions and mental processes. It took me a long time to admit I even HAD stress; an anxiety attack that landed me in the ER during college wasn’t even enough. It took me even longer to admit that I was enabling that stress by refusing to set boundaries or speak up for myself. It took a disabling case of thoracic outlet syndrome to get me to finally admit I not only had stress, I had too much of it and was also enabling it. Once I did that, and let go of some of the emotions I’d been stuffing down and ignoring, the intense pain that had kept me flat on my back for 2 weeks finally started to dissipate.

    Let me tell you, as a stoic German who comes from a long line of stoic Germans, admitting I had stress was hard. Admitting that I had too much stress to handle was harder still. To admit that I was total crap at handling stress felt like a death sentence. And letting go of some of my stuffed emotions was hardest of all. It was especially difficult since the bodywork therapist who’d been working to relieve my pain was in the room when those pesky emotions started making their presence known. We stoic Germans don’t like people seeing us cry, especially people we don’t know very well.

    So, my point is this: If I can get through all that and live to tell the tale, and feel much better for it, so can you. If I can do it twice, because yes… it happened a second time… then you can do it once. Chances are even good that you won’t have to cry in front of anyone. Chances are really good that you’ll just have to learn to do less, learn to delegate, ask for help occasionally, or learn to say no sometimes. If I can cry in front of 2 different people who weren’t family or even close friends, you can do what you need to do.

    But, hey… I’m not above having some job security, so if you want me to “fix” you repeatedly without addressing the cause or doing your homework, I’m more than happy to oblige.