I don’t like people touching me.
That’s one of my go-to declarative statements like “I don’t like crowds” or “I don’t like beets.” It’s why I avoid going to the doctor. It’s why I don’t get pedicures. It’s one of three reasons why I skip manicures, too, the others being that I’m too cheap to pay for one and I bite my fingernails.
I remember when I was growing up and someone would touch me on the shoulder, I’d pull my neck in like a turtle retreating into its shell. I would flinch. I have never been physically abused, so I have no explanation for these reactions. When I was old enough to know myself, know my preferences, and not be afraid to make declarative statements (I don’t like watching basketball), I felt confident enough to say “I don’t like people touching me.”
That’s the excuse I’ve given for never having a massage. My resolve first cracked when Peter underwent surgery two years ago and I took advantage of a free reiki treatment while I waited. Even though it was a positive experience, I didn’t attempt to replicate it until this week.
My employer held its annual employee benefits and wellness fair on Wednesday. Representatives from various local organizations, vendors, and health-related service providers gathered in the event space to give out printed materials, tchotchkes, and information on what they do. In one corner of the room, free chair massages were available. These have been offered every year that I’ve worked here, but I’ve never had one because, well, I don’t like people touching me.
But all three massage chairs were empty on Wednesday as I made my way past. I reminded myself that I’ve vowed to embrace the #powerof41 and to do 41 things that scare me and practice 41 acts of self-care. Getting a chair massage qualified for both of these challenges.
One of the therapists waved me to her chair. When I realized that things could get too revealing since I was wearing a skirt, I almost bailed. But once I perched on the chair while maintaining my modesty, I committed. Of course, when the headrest starting inching forward, I was convinced I had made a bad decision. The therapist adjusting it and I could place my face in the cushion without it falling forward.
The massage began. Except for instructing me to leave my arm as dead weight when she picked it up, the therapist didn’t speak. I liked this. I didn’t want to have to make small talk with a stranger who was standing behind me. I could hear chitchat from the fellow employees on either side of me who were also being massaged. I just let it become white noise. I focused on not tensing up. I let myself melt into the chair.
I have no idea how long the massage lasted. It was a perfect amount of time. The therapist’s silence was broken when she said, “Okay. Take your time standing up.” That caution seemed silly until I began to rise. I realized that my body felt very different. My eyes were bleary from being closed and pressing against the cushion. My arms and legs felt tingly. Not in a I-shouldn’t-have-sat-with-my-foot-tucked-under-my-ass kind of way but in a blood-flowing-freely way.
I found myself sitting a little taller at my desk the rest of the afternoon. I didn’t want the tension that had been removed to return.
I did get a bit carried away when I asked the therapist for her card. She didn’t have one with her but she gave me her email address which I dutifully wrote down. “I work out of my home,” she said. I realized I may have been brave enough to get a free massage but I wasn’t brave enough to ask her rates or commit to a future appointment.
But next time I’m offered a free chair massage? Well, I guess I don’t ALWAYS hate people touching me.