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What Getting a Massage Is Like When Depression Won't Let You Relax

I want to talk about massage.

I try to get a massage once a month because my symptoms of depression are somatic and I feel like a screwed up mess of a human, whose shoulders live up around my ears. I carry my stress in my shoulders, my neck, my traps, my lower back… OK, everywhere. Some days, my eyelashes ache. When I’m depressed I ache, all over, to the bone. Not like a sore muscle ache, but more of a “wanting to rip my skin off my muscles, get in and massage my bones please” kind of ache. I carry my anxiety in my lower back; when I am stressed or on edge, I feel like I will snap in two. I can’t get comfortable. I have a stabbing pain in my neck and my eyes hurt, my temples hurt — my head feels like it will explode. Everything hurts of dread and darkness and exhaustion. So yeah, I go for a regular massage to try and fix this body so many people refer to as a temple when mine feels like a dungeon.

I long for a relaxing, comforting massage — the kind where you just are on cloud nine. Those ones you see in magazines where you lay in beautiful spas, your glistening brown skin shimmering in the oils, as you smell ylang-ylang and jasmine infusions, whilst you lay comfortably flat and meditate.

What do I end up with every time? I end up with a deep tissue sports massage which is like trying to remove a concrete pylon from the ground without first digging a hole. When your massage therapist describes your shoulders as “crunchy” you know this isn’t going to be all ylang-ylang and shimmer.

Which brings me to today’s massage. I’ve got this. I told myself I was going to take some me time and just let go today. I regularly go to this place where the massage therapists don’t speak — it’s great because I don’t like small talk. I’m laying here in all but my knickers with a total stranger touching me so please don’t try and talk to me. She doesn’t. Awesome.

I look down at her feet. I don’t plan on knowing anything about her today except that she is wearing some tired old Asics gels. Good, keep going… I’ve got this.

Nope. Chatter. My mind starts to incessantly chatter at me. Whose head chatters? Put your hand up! Yep, I’m there, the incessant faceless voices that are telling you everything and anything. Where do I need to be? What have I got to do? All the things that have got me to this point swirl around in my head. I try breathing. I count my breaths — in for 4, hold for 4, out for 8. It’s one of my go-to things. It brings me back. Nope. It keeps going, like one of those birds that won’t give up trilling.

I try to think of nothing except this moment, like I have been learning at yoga. I can hear rain on the roof. I start thinking about the washing. I start thinking about where I parked the car and how I will get to it. I start thinking about the weekend and if it will rain with all the plans I have. I wonder if my child is warm at school. Stop it, stop thinking… stop chattering. Breathe….

This goes on for what seems like hours. God, my massage is going to be over and I will have balanced my ledger and done my tax return all whilst lying naked with a stranger belting the shit out of my back. What is this hell in my head?

Then I do a body scan. I have also been learning this at yoga. And I realize how warm her hands are. She was cold at the start of this. I remember flinching when she first touched my shoulder. The more she has worked on this tired aching body, she has warmed up, and I feel a chill. It’s like all the energy I am wasting on all this chatter is going to this poor woman who just wants to fix me in this moment.

I realize, as she goes back over those twisted up muscles, that they are starting to release. I realize, as I scan my body, that the chatter has slowed. I realize my breathing is naturally rising and falling. That’s just it — I am breathing. I am here. I am doing something for myself. I am helping myself. I am breathing…

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Thinkstock photo via BartekSzewczyk

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