Friday, August 03, 2012

How I Became a Massage Therapist

Recently one of my clients asked me why I decided to become a Massage Therapist.  It's a common question that I get asked often.

I like to think that I was just directed towards this path because I certainly never thought of Massage Therapy as a suitable career choice.  My life has been a series of directed paths.  I never thought I'd be living in New Zealand either.

When I was 16 years old, I was involved in a major car accident.  I was the passenger traveling home in the early morning hours after a Prom party which was at a friend's cottage deep in the woods in Northern Ontario.  There were three of us in the car but at the last minute the person in the front decided to ride with someone else in his 4X4 so I moved up from the backseat into the passenger seat at the front.  The boys sped off ahead and the girl who was driving our vehicle was trying to keep up with them because they knew their way around the windy back dirt roads and how to get back onto the main highway.  We were rally driving and I distinctly recall she was struggling to keep up.  The car we were driving in was an old Ford Escort, not the best car for such conditions.  The boys sped on, losing us along the way.  When we got to the main road, she didn't let up on speed as she was still trying to catch up to the boys and suddenly she lost control of the car.  I remember it like it was in slow motion. 

There's the back seat of the car.  I was lucky to get shotgun.
She hit the soft shoulder and the gravel skidded beneath the tires, she shouted something (I can't recall what but likely a profanity of some sort) and in her panic sharply turned the steering wheel to the left, causing the vehicle to fishtail.  She then sharply turned the steering wheel to the right, and we fishtailed the other direction.  It all happened so fast.  Then the car began to tumble, over and over and over and the passenger seat dislodged and thankfully I was wearing my seat belt because I was suddenly thrust towards the windscreen.  I used my hands to soften the impact of my skull but I still managed to hit the windscreen a few times hard causing it to shatter and leaving me with glass shards in my hands and cutting a huge gash in my left eye.
You can see where my head hit the windscreen on the right

Suddenly we came to a halt as we crashed on our side into a rock cut on the side of the road which ultimately saved us rolling down an embankment.  And then everything went black.

Apparently, two ambulances were dispatched from two separate hospitals because the crash was so bad, they expected two casualties.  News traveled back to the party where our friends were told we were in a very bad accident and prepared for the worst. I'd hate to be in their shoes.

But we both survived.  Miraculously. The paramedics found me, crouched down beside the car, curled up in a tight ball, calmly waiting for someone to arrive .  I had pulled myself out through the window.  I was in shock as I was babbling away to them as though everything was alright, perky and bright as ever.  I don't remember any of that.  The paramedic came to visit me and told me that I gave him very clear instructions to contact my sister and not my mother.

Drugged up on morphine
In hospital, they were stitching up my face when my sister arrived.  She rushed in to where they were treating me, seeing her face and hearing her familiar voice triggered my memory.  She stood over, smiling at me with tears in her eyes as they were stitching me up. She kept saying to me that it wasn't that bad and she asked if I wanted some chocolate.  I never say no to sweets and she sent her husband to the hospital gift shop to buy a basket full of goodies.  I think it's marvelous when I'm fussed over by my family.  It only seems to happen when I'm in hospital!

Shards of glass still in there.
I had suffered a head injury and the impact had caused a patch of hair to fall out, I sustained multiple lacerations to my face and hands but luckily I hadn't broken anything significant other than a hairline fracture in the bone around my eye.  I had shards of glass lodged in my hands which still remain to this day.  I received 14 stitches to my left eye and there was concern that I'd lose my sight.  And I had a compression fracture of my lumbar spine.  I also suffered from short term amnesia.  A whole year of my life had been wiped from my memory.  I recalled people's faces but I couldn't remember how I knew them.  But overall, I was incredibly lucky to be alive. Again.

They were afraid I'd lose sight in this eye
The reason I mention this accident is because this is how I was introduced to Massage Therapy.  As part of my rehabilitation, I began seeing a Registered Massage Therapist.  In Canada, massage therapy is part of the Regulated Health Care Professions Act (RHPA) and Massage Therapists are qualified to work directly with motor vehicle accident claim victims working along with insurance companies for immediate treatment.  It was a pretty great system and I was very lucky.

So for months I received regular massage and chiropractic care which resulted in a full recovery.  At the time of the accident I was doing a double major at a performing arts school in both drama and dance.  The dancing was to my advantage as my body was supple and strong which meant my recovery time was quicker than the average.

When it was time to start applying to universities, I really had no idea what I wanted to do.  I was a bright student and the possibilities were endless.  One of my teachers pulled some strings to get me a summer apprenticeship at a top law firm in Ottawa.  I received the Gold Medal for highest average in my class and I qualified for a number of scholarships to study medicine.  But I wasn't sure that's what I wanted.  I knew I wanted to help people and I thought I wanted to get into cancer research but I couldn't see myself working in a lab and I didn't want to be tied down to study medicine for 8 years and then work in a hospital for the rest of my life.  I wasn't quite sure which direction I wanted to go.

That's when my sister suggested the Canadian College of Massage and Hydrotherapy.  I thought she was nuts but I was intrigued. My main concern was that I wouldn't be strong enough, I was pretty tiny.  But I certainly proved myself wrong!  I was one of the strongest therapists that graduated from the program. 

The initial plan was to study massage and then figure out what I wanted to do with my life LATER.  The massage would give me a strong background in anatomy and physiology and basically it would buy me time. 

You see, I had been living on my own since the accident. I moved out when I was 16 years old because of my mother's alcoholism.  The accident was my ticket out of that house.  I got some money to make a life for myself and that's what I did.  My priority was to make a decent income to support myself.  I didn't want to incur hundreds of thousands of dollars of student loans - that was just way too much pressure for an 18 year old to bear.  My parents were not helping me financially and the only support I had was the moral support and encouragement from my sister.  The Massage School happened to be just a short 1/2 hour drive from where she and her husband lived.  So much to the shock of all of my teachers and guidance counselor, I enrolled in the Class of 1995 at the Canadian College of Massage and Hydrotherapy.  I was their youngest pupil at the time.

In September 1995 I opened up my first studio in Toronto and I haven't looked back.  While all my friends were drinking and partying in university, spending their parents money on educations they'd never use, I was making some really decent money running a successful business in Canada's largest city.  I was only 21 years old.

I feel very blessed that I found my career path so early on and that it suited me so well.  Many of my colleagues have moved on to different careers but I'm still loving what I do, 18 years later.  I believe a big part of my success has to do with the fact that I have always run my own business and I call the shots on when I work and how hard I work.  I take time off when I need it - often taking months off at a time.  In fact, I've taken years off but I always come back to massage because it's my gift and it's as natural to me as brushing my teeth.

This is me working at my studio at Magic Hands
Now I also incorporate yoga therapy and meditation into my practice as well as I know the benefit of treating the body as a whole - not just working the muscles but also expanding and stretching the lungs and the mind.

I'm passionate about what I do.  So when people ask me how did I know I wanted to be a Massage Therapist, the truth is I didn't.  But I know how to listen and to trust my instincts and to allow myself to be directed by God or the Universe or my Higher Power - whatever you want to call it - and to trust that the path will be revealed.

If something is a struggle, chances are, you're not on the right path.  So that's when it's time to look for another route.

I believe things happen in our lives to define us and help us find our purpose.  I'm always grateful for the challenges brought into my life, maybe not necessarily at the time.  But I can look back and see that it was definitely for the greater good.

That which doesn't kill you, only makes you stronger!  That suits me perfectly.

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