Observing My Own Perceptions
blonde woman with pony tail laying face down on massage table. Hands of massage therapist in view.

Written by Erica Messenger

I am a certified Integrative Nutrition Health Coach, a certified Koru Mindfulness instructor, I have a dual major degree in Public Relations and Advertising, and I was a non-commissioned officer in the United States Air Force. All of these experiences, and my passion to help others, guide me in working with clients. Sometimes it is unexpected life changes that forge new ways for me to interact with and help clients.

February 20, 2020

She greeted me with an outstretched hand and said, “Hi, Erica. Nice to meet you.” This was the third time we had met. She had given me two great massages weeks before. I told her, “We’ve met before, but I’m sure you meet so many people that it’s hard to keep track. No worries!” I shook her hand and walked with her through the door while she held my gaze.

She replied, “I’m so sorry. I am a brain tumor survivor and have been diagnosed with Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) [previously named Multiple Personality Disorder (MPD)], so if one of my other personalities worked on you last week, I may not remember you. I try to be honest with my clients because I don’t want to make them feel bad because I can’t remember their names.”

She had a sweet smile on her face and a comfortable, confident spirit. Her demeanor was that of someone who had just told me she had a papercut. Because of her confidence, I felt comfortable. I would have been ok with the news regardless, however, her confidence took away any awkwardness I may have had initially.

She went on to tell me that having DID wasn’t a concern for her because she could still perform her job, but admitted that she had been teased in the past and that she would rather be honest with her clients in case they felt uncomfortable and wanted a different therapist. I put her at ease and let her know that I was unphased by the information.

After she closed the door and I began to undress, I found myself in wonder. I wondered if I would notice a difference in the massages weeks before. I discovered that she delivered a very similar massage and it was wonderful. The differences I remember were in her demeanor. This day, she was very soft, had a gentle gaze into my eyes as we spoke, carried a sweet smile on her face, and her voice sounded a bit higher in pitch compared to the last time I saw her. She continued to exude that kindness throughout our session. I also wondered if I was noticing all of these things because I was now aware of her diagnosis. 

During the two sessions I had with her weeks before, she was kind, but stoic, and didn’t chat as much. I remember distinctly that the same smile was not there. She mentioned “God” a couple of times in our last session in passing statements. I remember one distinctly; she said something like, “…and then we can trust that God will take care of the rest”. The context of our conversation was about life changes. It seemed an appropriate comment for someone with a Christian-based faith and I thought it a wise statement no matter what one’s faith or belief might be.

Massage therapists connect with people energetically and, in a way, that is uncommon. Receiving a massage is a very intimate exchange of energy. A massage therapist once told me that if her client was stressed or sad, the massage therapist had to prepare themselves in order to avoid absorbing that energy. They learn to put on an energetic shield and ground themselves, like Wonder Woman’s bracelets, and, at the same time, give good energy to the client. On the flip side, she told me that if she wasn’t at her best, clients could syphon her energy like vampires.

After I laid down on the massage table, I thought about her skill as a Licensed Massage Therapist (LMT) and how cool it was that her skill transferred to other personalities. I was in wonder of the human brain and how it takes care of us. I thought about fear and how she felt during and after the transitions from one personality to another and the possibility of not remembering chunks of time. I thought about her challenges to pursue answers for the symptoms she experienced prior to her diagnosis. I thought about how others may have treated her when she tried to describe what was happening to her. I thought about how scary the process might have been for her. I thought about time and how long she may have suffered before she could get the assistance she needed. I thought about the honesty and courage she must have demonstrated to the practitioners that helped her find an accurate diagnosis.

All of these thoughts, however, were of my own projections of the approaches I may have used in the same situation and my own considerations and strategies going through a similar process. But, maybe, instead, she approached it as a puzzle without fear and difficulty. Maybe she looked at it as a mountain to climb or a math problem to solve. I think about Spock from Star Trek: The Original Series. He used logic to answer all questions. Maybe that’s how she approached what she had experienced. I also thought about the neuroscientist, Jill Bolte Taylor, who had a stroke and was able to observe her bodily functions from the perspective of a scientist while the stroke was happening. Maybe that’s how my massage therapist observed her own body.

It is natural to have some fear and sadness when our minds or bodies change, but how can we grow from it?

As she expertly worked her magic, I used a breath exercise to become fully present and slipped deeply into the feeling of relaxation. I felt completely nurtured. That practice has allowed me to enjoy the experience much more and my body to respond deeply to the therapy. This day, that same practice provided me the space to receive; the gift of the encounter, her honesty and confidence, and my own thoughts without judgement.

We are all managing many joys and challenges in our daily lives and we all have different coping skills. The perception of what is difficult or scary or reasonable is different for every person. This encounter gave me the opportunity to learn and to question my perceptions and responses to life’s challenges and I am grateful for the discovery.

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