Tuesday, September 13, 2005

More than Flesh and Bone

Two Sundays ago, G and I visited the Orangetown Batting Cages. G is very athletic and finds the batting cages to be a great stress reliever. He is also on his company’s softball team, and the playoffs were approaching, so he wanted some practice swings. He knows I don’t get enough exercise, and that I’m usually willing to try anything. Every other sporty thing I’ve done with him I’ve enjoyed, why not this? Granted, I haven’t swung a bat in well over 20 years, and I never swung one regularly at all, but it sounded like fun.

So here I am, at the batting cages in this little corner of New York’s Rockland County, in my Red Sox shirt and my blue denim Daisy Dukes, accessorized by my sense of humour. As we stretched our muscles, I confessed that I had no idea how to swing a bat. I knew there were machines that pitched baseballs and softballs to you, and that if you were wearing glasses and got hit with a ball you could go blind, but other than that, I had no idea what I was in for. (I had left my glasses at home.)

The first round, I missed every single ball. G showed me how to hold the bat - point it straight up in the air, don’t let it sit above your shoulder, both hands together, right elbow way out, etc. With this coaching, I did better the next time – I hit a ball. CLANGGGGG. My right wrist and arm felt as though they had shattered! “OW,” I said. “Good, you did good!” G sang. I missed the next few, then hit another one. CLANGANGANGGGG. “SHIT THAT HURTS,” I said again, laughing. “This is GREAT!”

The next series of auto-pitches, I hit almost every single one. And man, did it feel good, whacking something as hard as I could and watching it fly. And hearing people cheer. BAM. BAM. BAM.

By my third go-around, my wrists and hands were hurting, and I knew it was time to stop. G was proud of me.

The next morning, I could barely get out of bed. My shoulders were in agony, and I couldn't move the left side of my neck at all. My hands and wrists, which had ached the previous day, were fine – it was my left shoulder that was suddenly made of stone. Make that coarse gravel mixed with habanera sauce. Movement sent searing pain shooting into my neck and under my scapula. The left side, I wondered? I’m right handed, and had been swinging from right to left. Shouldn’t my right side be killing me? Granted, my right side hurt as well, but the pain in my left shoulder was overbearing.

A hot shower and a handful of Advil later, I was functional, but the ache persisted. I mentioned it to G, who commented through raised eyebrows that my upper body must be quite weak indeed. I agreed that this was so; a physical therapist had told me as much a number of years ago when I was getting medical massage treatments.

G frowned. “Usually when people hurt themselves, they know it right away. You seem to hurt yourself without even knowing it.”

“I’ve always been like that,” I sighed. I told him about a groin muscle injury I’d sustained while rehearsing the can-can dance number in La Cage Aux Folles at seventeen. Any other dancer would have stopped mid-rehearsal; not me. I then related the time in college when I’d burnt out my quadriceps doing 40 or 50 deep knee bends in a row, as part of a movement exercise in an acting workshop. I could barely walk for two days afterward.

“I just don’t understand why you don’t feel yourself doing damage until it’s too late,” G said.

G gave me focused shoulder rubs on two evenings last week, trying to work out the knot that refused to release, deep under my left scapula. Or was it slightly under the edge, nearer the spine? Or was it farther up, closer to the neck? I could feel a knot in there, stubborn and hard. He could feel it too… or he felt something, and it seemed to move. No matter where he pressed, I’d direct him two inches in another direction. It was frustrating. I took hot showers every morning and he massaged my neck and shoulders every evening. The pain lessened, but never went away.

Sunday morning, when I awoke, the pain was intense. We had friends visiting, so I took my hot shower and stuck it out. When our friends went home, I asked him for the money to go and get this professionally worked on. Something this bad that lasts over a week? I need help.

I called yesterday and made an appointment for 3:00 today.

The place where I take yoga classes also offers massage therapy treatments in a number of modalities. I specifically asked for medical massage, and mentioned I had a shoulder that needed focused attention. I was assigned a massage therapist named Claire.

Claire is older than me, and about five-foot-nothin’. She immediately asked me if I had Irish in my background, given my name. “I do,” I replied, and told her my mother was Irish/Italian. “There’s a lot of them,” she said. She herself was from Dublin. Her black eyes chirped in her head like little birds, and she seemed to be looking deep inside of me.

I shook, talking to her. Walking around Nyack on a sunny summer day always has me arriving at my destinations shaking, as there are more bees and wasps here than in the rose gardens at Central Park, but today I couldn’t blame my shaking on just that. There was something about this little older woman that made me nervous. I told her about the batting cages, and that I was under a lot of stress. I hadn’t planned to talk about my stress, but somehow I spat it out.

I had a cough drop in my mouth. I heard myself mentioning that I think I have an oral fixation, and that I sometimes can't fall asleep without a cough drop in my mouth. "My Mom says I'm going to choke myself to death one of these days." I have no idea what posessed me to say this. I don't think I've ever told anyone that before.

“Is your stomach bothering you?” she asked. I was confused, so she repeated the question, kindly. I realized I had been clutching the fabric of my dress in front of my abdomen. “That’s a nervous habit,” I said, laughing. I just wanted to get on the table and not see her or talk to her anymore.

“So shall we spend the whole hour on your shoulders? Or would you like me to do your legs a bit too?” More of the probing look.

I sighed. “I don’t know what to suggest. I’m inclined to say spend most of your time on my shoulders…” I trailed off. I looked at this nice lady. “I guess maybe you should tell me.”

She left me alone then, and I assumed the position under the towel.

We didn’t talk much at first. I told her I was tough and could take a firm touch, but she hadn’t asked, and I’m not sure she would have asked.

I can’t describe what she did. There was a lot of energy work. She started on the right shoulder, which I thought was the less-injured one. Everything she did on the right, I felt on the left. The right side was just as knotted up, as the left, and very, very stubborn. My breathing became labored.

At one point, I vocalized. “You can feel free to shout,” she said. “Sometimes that’s what our body feels like doing.”

I shouted… but not loudly. She breathed as I breathed, and encouraged me to take deeper and deeper breaths.

Eventually she shifted over to the left shoulder, and I thought I would die from the pain, even though I knew she was barely touching me. Finally, she hit the center of the pathology… and I cried. I burst into heaving sobs, right there on the table. She didn’t stop; she just gently rocked my sacrum and lower neck vertebrae back and forth, like a baby carriage, a natural vessel holding a very helpless-feeling me inside. “That’s great,” she said. “Let that all go.” I just let myself expel.

My mother, I thought as I cried. My grandmothers. Oh, my grandmothers! My friends have changed too much. I am so alone! How will I live? How will I settle my debts? Everything I thought I could rely on is gone. I’m afraid, I’m afraid, I’m afraid…

“Is anything specific coming up for you?” Claire asked quietly.

I couldn’t speak. I nodded my head, the sobs subsiding, the breaths coming slower, deeper.

“That’s good. Let all of that go. They say the body holds all our stress. Let all of that out of you.”

Claire continued her work. Miraculously, the tightness in my shoulder had diminished to a fraction of its previous power. “Do you know you’ve loosened this?” She asked.

“Yes, I can feel it,” I said, almost laughing. “Wow…”

Eventually she moved up to my head, and I asked for Kleenex. I blew my nose, and an impressive quantity of toxins was expelled. “I’m impressed!” Claire said.

“That usually happens,” I said. “A physical manifestation of the work we’re doing.”

Claire lowered the headrest, and the back of my neck lengthened as my forehead pointed down, my chin just a tiny bit closer to my chest. Usually, lying on my stomach like this with my head pointing down, I’d feel my sinuses draining upwards, until the pressure behind the bridge of my nose forced me to sit up, and I’d expel more toxins. It’s a trick I use when I have a bad cold. But today, I felt nothing of the sort. It felt as though a hinge at the back of my neck had separated, and energy was whooshing out into the room, like floodwaters through an open basement window.

As she pushed various points on my neck, into the joint between neck and shoulder, I began to feel light-headed. No… I began to feel light. Like I was floating up through the ceiling, like I was flying high over Nyack. I felt that if I opened my eyes I’d see the Hudson River reaching into New York, and the Tappan Zee holding up the traffic, and all the trees and mansions along the shore in Piermont and South Nyack… I began to laugh.

Claire giggled slightly. I laughed and laughed. I felt my arms, the small of my back, and my head tingling. Oh, my head! My head buzzed and hummed and sang, and I breathed deeply and vocalized on the breath out, and laughed some more. “I’ll bet you have a great singing voice,” Claire said.

“As a matter of fact, I do!” I stated, smiling with every fiber of me. I was higher than a kite.

At some point, Claire moved around and did some basic work on my legs. “That was wonderful,” I said, feeling dizzy and euphoric. “That was like whisky!”

“That was what?” Claire laughed.

“That was like good whiskey!” I practically shouted.

“Well, you know what they call that?” she asked.

“The water of Life!” we both chimed in, giggling, feeling pleased, enjoying the work we were doing, knowing it was real, and it was good.

“I’m just gonna float here for a while if that’s ok?” I asked.

“You go right where you need to,” Claire said, and continued her work.

When I flipped over on my back, she moved back to my neck, and found that spot in my shoulder again. I gasped.

“This feels like it’s from the Paleolithic Era,” she said.

“It is,” I affirmed, ruefully.

At some point, my system started buzzing again, and I floated again. I snapped my eyes open to see my therapist. “How do you do that!” I asked.

She looked straight down at me, her black eyes directly above my brown. “Do what?”

The dizziness began to overtake me, and my gaze floated up to the ceiling fan. Everything swirled. I felt energy flooding my system, flowing through the marrow of my bones, reaching everything. I was acutely aware of the world outside the room, the countries of the Earth, the millions of people everywhere, working, sleeping, loving, dying, giving birth, all at that moment.

“It’s not you, is it?” I breathed. Claire said nothing. She got up and moved toward my feet. “It’s not you…”

I breathed deeply, and rather quickly. My system was overloaded, and not all the blockages had been removed. “Send your energy down to me,” Claire commanded, gently holding my feet. I closed my eyes, took some deep breaths, and visualized.

“It’s blocked at my knees….” I breathed. “There’s a blockage at my knees…”

Claire sighed. “I’m sorry, but we have to stop. Are you ok?”

“I’m fine. I’m good!” I assured her.

“I’m pouring some water for you, make sure you drink it,” Claire said. I heard the droplets flowing into a cup. “Stay here awhile, take it slow. Have a Shivasana,” she suggested.

When I came out, I called her Bride, and asked what her given name was. “It’s Claire,” she reminded me, laughing, “but I know someone named Bride. I like that.”

Before I left I made another appointment. We have more work to do.

As I was paying my bill, I smelled garlic. The other ladies in the studio had been eating pizza. Suddenly my mouth watered. “I want eggplant parmesan in the worst way now!”

The ladies laughed. “I’ll bet you’re hungry, you did a lot in there!” I told them I planned to have a big pitcher of water, a small nap, and a nice eggplant tonight.

Just before I left, Claire suggested that I “might want to write a bit too.”

Of course.

The pain isn’t completely gone now, but it’s lessened. Some of it has referred down into my sciatic area, on the left side. That’s ok, we’ll take care of it. And I learned a lot about myself during this transformational treatment.

For starters, I need to speak up more. I sensed this already, but it was crystal clear to me today. I’ve already begun working on this. I spoke up about some pretty important things to G on Saturday morning, while we were waiting for our friends to arrive. It was a hard conversation, but it was important, and good, and I have felt better since, if for no other reason, than because it’s off my chest.

Part of “speaking up” means not telling those little lies when friends ask how things are going. No more “Fine, what’s up with you?” No more “Everything’s wonderful, I couldn’t be happier.” No more “I’m not worried about that.” No more telling people how I wish I felt, how I wish things were.

"You seem to hurt yourself without even knowing it.” Usually, G, it's because there's something I've closed my eyes to. Something I don't want anyone to see. Something I'm trying to hide. Like the fact that I'm not athletic. Like the fact that I'm not super-woman. Like the fact that I'm human, and can be hurt. Like my vulnerability. I'll shoot myself just to make everyone think I'm bulletproof. Who cares if I nearly bleed to death, as long as nobody knows? This is how I've tried to sheild myself from hurtful people. Funny though... it really didn't work. It never worked.

After all these years, I think I can tell the difference between someone who’s asking how I am because they’re just making chit-chat, and someone who’s asking because they really care. Part of letting someone care about me means letting them in.

Along the same vein, I need to keep hold of the idea that if I open myself up to someone, and they hurt me somehow, then I can simply let them go. There’s no need to maintain toxic or unfulfilling relationships. This is something I thought I had licked… but I guess only to a point.

At some point, I need to work on accepting my extroverted nature. Yes, you heard it right here folks, I’m an Extrovert. Out and Proud. The problem is that while I was growing up, I spent a great deal of time around people who don’t like extroverts. My parents included.

You see, extroverts are insecure losers who are trying to be something they’re not. Extroverts always have to – crime of crimes! - be the center of attention. They “try too hard.” Extroverts are afraid of everything and overcompensate by cultivating this overly-social image. Extroverts follow fashion, the crowd, and celebrity lifestyles, so they can talk about it at clubs and sound smart. They do this because they are actually incredibly vacuous and shallow. They look at pictures in fashion magazines and could never read The New Yorker – there are too many big words. Extroverts are bimbos, jocks, and wanna-bes.

Introverts, on the other hand, were respected. Their quiet ways were interpreted as “thoughtful,” and they were always assumed to be vastly more intelligent than any extrovert. Introverts never seem to be needy. Introverts don’t care about how they look, because they are confident in who they are. Introverts don’t mind if the popular crowd shuns them. Introverts are just so above it all. Introverts, simply put, were cool.

Fuck. That.

Maybe this will be the subject of my next essay.

For the time being, I’m just thrilled that I have found a great body-worker. (It feels limiting to call Claire simply a Massage Therapist.) And I’m more focused than ever on removing obstacles from my path – in my career, in my relationships, in my body, my mind, and my spirit.

And at some point, I’d like to try hitting those softballs again. That was fun.


Judy said...

This was an amazing post. I've also been under a ton of stress lately, and I think I'll make an appointment to get a massage. Do you think it needs to be a medical massage?

Kayo Kid said...

I understand exactly how you felt. I get massages and acupuncture treatments fairly often, and I've had similar experiences with flashbacks, long-ago feelings dredged up, and other deep-seated emotions. It reinforces my belief that the body and mind are one. I feel more sore after a massage than I ever have after a fight. And if it's any consolation, I can't throw or hit a softball to save my life, but I do have a pretty good right hook.

MzOuiser said...

Judy: Medical massage is usually for a specific problem, like a shoulder, or your lower back. For stress relief I'd suggest a traditional swedish with a firm touch, and some aromatherapy. Email me if you want some recommendations.

Kieran: I remember your post about accupuncture, it was brilliant!

Wilde said...

Wow. What a little batting practice can do. Sounds like you hit a Home Run --

Tuna Girl said...

See. I've been telling people for years that softball is the key to life.

How wonderful that you've gotten to this place. I'm so very glad you found Claire. And a bit of yourself?


Suldog said...

That was good stuff. I have found massage to be tremendously helpful, both physically and spiritually, for many years. And softball is a rather large part of my life, by the way.