#MeToo and How Those Moments Influenced My Career
Since I have begun promoting my specialty in pelvic wellness, I’ve gotten some raised eyebrows and more than a people who nervously back away. It’s understandable. While low back pain is run-of-the-mill as far as massage focuses go; menstrual imbalances, PMS symptoms, menopausal discomforts,
incontinence, sexual pain, groin pain, enlarged prostate, coccydynia, pelvic floor dysfunction, and all of the other touchy conditions that arise from the abdomen and pelvis are another story entirely. Most people are not aware massage can have any effect on these types of conditions. And when first hearing that massage can help an ailment such as sexual dysfunction, the first reaction is usually along the lines of, “Um… *insert confused/skeptical/uncomfortable/surprised look here* What?”
The massage profession as a whole has done a wonderful job of separating licensed, qualified, professional massage therapists from the illicit “massage parlors” of the 70s and other forms of prostitution. So naturally, anyone looking for therapeutic massage sees the cartoon red flags and flashing neon, “Danger! Danger! DANGER!” signs whenever the words “sex” and “massage” are even mildly related in a sentence. Hence the, “Um… What?” reaction to the thought of massage for pelvic floor health. Though this is wonderful for the safety of both clients and practitioners, we have swung so far into the conservative that integral parts of life are tabooed in the massage field and those with legitimate needs are limited in their options for treatment if they aren’t too embarrassed to discuss them with their healthcare professional. It can also leave many therapists feeling powerless or even afraid to work with clients who have complex issues related to the pelvis.
So why would I choose to pursue a path that has so many potential obstacles? Because I have personally experienced how effective and needed it is.
When I was seventeen, I was raped. (I know, way to keep the subject matter light!) This unfortunately was not the last time I was assaulted, but it was the most influential. After that incident, the area between my bellybutton and my knees disappeared from my body. I was entirely numb and unaware of it until any attempt at sex which became progressively more painful. We’re talking burning, jabbing, sharp, ripping, searing pain. Emotionally, I dealt with oppressive depression and intense feelings of self-loathing and worthlessness. It was a super fun time (feel the sarcasm). Because I felt shame around my symptoms, it wasn’t until I had a supportive partner and had worked through some of my depression that I finally decided it wasn’t healthy or deserved for me to continue to feel like my body hated me and I didn’t belong in my own skin.
I had lived in this mental, physical hell for more than 5 years.
Once I started looking for answers, I was diagnosed with vestibulitis and vaginismus - two terms which basically mean, “You have pain in different areas of your vagina and we have no idea what causes it or what to do to fix it. Cheers!” I was lucky and only ran through two different experts before a third gave me these diagnoses and we started trying possible solutions. Many other women wait much longer, see more professionals, and must endure the frustration of being told that there is nothing wrong with us, it is all in our heads, or it isn’t as bad as we’re making it out to be.
In my quest for cure, I saw a psychologist who specializes in sexual trauma, a urogynecologist nurse practitioner, and a pelvic floor physical therapist. Each was recommended by the previous. In total, I spent about twelve hours and nearly $200 every week for a little over two years going to all of these appointments. Neither the cost or the time includes the time spent on stretches, dilation, and lidocaine creams that I did as home care.
“Rhiannon, if you were seeing all of these specialists, where does massage come into the equation?” you might be asking about now. Well, mostly everything I was doing with these specialists had little to no positive result. I did not feel I was even inching toward a viewing my body was a comfortable, expressive, safe place to live. Sex was no less painful and my desire was still incredibly low which felt like a dissonance. And in some ways, the interventions I was pursuing made my symptoms worse.
My physical therapist was a lovely, knowledgeable, compassionate woman. However, she had no personal experience with the type of trauma I had gone through. I’m extremely happy about that, don’t get me wrong! I would never with those incidents on anyone. But the intravaginal work was retraumatizing and I did not know how to express that to her. For those of you who do not have experience with pelvic floor physical therapy, internal work is sometimes utilized to manually calm the hypercontracted pelvic floor muscles. In other words, the practitioner accesses the pelvic floor via the vagina or the rectum with the purpose of working on and releasing trigger points in those muscles which can cause pain and perpetuate dysfunction.
If you’re now back in the “Um… WHAT?” stage of thought processes, you’re not alone. It was a part of my treatment plan that I just had to push through. That I had to convince myself that everything was fine. That I had to find a way to make better. These were the same thoughts that I had during my first assault. And like during the rape, I felt invaded. I felt as if I had no choice. I felt like I deserved the discomfort (AKA the visions of my insides twisting and rotting because I was less than human). Basically it brought up all of the negative BS that my seventeen-year-old self struggled through and stuffed away to survive.
You can see why, then, that this type of pelvic floor therapy was not supremely successful for me. It probably didn’t help that I was also getting weekly vaginal exams from my urogynecologist, feeling like some kind of experiment as I was poked and probed, and asked to rate the effectiveness of the latest lidocaine cream we were trying. I would see short term results - trigger points would lessen, and I could successfully relax my pelvic floor for short periods of time. But to make it through the appointments I had to further divorce myself from my pelvic region, further numbing it to all sensations whether painful, pleasurable, or just proprioceptive.
Luckily for me, I was also going through massage school. During our intro into myofascial work I experienced my first emotional release. Embarrassing (moving through the phases of uncontrollable laughter to hysterical crying front of my entire class of 30 can have that effect) and franky a bit scary, but an event I intuitively recognized as liberating and healing. Though it took me a few weeks to be comfortable enough to pursue this new avenue of possibilities, I began to consciously use the massages I received in and outside of class as time to mentally explore the regions of my body I closed off from myself. I also started to research massage for trauma, a path that lead me to the world of energy work.
Shortly after my bodywork discovery/intuitive revelation, I ceased all of the medical interventions to which I so diligently adhered for the previous two years and stopped going to my urogyno and PT. I no longer freaked if I forgot a session of stretching. I no longer gritted my teeth through the burning of capsaicin cream (yes, that is the active ingredient in cayenne pepper they were having me use on my irritated vaginal glands). I no longer felt the need to schedule forty minutes out of my day to dilate. The sigh of relief I breathed after being able to let all of these things go reverberated into the fibers of my bones.
I focused entirely on massage and energy work from then on.
It took another year.
I am now pain free and comfortable in my skin.
So why do I offer massage focused on relieving pelvic problems? Why do I choose a path that finds resistance? Because I want to offer a place of non-judgement where people can talk about their painful, embarrassing, traumatic, (what can feel) ridiculous experiences, knowing they are heard and understood because the listener has been there too. I want to provide manual therapy options that are more healing then they are retraumatizing. I want to show others that self-acceptance on all levels is possible and it can be achieved through means that respect and work with your boundaries. That moving forward can start from exactly where you are.
This was a long one, and if you made it to the end, I thank you for sticking with me! Questions, comments, concerns? Post them below or you can reach me directly at Philosopher’s Stone Therapeutic Massage at (856) 857-7535.