Today’s topic is from my dearest and one of my oldest friends (not as in her age, as in our longevity together) Anne-Marie Garner. I love this woman beyond words. She is a powerhouse, generous to the core, smart, funny and cool. It’s an honour to be her friend. It is she who launched the beautiful Knot, Albert children’s book ( and website & merchandise – she worked HARD) that inspired this challenge in the first place, so it is only fitting that the last blog in this series is hers.
Suzy looks at the snow-white things half attached to her feet. She shuffled here like a 80-year old Boca Ranton resident, slightly itchy towelling robe wrapped about her, hair scrumpled up in a scruffy bun. The slippers are, she reflects, only slightly whiter than her legs, and have no backs – elegant stepping ain’t happening here.
The other Hens have been squirrelled away by therapists. The waiting area is ambient, warm… fancy magazines and a water cooler, the scent of every aromatherapy oil known to womankind heady in the dark air. Suzy scratches her bum cheek surreptitiously – her bikini is damp from the hot tub and steam room – it’s making her skin itch against the robe. She feels the nerves tugging and looks for distraction.
She has a nosey at the round lady and her daughter opposite. They are definitely mother-and-daughter. You can see how Round Lady looked in her 20’s. They too have “spa face” – facial oils seeping into pores, making their skin glassy and pink. Both are flipping through magazines, glass of cucumber water beside them. Suzy likes the lady’s blue-grey toenail varnish colour.
A neat, black-haired, white-uniformed therapist, with what looks like chopsticks holding her hair up, arrives with a slip of paper. “Suzy?”
Suzy stands, her long figure unfolding and she tugs at the robe – tightening the belt, trying to make the weird garment longer. She follows the therapist down a series of small, dimly lit corridors with low, melodic music and is aware, as ever, of her height and size. The therapist asks her some questions, Suzy answers politely, tummy knotting.
They arrive in in the room. The therapist invites Suzy to sit on the bed and introduces herself as Bethany, a slight Australian twang in her accent as she goes through the healthchecks and procedures. Full body massage today. What pressure does Suzy prefer? Any injuries or allergies?
All formalities done, Suzy is asked to “pop’ her clothes off – paper knickers available if she wants to wear those- and get under the blankets. Bethany leaves, chopstick-headed. Suzy is glad to get rid of the robe and her damp costume. She hangs it up so it might dry out more. As she fumbles with the paper pants, she is aware of her body. Her limbs, her torso, the weight and wobbles. She’s naked in a strange room. She tries not to dwell on that. She feels a welling nervousness, breathes. Gets face down under the covers.
Wrapped in warm blankets, alone in a room with some tribal shaman music playing, the air thickly scented, Suzy feels the opposite of relaxed. Stress. Claustrophobia. God she hates Spas. Faux-relaxation. You leave your brain at the door and are allocated timeslots. “Me time” on someone else’s timetable. Deep breaths Suze…..
Bethany knocks quietly and comes in. “Everything alright?” she asks, moving around the room, getting stuff ready. Suzy says yes… what else is there to say? She has her face in that weird hole thing on the massage table. Facing the floor. She feels very alone and a little teary.
Bethany holds a vial of something under Suzy’s nose.
“I’ve gone with aromatherapy oils that will soothe you – deep relaxation – just have a smell of these two and tell me which you prefer. Number one?” Suzy inhales deeply – oooh that’s good. “or Number two?” Who knows? Suzy thinks. And opts for the first.
Bethany begins with the legs. Suzy tightens at the initial touch, but then the warm oil kicks in and she allows herself to relax. Bethany checks the pressure is ok and Suzy find herself saying:
“I don’t really like massages” Christ! Where did that come from?
“Not everyone does. Are you alright though?” Bethany hasn’t stopped.
“I think so.”
“You are carrying a lot of tension – if you want me to stop at any point or if things aren’t ok, let me know?”
Suzy breathes. Settles. Her mind starts to drift after a while.
Chopsticks. She would be wearing bloody chopsticks. Who wears chopstick in their hair to work? Surely that’s not good health and safety?
They were cheap, the ones that triggered it all. Sitting in Wagamama’s with newly-snapped sticks, a black bowl of rice and veggies in front of her – it looked enormous. She was one of a group of teenage girls on a shopping trip, all fancy after the exams. She remembers sweating at the sheer size of the bowl of food. Eating single grains of rice with the chopsticks. Picking precisely and trying hard not to throw up. This was new. Previously she’d have eaten it and gone to the loo. One purge and everything sorted. Today she couldn’t even face the food. Her mate Maria noticed. Commented. Suzy tried to eat, mixing stuff around hoping it would disappear.
She remembers her black nail varnish matched the bowl, as she held the chopsticks with the paltry rice grain clamped.. and how well it covered up her nails underneath, yellowing from the stomach acid they so regularly came into contact with. Forcing that single grain toward her mouth…..
Bethany has moved to the other leg. Concentrate on that. Concentrate on that.
But the motion of hands, sweeping over skin, connecting with muscle and sinew, the rhythm of her body being pushed and pulled….
The panic attack, when it came was, frankly, mental. Wagamama’s became really muffled and hot, her vision got blurry-then-clear-then-blurry. She couldn’t breathe. Like something was sitting on her chest. Her head faint and her brain feeling like… it was on another planet – she could hear one part of herself really clearly, and another part was just white noise. Mouth opening and closing like a dying-fish. Wanting everyone to just fuck off and feeling black, deep, terrifying nothingness. Her friends freaking out….. there’s a whole part after that she has no recollection of. She knows there was an off-duty paramedic who helped. She flat refused an ambulance, seemingly nearly screaming the place down – when she got her breath back – and the manager took her, Maria and the paramedic off the restaurant floor, into a back room. Her mum arrived an hour or so later, apparently. The other girls waited in a coffee shop nearby.
What followed was months of “intervention”. Shame upon shame upon realisation. Her body, painfully underweight; hidden so well by clothes. Her face gaunt and yellow; hidden so well under a mountain of make-up. Her teeth ravaged by puke – she runs her tongue carefully over the £4k dental work her job eventually paid for. Therapy. CBT. Learning to cook. Some weird lesson where she had to “make friends” with a raw chicken breast. Her whole post GCSE life altered by chopsticks and rice grains.
Bethany has moved up to her back.
As the motion of the massage connects in to Suzy, she suddenly feels sadness – all that time wasted. A life on hold as she battled herself, her body. There are muscles in her back now and soft fat and tissue. She can feel the density of herself – her solidity, her suppleness. She can feel that she is here – not trying to vanish, not a ball of self-loathing and small, hateful nothingness. The tears come from no-where and surprise her. She feels them on her face and the realisation makes her sob.
Bethany says gently “Things are shifting. Do you want me to stop for now?”
Suzy shakes her head, trying to breathe, unable to speak
“You can talk, if you want to,” She says, kindly. She softens her touch. Her hands less-pummelling, more soothing. As she continues to move, it’s like she’s coaxing something from Suzy…
“I was ill. Eating disorder. I was gripped for a long time.”
“And now?” her hands sweep up the spine, over the heart-space in the back
“Now I’m not ill” She sobs again, deep, big, fat sobs. Oh God this is awkward.
Bethany keeps har hand firmly shifting, moving patiently. Not stopping until asked.
Suzy re-assesses where she is. Her head is jammed in the face cradle, crying. She realises she’s face-down on something like a padded toilet seat ….. the number of times she had her head down a bog and swore never again. It’s ridiculous. She wants to laugh, suddenly. She hiccups between a sob and a giggle… feeling the laughter rise, her sides contracting. She is properly laughing now, the massage bed moving. The tears from before are now different tears and she is aware that Bethany has also started to shake with mirth…
“Another shift?” Bethany says, her voice high with amusement.
“I think that’s enough.. I think I want to stop now” Suzy says.
Bethany gently smooths her back a couple of times and wraps the towel over her.
“I’ll stay for now, unless you want to be alone?”
“No. Stay.. but can I get up?”
Suzy gets up and wraps herself in the blankets – she looks, shiny-eyed at the therapist, who looks back kindly, gently.
“It’s the chopsticks” she says – and begins to tell the story.
So this one feels like I’m finishing on a “Well.. I started fairly safely 21 days ago– now I’m just going for it”. I’m so far off L&D and Leadership and Change & my work world, I need to re-orientate myself – this blog was only ever meant to be a work one. And that’s ok.. I’m just conscious of it all.
I started with Chopsticks as in musical chopsticks and messed around for ages with a piano recital scenario – but it was unfamiliar territory and I got tangled up.
In this, stuff about physicality and touch – how small things can evoke big stuff – I’m on territory I know and recognise… I can write from here. I see shifts in emotional states, catch those moments that become realisations, when I coach. I’ve been the girl on the massage table, realising a physical shift can lead to emotional shift too. It makes perfect sense, if you think about it.
Tomorrow is Day 22 – and there it’s about What Next and What more.
For any and all of you who have read any/ all of the Challenge Blogs, I am eternally grateful – so many of you have commented, contacted me, cheered me on. It’s been quite extraordinary. Thank you. J x