Sarah and Sister DevilHands

Today I made a mistake. Many of my mistakes seem to be hinged on trusting the wrong person, or at least, making the assumption that we had both signed the same social contract, and then finding out their lawyer never even shopped it over.

This afternoon, I had a massage. I try to have one whenever I can afford it, it helps my pain and my mental health.

I bought what was advertised as a 60 minute massage treatment, your choice of “Hot Stone, Essential Oil, Deep Tissue, or Relaxing Swedish Massage, value up to $135.” It was $45 on GrabOne.

Sounds like a pretty good deal, right?

I’ve had bad massage experiences in the past, but this was a beauty therapy place I’d been to before, so I figured it’d be ok.

When I arrived, no one was at reception. I waited ten minutes past the time my massage was due to start, before a frazzled-looking woman came in and said “Sarah? Right,” then lead me through a room where women were sitting in mani-pedi chairs. “You’re getting a pedicure, right?” she said to me.

“Um, no, sorry,” I went. “A massage.”

“Oh! Oh well just go in that room there.”

Off I trundled. That’s ok, people are busy, things are miscommunicated. No big deal.

When the massage therapist arrived, she allowed me time to divest myself of clothing and hop on the bed. Then she came and stood by my head.

“Right, take a deep breath,” she said.  Um, ok, I think, but I oblige.

“And let it out,” she instructed. As I did so, she leaned over and leant what felt like her entire weight on my shoulders, and shoved the heels of her hands down either side of my spine.

WHAT THE FUCK I yelled, entirely internally. (Looking back, I absolutely should have said it out loud).

Unless this is your first time reading my blog – which, in that case, hi, hello, welcome – you’ll be pretty familiar with the fact I have a little thing called Ankylosing Spondylitis. That is, inflammatory arthritis in my spine.

By this point, she was telling me to breathe in again, and on auto-pilot I did so, not fully registering what was happening before whoomph! the air was knocked out of me as she dragged her fists down my back.

See, now, usually what happens with massages is, they ask you what sort of massage you want. They ask you if anything is sore. They ask you if there’s anywhere you’d like to focus on.

My dreams of a Relaxing Swedish Massage were, by this point, getting rudely shoved out the window.

As Sister DevilHands rounded up for another go, I squeaked out “Um… I have arthritis… in my back?”

It’s probably worth pointing out right now that I am utterly terrible at standing up for myself. I will drink bad coffee rather than ask for another one. I will refrain from sending the thousand terse emails I concoct on a daily basis.  I will remain friends with people long after I have stopped liking them.

This was where the social contract came into play. See, I had wrongly assumed that the kind Sister had seen the same one I had, which said “If your customer says they have arthritis, it probably means they need you to go a bit easier. Or maybe a lot easier. You should probably clarify that. Maybe check where the sore spots are?”

Yeah, no. As I said, the lawyer must’ve missed the courier on this one, before after a quick “Oh! Sorry!” Lady PoundHerPalms went right back to what she was doing.

And what did I do? Kept silent and tried to convince myself that maybe a little pain was what my tight muscles really needed.

After what felt like an interminable amount of this torture (but which was actually far under the hour I had paid for), she put away the unidentifiable oil she had been slathering me with (which was definitely not Essential and smelled much more like homebrand olive oil from the Fresh Choice round the corner), and swapped her hands for a hot towel.

The finishing touch of a really good massage is gentle sweeps of a warm towel. Oh good, at least I’ll get that, I thought.

I’m guessing you know I was wrong.

Countess MinceMeat dropped the rapidly cooling towel on my feet and scrubbed like I was a three-year-old who’d been caught playing in the vege garden after a downpour. She moved onto my legs in the same fashion, rubbing like I was a horse that’d been cantered for three miles and put away wet. As she moved up my body with what was now nothing more than a cold flannel, it also occurred to my OCD-riddled brain that she’d started at my feet and was now using the same towel everywhere else, which basically just squicked me out. It’s not like I have dirty feet, it’s just: OCD. And I kind of thought that it would be normal practice to start with my neck. Again, social contract. Unseen.

Leaving much of me completely untouched by the cold, oily towel, DevilHands chirped that she’d let me get dressed, and ripped out of the room.

I’m pretty sure that wasn’t an hour, one part of my brain said, while the other half responded, Don’t argue, for chrissakes, get out while you still can walk.

Once dressed, still uncomfortably oily, I checked my phone. Yep. 40 minutes. And I’m not sure I could have endured much more.

I walked out feeling two prevailing things: The first, something akin to what mincemeat must feel like when it comes out of the machine. And second, like a goddamn coward because I’d been unable to say “Look, I just need you to stop touching me now” to someone I was literally paying to touch me.

I wrote all of this down because I started thinking some of it while I was scrubbing myself for the third time in the shower, and it started to sound like maybe it was a bit funny, and that maybe I could turn a really stupid thing I did into something that at least has a little bit of value. And also because honestly? I just want to tell you not to be me. You have rights, in all situations, and your right in this particular situation is to dictate exactly how you want to be touched. Don’t be Sistered like I was. It’s completely ok and really, really good to speak up.

I guarantee the awkwardness will be way less painful than my spine is right now.