Finding strength in vulnerability

“We are all broken, that’s how the light gets in.” – Ernest Hemmingway

I had an accident recently. On a windy January afternoon I came off my bike and broke my fall with my left arm, which also broke as I landed. As I was rushed off to the Bristol Royal Infirmary in the back of an ambulance, afraid and in pain, I couldn’t (and didn’t) want to believe what had just happened. I’m a Massage Therapist. I earn a living with my hands and arms. I thought, “What am I going to do?”

A contributing factor to my panic was the fact that this had happened before. In 2012, while visiting Sri Lanka, I broke a bone in my right arm and (just like this time round) had to have surgery to realign it before it could begin to heal.

Although that break was a clean one, and far more straightforward to mend than the one I am currently faced with, I became entirely disconnected with that part of my body. It was like falling out with an old friend, replacing kinship with a wall of silence. I couldn’t look at it. I wouldn’t let anyone touch it for months. I felt ashamed, resentful, let down, as if I were fundamentally broken somehow, not just a bone in my right arm.

This time the fracture is more complicated – I have broken a number of bones in my wrist – but despite or perhaps because of this, my journey through it has been very different. A few weeks ago, when the nurse who was caring for me removed my post-surgery cast and left me to be alone for a while, my reflex reaction was to turn away. Just like before I didn’t want to look, I didn’t want to acknowledge. But after a while of sitting with it, just me and my arm, a voice inside said, “You need to care for yourself. You need to become your own healer.”

So I looked.

The wound was raw, tender and laced with visible stitches. But I didn’t feel any of the things I had felt when this happened three years ago. Instead, I felt compassion and love for my arm and what it had been through, what we had both been through.

I placed my right hand over the break and held it for a moment. With this simple action I was able to accept my vulnerability and feel both broken and supported at the same time. I cried, but my tears came from a different place. I said to myself out loud, “It’s OK. You’re going to be OK.”

This was the first step on a new path for me, one of acceptance and of letting go of the need be in control. Before my accident I carried a book of mindfulness around in my bag but I’d never once opened it. Always busy and rushing around, promising myself tomorrow, or the day after that. Maybe it was the months of being off work stretching ahead, or it was simply the right time, or both, but soon after that initial cast was removed I opened the book.

Practicing mindfulness has been a revelation and the source of so much positivity and peace. If you’d have told me three months ago that a broken wrist would bring me positivity and peace, I would never have believed you. But now I think that being afforded this time to stop, reflect, appreciate and heal has been a gift. I have learned so much about acceptance and self-care, a rare and genuine blessing.

BCMB_SOPH-8

I am signed off until April and will start physiotherapy soon, so I still have some healing to do. But when I’m working again I will draw on these recent experiences in my practice, because we all have broken bits from time to time and by accepting those bits and the vulnerabilities they carry, by turning to face them instead of looking away, we can become so much stronger.

Caring for carers

BCMB_SOPH-43Hello and a Happy New Year to you! I hope you enjoyed the festive season. Now that it’s 2015 I’ve found myself reflecting (as we all tend to do after the holidays) on the years gone by and the year ahead, and I’d like to share with you something I’ve been thinking about.

When I was a student with BCMB (Bristol College of Massage and Bodywork), training for my Holistic Massage Diploma, I had to set up a client study group. The purpose of the group was to research a particular demographic in order to develop advice and best practice for other therapists.

I chose to study professional carers, people who made their living by looking after other people. I worked with nurses, mental health practitioners and social workers. Although their average days looked different they all had something in common; because they were used to doing the caring, they were a little less familiar with a space in which they were being cared for.

This showed itself in lots of different ways, from the initial consultation where they would struggle to let their guard down and say what was really going on, how they were really feeling (“Me? Oh I’m fine, can’t complain”), to more physical symptoms like muscular strains and tension.

They often said they had difficulty sleeping or properly ‘switching off’ from work and I noticed during their early treatments that they found it hard to fully relax their bodies, as though they were still holding on to something, perhaps the responsibility of making sure that someone else was OK.

The more I worked with this group the more I realised that many of them had forgotten how to look after themselves, so accustomed were they to putting the needs of others first. But I also found that, over time, they became more and more receptive to letting me in and to letting their guards down.

It was such an inspiration to witness this change because it takes real courage to be vulnerable, especially when you’re so used to being strong and holding the vulnerabilities of others. I was (and still am) honoured to offer a space where carers could leave their brave faces at the door and just be, just let it all go.

These training experiences have really informed my professional practice, which is why I now offer a 20% discount to professional carers. It’s all too easy to forget the importance of self-care, especially when you look after people on a daily basis. But taking good care of you is just as important as taking care of them, perhaps even more so.

Does any of this sound familiar? Perhaps you work in the health or care industry and struggle to find time and space for yourself, time to let yourself be looked after? Or maybe you know someone who fits the bill, someone who works hard for others and could really benefit from a bit of ‘me time’?

If so then please feel free to contact me; it would be my pleasure to offer a discounted treatment to a carer who deserves a break.

Giving the gift of ‘me time’ this Christmas

1458494_552891824794538_1424078891_n

Christmas, although lovely, can be a very stressful time: emotional memories, reflecting on the year gone by, running around after others, striving for the ‘perfect day’… And then there’s  always the pressure to find that ideal present.

A Sophie Fagan Holistic Massage gift voucher is a great way to avoid the hectic Christmas shopping crowds and to give a loved one the thoughtful gift of ‘me time’ – an hour of time and space where the world stands still and, for a little while, it’s all about them.

Printer friendly gift vouchers addressed to your loved one can be emailed directly to you. I accept payment by bank transfer and will email your voucher to you within 2 days of receiving funds.

Not long to go now until the festive finale, so why not take some pressure off yourself and make a stress-free purchase for that special person in your life?

Contact me for more information.

Goodbye stress, hello holistic massage

BCMB_SOPH-14Hello there! This is my first blog post and I must say, I’m pretty excited about it. It’s great to have a space where I can share some of my passions and interests with you. Over the coming weeks and months I will post up ideas on how to keep your mind, body and spirit happy. I’ll also let you know about special offers and upcoming events. First of all though, I’d like to tell you a little story about myself and why I became a massage therapist.

Long before I even knew the Holistic Massage Diploma at BCMB (Bristol College of Massage and Bodywork) existed, I was managing a team of people for a small Bristol business. I was under a lot of pressure and had been suffering from stress-related anxiety as a result. I kept thinking that I just had to cope with it and that not being able to cope was a sign of failure, an admission of defeat. Eventually my health began to suffer and so I went to see my GP, who signed me off with stress for 6 weeks. At first I tried to resist it, “I can’t take all that time off! Who’s going to x, y and z?” I said to myself. I felt like I was no longer able to cope and it was a very uncomfortable feeling. Some of you may have even experienced that feeling yourself.

Now when I look back at that time I realise that it was actually the ‘not coping’ that ultimately enabled me to rid my life of that kind of stress. I had a lightbulb moment: I don’t have to be stressed to be successful and not coping isn’t failing at all, it’s my body’s way of saying “enough is enough.” Around the same time a friend of mine recommended a course she had just completed at BCMB. She said she thought I would get a lot out of it, and how right she was!

I completed my Diploma in 2010 and set up Sophie Fagan Holistic Massage shortly afterwards. It’s no exaggeration to say that becoming a qualified massage therapist turned my life around completely. I used to go to work and get stressed out. Now I go to work and relax.

I know that not everyone suffering from stress can just switch up and change their career, but I do believe that lots of people tell themselves that they need to cope, that they need to keep all their plates in the air or they’re failing. That is something I passionately disbelieve.

Modern life makes so many demands of us and can pull us in several different directions at once. Amid all the noise and the haste it can be hard to find time and space for ourselves, to simply be and experience a sense of inner peace and connection. One of the things I love most about what I do now is providing my clients with exactly that space, allowing them the time to ground themselves and take a well deserved break.

We are all only human after all. I hope what I do goes some way towards reminding people of that.