Unusual Barriers, Finding My Own Path

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One of the most common things that happens when late diagnosed or late discovered autistic or neurodivergent people realize how much neurodivergence has affected their life, is to review their past experiences through a new lens. A new perspective of self is discovered that allows a new lens to be seen on our own past.

Today has been a lot of reflection, self-forgiveness, and gratitude for my massage therapy journey. I don’t say career, it’s a continuous learning journey and practice. Today is the two-year anniversary of opening my own small private practice. Just myself and my clients. My oldest started helping with the front desk and cleaning after graduation this spring. It’s been a combination of wonderful and a struggle to keep going with the unexpected health leftovers from Covid. At the 2-year mark, I’m excited, feeling better, and getting busier. Blessed and Grateful.

I began massage school after my martial artist father was injured. My plan as a 23-year-old single mom was to start a massage career so that I could work and continue to go to college. Massage therapy is not a typical 40-hour-a-week job. Although, I’ve known a few amazing therapists that can and do work 40 hours. Much admiration and respect for those powerhouses. While I had grown up in martial arts, I had no intentions of training or teaching again back then. Getting and keeping a massage job was a challenge for me, in many aspects.

Over 13 years, I worked in spas, massage franchises or clinics, chiropractor’s offices, and travel massage. I quickly realized the spa, luxury, and relaxation massage environment was not for me. Franchises are often an unhealthy environment for most therapists (depending on the owner), and being overworked/underpaid is common. The struggle of juggling the social aspects of co-workers/managers and my clients and therapist relationship while not knowing I’m autistic was often overwhelming. I often left jobs, now knowing I was having a meltdown and being unable to control my emotions. Massage therapy is such an intimate art of bodywork, that not every client is going to feel comfortable with the therapist or their style of work. Pleasing every client is an impossible task for anyone. Add in that neurotypicals can sometimes sense and are off-put by neurodivergent people. They can sense someone is different, but can’t say why, they are just uncomfortable. Sometimes it’s what we say or do, sometimes not. Having a boss or manager to explain when that connection with clients just didn’t click was impossible. I was more comfortable in a therapeutic setting of chiropractic, but also limited in the types of massage modalities I could practice. Not able to use much of what I’d learned.

I didn’t know I had face blindness back then. Putting names and faces together has always been a struggle, my whole life. Masks have been a blessing to those of us who struggle with this šŸ™‚ People are uncomfortable when you don’t visually recognize them. My vision issues this year haven’t helped, but with only my clients coming in, it’s helped with this issue a lot. I remember people, just usually by other facts about their life or their muscular issues. Names, faces, not so much and I do try.

Today, I’m forgiving myself for the social lapses or struggle to live up to the expectations of others. I forgive myself for not being able to cross unusual barriers that I couldn’t even see. I’m grateful for the clients who’ve found me or will find me. I really can’t express in words how much appreciation I have for those who helped me get here. Self-employment and private practice for 2 years now. It’s hard to believe.

As I said at the beginning, massage isn’t a career for me but a learning journey and practice. It’s always baffled me that American cultures have either stigmatized or placed luxury on bodywork and massage. Growing up in martial arts, I received different types of bodywork as a teenager. Even acupuncture cupping on my knee by a Korean Grandmaster. In many Asian and Indian cultures bodywork is more normalized as therapeutic. Bodywork is pretty normal in my little family. T, my oldest, was 3 when I went to massage school. She would massage Grandpa’s good foot/ankle, while I worked on the injured one. Massage dry cupping became a family favorite when I took CEU classes during the shutdown. N, the young one, struggles to get bodywork. He’s touch-sensitive so we have to find what works for him. Cupping does and he enjoys chiropractic when we make it. Helping my little family with aches, pain, stress, and more these past 15 years has been the biggest blessing of all.

After finishing up at work today, we cleaned everything and remade the table. Me: “Okay, I’m going to go wash up, you get on the table.” T: “What for?” Me: “I don’t know, what do we get on massage tables for?” T: “Okay mom, I’m tired” Me: “You want hot stones? you have to clean them?” T: “Yes.” It was a really wonderful way to finish my first two years. I knew she was exhausted and overdue. And as proven, has been napping since we’ve been home.

I still plan on that Ph.D. in psych, been in the works for 10 years already. But my massage therapy journey isn’t over. I still have more modalities to practice, more to learn, and more people to help with my hands.

Like many things in life, finding a massage therapist that uniquely fits you is important. Have you ever tried massage therapy? Do you have any questions you’d like to ask a practicing LMT? Many people are still hesitant to try it or uncomfortable with touch but don’t know the options available. Although I’ve seen it evolve some to a therapeutic atmosphere these last 10 years. Please feel free to comment or email if you’d prefer privately. I’ll respond.

Wishing you peace and a release of stress today,

Becca Dove

The Holistic Autistic


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