Being A Bodyworker During A Pandemic
It’s 2020 and I’ve just watched my private practice blocked off by a thick, impenetrable, and transparent wall from which I can see current and potential clients reaching out to me. But, sadly, I can no longer guarantee them the safety, security, and peace of mind that I could prior to March 11th, the day California went on lockdown for Covid-19. If there was ever a time that I pondered whether or not my service was considered “essential,” that became crystal clear once the pandemic hit. The funny thing is that I work in healthcare.
I’m a craniosacral therapist, which is a career that has more potential to spread corona than survive in a withering economy. For those of you unfamiliar with this form of bodywork, it’s a light touch which supports a number of physical and psychological issues such as TMJ, arthritis, anxiety, PTSD, headaches, or joint pain (to name a few) by rebalancing the central nervous system. Because I have to spend about the same amount of time and proximity that a massage therapist would with a client, it’s not safe to offer during a pandemic of one of the most contagious diseases most of us have seen in our lifetimes.
I’m one of the lucky ones; I’ve been eligible for unemployment, unlike most of my colleagues, due to being furloughed by a chiropractor, where I saw clients two days a week. At first, when the lockdown went into effect, I thought “Oh thank God, a holiday!” I had been seeing a lot of clients and coming home to a toddler. I figured I could hang out with my son a bit more, give my wife a break, and shamelessly binge watch some online series…that got old after two months.
It took me from 2013-2016 to learn craniosacral therapy properly, and until 2018 to make it my bread and butter. Not to mention the work in promoting and explaining it to numerous potential clients who’d look at me sideways when I told them what I do. As the sole breadwinner in a family of three, I managed to support us and even grow my client base large enough to start putting away savings by the start of 2020. This is no easy feat for anyone living in the San Francisco Bay Area not working in tech. But now, I wait as it seems the legal precautions around creating an environment for safe bodywork changes from week to week. I attend a weekly zoom meeting with other bodyworkers to discuss how to work within these precautions, the legal interpretations of them, or how to petition the federal government for more financial support.
After having spent years learning to network, redesign websites, sell myself, create a referral base, and expand my client base, I have to tell inquiring clients every week that I can’t legally see them. Not to mention that clients (particularly the elderly ones) who relied on me weekly or biweekly, that I can’t offer them support they need, it’s disheartening to say the least.
I do offer distance healing sessions and in many instances, I find them to be equally therapeutic for the nervous system as in-person sessions. In fact, I offer them with the first session for free and future ones on a donation basis. Very few of my clients want that as they just tell me to contact them once it’s safe to see them again in person. I’ve had numerous new potential clients that want to get sessions from me as well, but it’s the same deal; they’d prefer to pay for an in person session and have little interest in a free distance one.
I’ve also recently had to end the unemployment benefits because the chiropractor’s office has brought me back in. I can legally work there because it’s a medical facility/essential service, but I can’t work for myself anymore because that’s considered a luxury service. Are massage and bodywork medical or luxury services? I don’t know, you’d have to ask the numerous clients we have who rely on us for pain management. Or you could ask my colleagues who only work out of private practices and rely on PPE loans to get through this.
Some might say that I’m fortunate to have the chiropractor’s office to work at. At the risk of looking a gift horse in the mouth, it’s a little rough because two days of work won’t feed my family and now I’m no longer eligible for unemployment benefits. My private practice combined with those two days of work was what we needed to survive in the Bay Area. I won’t even go into the paranoia I have to compartmentalize about catching or spreading Covid-19 at work.
Some might also say that I was mooching off of the system getting so much in federal unemployment and food stamps. But can one really put a price on the blood, sweat, and tears, it takes to create a successful business, only to have to close it down once it becomes successful? I guess I’ll find out in the next few weeks when the house figures out how to move forward in supporting people like me with the next stimulus package. That being said, I don’t think I would trade the world for the skills I’ve acquired, I simply long for the opportunity to fully use them again.