Response to Governor Northam's decision to reopen

Virginia’s governor has decided to reopen certain businesses beginning May 15th, some of you may have heard that massage therapy is included in phase 1’s reopening. I want to address this, as Muscle + Bone will continue to remain closed.

Before you continue reading...

Before you continue reading this (or any covid related information) please be aware of the state you are in, take some time before reading this to settle into your body. Pay attention to your feet on the floor, if you're in a seated position, you can also bring awareness to your seat, let the physical contact between yourself and the floor/your chair ground you. Spend a few moments aware of your breath, breathe in through your nose and slowly out through your nose or mouth (whatever you're most comfortable with). Let your attention remain on your breath and your body and rest in that awareness. If at any time reading this you start to feel uncomfortable, anxious, or angry - pause- bring your attention back to your feet and your seat and take some moments to find your breath again. Everything I’ve written has been done with empathy, understanding, and concern and I hope that is how it reaches you. 

I find this difficult to write, as we all are experiencing this common situation uniquely. Let me begin by saying I recognize people’s readiness to leave their homes, isolation and containment are difficult for us to experience, we are social creatures and we crave connection and touch. What we have had to do to address this pandemic is uncomfortable. 

This pandemic has threatened everyone’s nervous system, whether it be financially, physically, or emotionally the rapid changes to our society, and what that means creates an unsafe environment for our nervous systems. 

Flight, Fight, and Freeze

Flight, Fight, or Freeze the three F’s and our Autonomic Nervous System’s response to threat. Depending on everyone’s unique experience and neural priming, You will find yourself experiencing 1, 2, or 3 of these behaviors, sometimes all in one day, one hour, or over the course of the weeks. No one today has been in this situation before, it’s an unrecognizable atmosphere and our brains and bodies are constantly working to make sense of it and to ensure we survive. 

Flight will come first, Anxiety and the overwhelming desire to move and to escape the threat. If you identify the threat as financial, perhaps this presents as feeling the need to return to work. If you identify the threat as emotional a return to activities will also feel like the right move. If you identify the threat as physical then you probably are not interested in going out and are staying isolated. Of course, because life is made up of many factors, you may find yourself confused and have contradictory feelings. Any of the above mentioned emotions and beliefs are natural for our situation. 

If we are unable to escape a threat the nervous system will continue to operate to find the next solution for survival- Fight. Our anxiety turns to agitation and anger, maybe over feeling so helpless, maybe over the fact that other people aren’t responding in a similar manner to you. In this state of the nervous system, we can say and do things that are unkind, not because we are unkind but because we are in survival mode. 

We can fluctuate between these two states for a long period of time, and depending on the regulation of your nervous system you may find yourself able to find moments where you feel safe, when time slows down and you hear the birds singing, feel the breeze on your skin, and find yourself able to breathe. Sometimes these moments are fleeting, other times they can last days. However, inevitably because we continue to live in a state of pandemic you will once again find yourself overwhelmed and angry. You may also find you’ve finally reached a freeze state. Immobilized by fear, or simply exhaustion from riding the vagal roller coaster, you will find it difficult to do anything but sit and stare. Depression lives here. The body has done everything in its power and all that is left is to play dead in the hopes that the threat will move on to a more interesting organism. This is a harder state to come out of because physiologically we are incapable of recognizing certain safety cues like facial expressions, vocal tones and pitches. 

It takes a lot of compassion and effort to travel out of any of these states. Especially, when these states are being stoked by decisions that don’t align with the state you are in or if you’ve looked at social media and been bombarded with everyone screaming their personal opinions. 

This is all to say that whatever you are feeling, I understand. I understand because there is science that explains WHY you are feeling the way you are feeling. The problem is, that decisions are being made that affect everyone and these decisions are being made based on the backlash from people’s behavioral responses to their feelings. Doctors and scientists are the men and women at the front of this pandemic treating those who have fallen ill and working diligently and endlessly to try and quell this virus. These are the people (people, whose nervous systems are also trying to process and respond to what’s happening) who have the best understanding of this virus, what it looks like, the effects it has, and how we should be responding to it. In America, nothing has changed in terms of what is being done about this virus. There is not enough testing and tracing set up and now governors are relaxing social distancing. Doctors and Scientists do not think it is safe to reopen right now. So, it’s not safe to reopen. 

Reopening and Massage Therapy

To include massage therapy and other service industries (hair and nail salons, etc) in the reopening of phase I is illogical and dangerous. Of course people are putting in safety measures and more precautions, but these measures are ineffective and do not make the service safe. Right now, the coronavirus still has a long incubation period, which means that you could be carrying around the virus and not know it because you feel fine and are expressing no symptoms. Asymptomatic individuals, those individuals without symptoms can still pass the virus along to other people, thus ensuring the rapid spread of this contagion. It’s extremely contagious. Commercial and cloth masks are not effective in stopping the virus from reaching your membranes and infecting your body. Masks are an empathetic measure to contain the spread radius of your molecules so that they don’t reach other people, but particles can and will still pass through the material. An airborne disease remains in the air (thus the recommendation of at least 6 ft and the importance of social distancing) there is no safe way to perform hair and nail services or bodywork without making contact with a person.  In addition, there is a clotting factor that has been associated with Covid 19. One of the benefits of massage therapy is to promote circulation, if a person has a clot increased circulation will speed the rate of delivery for that clot to reach the heart or brain depending upon its location. 

These three factors alone make massage therapy a contraindication right now and as a health practitioner it’s unethical for me not to share this information. I’m disappointed with those in my profession (most specifically the boards and associations) who have decided to ignore this and pretend there are safe ways to perform bodywork, when the facts so clearly state otherwise. Do No Harm, this is the oath taken by health practitioners and while the massage therapy profession has no such oath, I have always viewed myself as a health practitioner. Muscle + Bone has provided clinical massage therapy focused on helping people address and navigate their pain. I have helped people improve range of motion and alleviate their pain. I practice in critical thinking and evidence based research to help others build their awareness and regulate their nervous system. Anyone who has been to my clinic knows that my priority is taking care of human beings so that they can thrive and not just survive. I hope my insight into this situation reaches you so that you can make your decisions based on what’s right for the health and wellness of you as an individual but also for the health and wellness of our society. Empathy and patience is what will see us through this pandemic. It will not be easy and it will be uncomfortable and there is nothing wrong with that. Human beings are incredibly resilient, neuroplasticity gives us the ability to change our patterns and our reactions. There are many ways to address and regulate the nervous system so that we don’t have a higher perception of and response to threat. 

Two phrases I find myself telling my son often are 1. just because you CAN do something doesn’t mean you SHOULD do it and 2. doing the right thing isn’t always easy. I live by these phrases and I find them to be applicable to our current situation. 1. Many governors across America have decided that people CAN return to work, this does not mean they should (in fact this is a topic to address separately as I realize the very limited “choices” people are being given now that these decisions have been made) which leads me to 2. The right thing (to ensure the safety and protection of human life)  is to stay home. It’s not easy, in fact, for many people it’s hard and uncomfortable and for some, almost impossible. 

My belief is that society has changed forever (another topic to be addressed separately), I don’t think that has to be a bad thing. What was “normal” wasn’t healthy and so it seems like we have an opportunity to pause in the discomfort and to assess and identify our values and our mission as individuals and as a society, and take this time to modify our behavior to better regulate ourselves towards a more harmonious life, one in which we view each other with empathy and understanding and recognize that human life is precious. If our new normal is life in a pandemic then we have to change our behavior, we cannot refuse to recognize that things have changed. You are not alone. Your feelings are valid and so are your neighbors, your friends, and your families, even when they do not reflect your own. However, our actions should be similar. 

I don’t know what a return to massage therapy will look like. I don’t know when it will be safe. I do know that I will continue to update everyone and I will continue to work remotely with whomever is interested. 

In health,

Stephanie Devito

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