Getting back to work — 7 of 7: What it feels like seeing clients again

Taking all these steps can feel daunting. If you feel like you’re not sure it’s worth it, take a peek at what these birds are willing to do: National Geographic Birds of Paradise.

Thankfully, our work is simpler than that! After taking care of all the practical steps, we come to the moment of beginning again. It shouldn’t be surprising that returning to work is full of emotional peaks and valleys, just as being away from work has been.

Awkward newness
I expected to feel a bit anxious when I saw my first few clients. I stumbled with the screening questions, feeling like I was reading a script. Once the client was on the table and my hands made contact, I started to feel more normal. Time went kind of slowly, though people’s bodies changed quickly. Ending the session was a relief.

What I didn’t expect at first was to have resistance to giving a session. Particularly on days when I would have just a single session, I found the inertia of being at home and secluded was strong. I didn’t feel like getting dressed for work, sorting out the space, or standing in my professional self. After missing work and worrying about not working, I didn’t expect to feel such ambivalence. Now that the number of people coming in has increased slightly, the inertia isn’t as strong. It’s easier for me to feel a bridge between my professional self and the new procedures that COVID demands.

Same as it ever was
Some sessions have felt like shining examples of why I do this work. People have come in with problems and with my presence and skillful touch, they leave feeling better. This is so gratifying. Several sessions felt okay: not great, not bad. I help, a bit, but not as much as I would like. It’s more like the time has gone by than we’ve had success. The slippery slope of uncertainty is just underfoot, immediate–and without a lot of sessions in a day, it’s easy to fall into mental traps. Is this the right thing to do? What’s best for them? Am I helping?

In the past, when this has happened, I recognized it for the countertransference that it is. Now, those dynamics feel more heightened: like being so-so or being ambivalent isn’t good enough. As if the unusual time must call forth the unusual in us. What does this even mean?

How to rise to this unusual moment
I’m beginning to see that we are balanced in a dance between holding onto the best of what’s been before, while also letting go in order to find a new way forward.

I appreciate how much we’ve all done to maintain a sense of center. “Keep calm and carry on.” Biologically, we’ve got homeostasis on our side: internal mechanisms that support our health and well-being. They guard us from being over-run by current events. Psychologically, these mechanisms include habits, memory, sense of Self, resistance and even a dose of denial. In trauma work of various kinds, we speak of resilience. To me, resilience is when all these internal mechanisms work together. It’s what helps me in the moment. Thank goodness for that, and yet.

When I wonder what I’ll need to move forward, I’m struck that it’s exactly the thing that I’ve resisted: to let this virus, this pandemic change me. To let life change me.

I’ve rewritten that sentence three times: from “you” to “we” to “me.” I am so resistant to feeling my own vulnerability. I want to learn and organize and keep good habits–do whatever I can to feel control in the moment. To believe that such control is the same as safety. It many ways it can be: learning about safe procedures, organizing my practice space to support the new habits of hygiene and client screening. These are all good pursuits.

And still, when working with people over the last few weeks, I have felt my own vulnerability as the practitioner again. Not for the first time, but in a fresh way. Am I willing, again, to meet my own not-knowing inside all the wise steps I’ve taken. Am I willing to surrender and meet the present moment?

My work–particularly craniosacral work–teaches us a lot about surrendering to whatever is presenting itself within the client. I’m familiar with that, I recognize the dynamic. Still, each moment I am given the choice to say ‘yes’ to that process, or not. I have had a couple of sessions where I knew I wouldn’t be able to say yes, so I rescheduled them. Honoring my own process of being ready or not to give a session has been both humbling and empowering. It’s a habit I want to cultivate more.

Post-traumatic growth
Letting myself be vulnerable is not the same as being reckless. It’s about managing the practical level, while being attuned to what my heart and soul are saying. It’s about letting myself feel the awkwardness or the fatigue that comes sooner in a practice day. It’s about being honest about who I do or don’t want to touch right now. This vulnerability is what allows me to stay present with myself and my clients–as humans first, then as partners in healing. For a while, I’ve believed that healing isn’t possible without a willingness to be vulnerable. We have to let go of what stabilizes to reach for something new.

A quote that stayed on my mirror through my cancer-time: “There is no healing without transformation, no transformation without healing.” I don’t know who said or wrote it–but it rang true in my heart when I came across it. At the time I couldn’t imagine a future where my breast cancer would be so woven into my life story that it wouldn’t be most prominent event.

I trusted that this would happen, but I couldn’t see how, not at that point. It was my biggest, closest life marker. By definition, events that become a thread in our lives are events that change us. They have significance. We have a sense of self “before” and “after” those markers. Clearly, the scale of COVID will be a marker for people all over the world. It is, perhaps, the first overt crisis event that joins us all.

(We know that our environment links us all and it’s in crisis, but somehow we haven’t responded with the same unified alarm or action. Perhaps our COVID-response can be a stepping stone on this front? What more will we be able to do–toward peace, social justice, ecological sustainability–moving forward from this united point?)

We can’t see the end of the tunnel on this, collectively or individually. But we can decide to participate with whatever arises during this time. For myself, I am trying to stay awake, not numb myself or hide. I’m re-committing myself to the passions I’ve had for so long: safe and healthy touch and to learning. I do believe we can help one another. Holding ourselves and each other with humanity, honesty, vulnerability and a fierce kindness, we’ll be alright.


This week’s best re-watch movie is the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. (trailer) An ensemble story about a handful of retirees who decide to go to India for their elder years. It’s one of those lovely stories in which everyone maintains their dignity and has moments of humanity (messy or hard) as well as transformation. A favorite theme, from Sonny Kapoor, a young Indian man reaching for his dreams of love and success: “Everything will be alright in the end,….and if it’s not all right, then it’s not yet the end.”