A long, long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, I held a massage therapy license, and I had a private practice to match.
My “special interest” at the time was the concept of detoxification, and my ultimate goal was to detoxify the world. Most of my clients didn’t know what the healing powers of specific types of massage therapy could do for detox, though; they came seeking a mere full-body rubdown.
That’s known as relaxation massage, and it does have its own (legitimate, significant, and powerful) therapeutic value. I won’t knock it. But it wasn’t where my heart was. But it did pay the bills.
I was surprised to find that I was more than halfway decent at relaxation massage. I tried to have a little fun with it; I incorporated the use of hot stones and acupressure, along with reflexology on the hands and feet, and custom client-chosen aroma therapeutic essential oil blends. I even published a little professional-looking newsletter, with moderate help from my professional massage therapy association. Go me!
But it didn’t take long before I got depressed. I wondered, what the hell? I’m self-employed for the first time, I’m working from home for part of that time, my website is awesome and people are finding me without my having to spend so much as a dime on advertising. I’m my own boss and I can finally make my own rules. So what gives?
I was utterly baffled. Here I was–busy, solvent, profitable, and…depressed. And in fact, the busier I got, the more depressed I became.
This didn’t make sense. At all.
Fairly early on in my massage therapy career, I had stumbled across an internet discussion forum for massage therapists. The fantastic community on there had helped me immensely with several other dilemmas before, so I took to that site for help with this issue, too.
Fortunately enough, that particular website forum is organized in a way that would make my systemizing Aspie Brain sigh with contentment. Energy topics even had their own section! So off I went.
Before posting any question/dilemma, I like to peruse the neatly-threaded archives for any previous discussions on my topic of interest. This keeps me from looking like a dolt.
I struck gold! Massage therapists run the gamut from the very clinical/evidence-based to the highly metaphysical/energy-based (I sit square in the middle, fully embracing both viewpoints), and the metaphysical ones tend to speak very openly about energy issues, which turned out to be beneficial for me. In that section, there were indeed plenty of discussions with detailed explanations of energy vampires, seeing or hearing supernatural phenomena, and grounding or protective techniques and strategies. Score!
It turned out that many a therapist, even the self-proclaimed skeptics, had experienced disturbing phenomena such as feeling drained/tired/fatigued or even physically ill after a session with a certain client. They had chocked it up to the inter-mixing of that client’s more “toxic” energy with the therapist’s own, and had to get rid of it if it penetrated or got through, and it almost seemed like a rite of passage for every newly-established therapist to learn to protect themselves against future energy-intertwining by using grounding techniques. That information really seemed to speak to me.
Curious about how to combat this problem and eager to resolve it, I carefully read through the threads about symptoms therapists experienced, and the grounding techniques they used.
But when the next session rolled around, I couldn’t quite seem to get the hang of the grounding techniques. I tried, but people’s energies broke through the healthy personal barriers I had worked so hard to erect.
Baffled again, I turned to the community once more.
“Oh yeah, the same thing happens to me,” one kind soul offered. “I’m an empath,” she explained. “You must be one, too.”
Empath? I’d never heard of the term before, but it did seem to resonate with me. Empowered, I rushed over to Google. It turns out that there are several different types of empaths. Empathy toward humans, toward animals, toward the earth, etc. There’s even a such thing as a medical empath – someone who only needs to touch you noninvasively, such as your hand, or maybe just sit within a certain proximity to you, and they can tell what’s wrong with you medically. (Wow! Sure wish I had that last gift – medical empathy would make my current job a lot easier.)
I’ve long known that I’m an animal empath. No question about that. But, true to stereotypical Aspie form, I’d never considered myself to be particularly conventionally empathic toward humans. Maybe I was after all? Maybe I just hadn’t been aware of it before?
Gah, so many (more) questions.
But I had to shelve my investigation until another time, a time that never came. Until…
..some months or years later, in an unrelated internet surfing party of one (me), I had grown curious about Chinese astrology (don’t laugh; it’s pretty cool!). When starting to study anything like this, I start with myself, because, well, I know myself best, and doing this helps me absorb the information and apply it on a deeper level.
(For the curious…)
Having been born at the end of the summer of 1977, I learned that according to Chinese astrology, I was born during their year of the Snake. (And given the time of (their) year during which I was born, I was a Fire Snake. Woot! That sounded really cool.)
So I began to wonder if maybe I could use that symbol to my advantage… (?).
I tried something new…
I adopted the Snake as my guardian animal. Snakes, although scary to face in real life, are neat creatures. They’re suspicious. They’re self-protective. They trust no one. They can strike when threatened, and even a tiny dose of venom from the most poisonous snakes can end the victim’s life in less than an hour (don’t worry – I’ll spare you the pictures). 🙂 They writhe. They coil. They’re stealthy, maneuvering skillfully and unconventionally across the dry sand or swinging down silently from the trees in the jungle. They say nothing. They give no warning.
A snake could be a deadly opponent…or a powerful ally.
So I attempted a new exercise.
My most vulnerable times, the times during which I experience this ethereally “attacked”/”under siege” feeling, usually fall into two main categories: providing massage therapy to someone with excess self-created baggage, and being in traffic among toxic, aggressive, pretentious, amped-up crowds.
It would be during these times when I would summon my Snake, I vowed to myself.
The next time I prepared myself to enter one of these situations, part of my preparation efforts would include visualizing a Snake, coiled gently and non-suffocatingly around me, as my protector.
She would have beautiful, bright colors, spanning a rainbow. Since she would be my own mind’s creation, she would also have a spine of daggers that spanned her full length. And she would indeed be long, sufficient to protect me from head to toe, even when coiled. She would be coiled not tightly, but loosely, but enough to offer protection against the “radiation burn” of caustic energy and attitude emanating from the milieu of the general public.
The next time I walked down the hall toward the massage therapy studio, I summoned my Snake. I visualized her slithering toward me and lifting her head, then coiling up and around me lovingly. First around my feet, then my legs, then my abdomen, then my upper torso, and finally, even my head. She posed no threat to me; her purpose was to defend me. Her ever-vigilant eyes scanned a panoramic view, and her teeth began to drip, just in case the potent elixir became necessary. Her sharp spine and tough skin warded off any negativity that resembled spiritual poison.
My image was complete.
It seemed a little hokey at first. It almost seemed childish, seemed to be overkill for a situation that I wasn’t sure warranted such a strategy. I mean, who else does this? I certainly didn’t know anyone who did, other than my fellow massage therapy tribe. But we seemed to be a more sensitive lot than most of the general public, so we might indeed legitimately be more affected by the “vibes” of others. I knew that visualization can have powerful, potent effects (an individual story here involving cancer recovery, and a research review article abstract here involving sufferers of chronic pain and faster recovery times from surgical procedures). My logical-yet-open mind battled with itself over this.
So, I kept practicing.
Over time, I became less delicate and more resilient. I often question whether or not it would’ve helped me to know then what I know now: that I’m Aspergian/autistic. Part of me reckons that if I had known this then, I wouldn’t have slapped myself with so many labels (like “weak”, “oversensitive”, “wussy”, or “crabby”) or so much criticism (“toughen up”, “mountain out of a molehill”, “big deal out of nothing”, or something about “big-girl panties”, or even “grow up already”). Yeah, that Self-Critic is a bitch. Best to shut her up ASAP.
Except that I didn’t shut her up, because I didn’t know better. I didn’t know that I could.
And the other part of me says that it might be a good thing that I hadn’t realized that I’m autistic/an Aspie back then, because….well, this was 2004-2005. Sure, we have a whole excellent-quality network of autistic/Aspergian adult bloggers and a vibrant and thriving adult ActuallyAutistic community now…but that tsunami has only emerged and gained momentum within the past couple of years. The oldest blogs I’ve found so far date back to 2013–hardly ancient history–rather, relatively recent developments. Had I found out the truth about my spectrum status back then and gone searching, I would’ve butted up against a cold, hard brick wall of “lacking empathy”, because hardly any of our voices were included in the picture yet. Having read the only available information at the time (which was incredibly outdated and medical-model pathologically slanted), I might have actually ended up even more confused, thinking to myself, geez…I can’t even “do” autism/Asperger’s right! And that might have been devastating.
Although it was hard at the time to muddle through my life effectively blindfolded to my Asperger’s/autism spectrum reality, it’s gratifying and refreshing to sit where I’m perched now, and look back over my life, ordering, systemizing, and debugging it, seeing it now for what it really is, with eyes wide open, and supported by a full library of blogs and community of amazing individuals beside me, whose voices can now be heard and writings can now be read. Because they’re part of the equation now, I’m privy to an array of balanced, first-hand viewpoints that may look scattered at first, but come into focus on a single strong and potent fine point, channeling their positivity, understanding, acceptance, and support.
And because of them, I have found that extra empathy (often known as “hyper-empathy”) is not only possible among the Asperger’s/autistic community, but it’s actually fairly common. Other people report similar experiences, feelings, and phenomena.
And once again, I don’t feel nearly so alone.
These days, I live in a different town, one that is more suited to my nature. It’s laid-back, relatively polite, and Nothing Ever Happens Here, which is just the way I like it. It’s big enough to offer almost any amenity that I want or need, without bogging me down or bothering me with superfluous fluff. The people are generally much more chilled out; there is less posturing, fewer contests, less one-upmanship. I have also long since retired from massage therapy; I’ve now been out of the massage therapy field for a longer period of time than I spent in it, (which, sadly, is still three times longer than the average massage therapy career). Because of major changes to these two factors (my town of residence and my career), I now feel more at-ease in most situations. Thus, I can let my Snake rest most of the time.
Finding out the truth about my Asperger’s/autism spectrum status has also given me a rocketship boost in self-confidence. There’s something reassuring (to put it mildly) about realizing that you’re not actually all those awful things you said to yourself, and letting yourself off the hook, to an extent, from trying to achieve all those things you scolded yourself for “failing” at all these years.
Thus, I can still pull my Snake out of the proverbial closet or attic from time to time, but she’ll most likely fill a role of simple extra reinforcement…and someday, she might simply be a psychic accessory. 🙂