It took me a long time to notice that I wasn’t very happy.
I’ve felt grief in the past. I’ve also (being me) been very ostentatiously and melodramatically SAD in my time. But I am, by nature, fairly cheerful. It’s one of the upsides to being naturally lazy (and thus disinclined to overthink my own limitations), and fairly easy to please (my husband once made me a surprise breakfast which consisted of a fried egg served with leftover, slightly stale churros – not the chocolatey bit, just the dough – and I was so happy that I cried. So not exactly demanding in terms of my personal comforts).
But at some point in the last two years, I stopped being happy.
It had been so long since I felt happy, that I had forgotten what it was like. It had been so long since I felt happy, that I didn’t even realise something was wrong with me. It had been so long since I felt happy, that feeling sad felt normal.
I’m lucky that my mental health has always been fairly robust, so I managed to cope – but coping was all I was doing. I had lost any sense of joy or motivation – everything felt flat. Even simple things seemed difficult and complicated. I often found communication overwhelming – I shudder to think how many emails went unread, how many messages were unseen, because I couldn’t work my way through them. I became frustrated, unkind, impatient. I stopped doing all the things that used to bring me joy – hobbies, such as photography or walking, seemed like so much effort, and I felt so lacklustre that the outcome wasn’t worth the work. Worst of all, I stopped reading. Secretly, I wondered what was so very wrong with me, but I wasn’t able to bring myself to care. Life was thundering on around me, but instead of being swept up in it, I felt like I was watching from a distance. The buzz of the things that used to excite me had faded to a dull hum.
I’m lucky in that my slump was, as far as I can see, entirely related to sleep-deprivation. The exhaustion was profound, and it ran bone-deep. My whole body ached. I had constant headaches. I wasn’t the wife, mother, daughter, sister, or friend that I should have been as a result.
I had become a martyr to the baby’s sleep cycle – she was waking, feeding, sleeping on me, over and over. Mornings were the worst part because, for the most part, I didn’t really have mornings anymore. The nights were fractured, with a baby who woke every hour or two, all night, every night, for almost two years. But the nature of sleep-deprivation is so insidious, and so gradual, that by the time it became pronounced enough to need a change to our routine, I was too deep in the fog to see a way out. Night-weaning, moving the baby into her own bed, teaching her to go to sleep by herself instead of feeding her into a stupor – after two long years, it all seemed much too hard.
The idea of self-care is much touted these days, but I had moved so far away from any concrete idea of my own self that doing something nice for myself seemed like a pointless indulgence (as well as the fact that to do anything alone would probably involve going out during the rare few hours after the baby went to sleep but before she woke for the first time). I can’t even remember what prompted me to actually make an appointment for a session of amatsu therapy.
Amatsu had been on my radar for a while. A friend who suffers from fibromyalgia and back pain has been going for sessions for a long time, and loves it. Another friend (a very practical medical professional) went for a session and told me she had to stop the car on the way home for a cry, such was the emotional release she felt after it.
It’s not the sort of thing I do, normally. I don’t get my nails done, I don’t go for massages, I don’t even go to the hairdresser much. When I get ill, I usually wait too long before I go to the doctor (I work on the kill or cure model, clearly). Basically, I suppress things until I simply can’t ignore them anymore. Hey, it’s a method. But I was feeling desperate, and unwell. I bumped into my friend Elaine one morning, and we went for coffee, and on the spur of the moment I asked her if she would book me in for a session.
If I had thought about it at all, I probably wouldn’t have done it. First, because Elaine is a friend of mine – at the time, she was a school-run friend who I didn’t know very well but liked a lot. I was worried that it would be awkward, and weird, to have someone you bump into at the school gates manipulating your wayward limbs. Also, it felt like an extravagance– going out in the evening! Alone! Spending money on myself! It had been so long since I looked outside of my very restricted bubble, that this felt like a huge step.
I didn’t even know what amatsu therapy was when I arrived for my first session. I think I was probably expecting some kind of massage, along with maybe some candles burning and maybe some oils. To be honest, I didn’t care – I just wanted to do something different, something outside of my normal, child-centred routine. But I was delighted to find that it was actually quite a practical-seeming, hands-on treatment. It felt mechanical, like Elaine was working out how my body worked. And it wasn’t in the least bit awkward – Elaine takes charge in the nicest possible way, and it felt very liberating to follow instructions and be directed. She warned me that I would probably feel a bit rubbish the following day, but that after that I would start to feel better.
Elaine moved around the table, manipulating my limbs, moving parts of me in ways that I didn’t usually move. It all felt distinctly odd but completely compelling – very soothing, and very relaxing, but with an invigorating sense of movement. Within five minutes of getting me on her table, she had identified a long-standing problem with my hip.
By the end of the first session, I was almost woozy. By the time I got home and crawled into bed, I was shaking violently. The next morning, I felt like I had been hit by a bus. I was wrung out and shaky – emotionally and physically. But over the next few days, I started to feel a lightness (again, not just physically), and pleasantly loosened out. Problem areas, such as my lower back and my wrists and shoulders, felt more pliant and less achey.
I booked myself in for a second session the following week, and this time the after-effects were less dramatic, without the physical crash but with an enhanced sense of well-being. Going for a session with Elaine is like being in a peaceful bubble. It is relaxing – the physical movements are repetitive and soothing. However, it doesn’t feel passive, because Elaine is always in motion, always completely hands-on.
Elaine is a delightful mix of hugely empathetic and refreshingly sensible. She has two children of her own, and has been through difficult births and new-mum stresses and the constant pressure to juggle juggle juggle. She just understood everything I hadn’t been able to see in myself, and she allowed me the space to talk it all out and work through all the complex feelings I’d been tamping down for so long. It was like (what I imagine) going to therapy is like (emotionally-stunted repressive that I am). It was also a bit like being drunk – every weird little worry and suppressed emotion just came pouring out.
I’d forgotten how beneficial it is to talk things out. Every session felt like I was finding my way out of the fog a little bit more. When I worried about how badly breastfeeding a toddler was affecting our nights, Elaine talked me through our routine, and helped me tease out a plan. She didn’t tell me to stop feeding, or give me unwanted advice on infant nutrition – instead, she listened to what I was really saying, cut through the fuzziness that came about through sleep-deprivation and anxiety, and helped me to come up with a plan that actually worked for our situation. During each session, we talk, and talk, and talk – without any sense of judgement or or preconceptions, we allow ourselves to discuss everything. She knows all my biggest insecurities, and my worst fears, and she takes them all in and helps me to tackle them by breaking them down into something manageable. We also laugh, a lot. She knows all the things that I hope for myself and my family, an after each session with Elaine I feel my self-belief has been bolstered, my focus sharpened. She gives the gift of perspective, and clear-sightedness. It’s a balm.
I call her a witch, and she laughs at me, but it is a bit spooky how well Elaine can read people. And it is intoxicating to be in the full beam of someone’s attention during every session. Sometimes, I feel so insubstantial, so faded – I have spent a lot of time pushing most of my energy out into my children, and there’s not a lot left for me at the moment. But during an amatsu session with Elaine, I feel like she really sees and hears me. And if that feels like a little bit of magic in a mundane world, then I’m going to enjoy every minute of it.
FYI, Elaine Platt is based in South Dublin –
her Facebook page is here and her number is 0860830208.
Disclaimer: I don't know if I need to say this, as I'm really not this sort of blogger, but this post hasn't been sponsored or anything like that. I just thought that there might be some people like me who are feeling a bit rubbish and might like to hear they're not alone. Also I really love going to Elaine for sessions and wanted to tell people about it. But this is not an ad! In the interest of being totally transparent, I did get "mates' rates" when I booked my first set of sessions, but that's because...well, we are mates. I have paid in full for all other sessions and will continue to do so for all future sessions.