Well, That’s Not What I Planned
By Tara Goulding
16 March 2020 is a date that I’m not going to forget in a hurry, same as a lot of AMT members. It’s the date we received The Email recommending that we immediately cease treating clients for an initial two weeks in order to help stop the spread of COVID-19. Perhaps I was naïve, but as I was discussing this email and the implications with my hubby that evening, I thought I’d only be closed for two weeks. Still not great timing given we’d just picked up the keys to our new home five days earlier and now had a brand-new mortgage to consider. Amidst many tears which may or may not have been influenced by peri-menopausal hormones, I decided that even though AMT’s advice wasn’t mandatory, I would follow it. Little did I, or any of us, predict the shitstorm that was about to engulf the world.
But first, a bit of backstory for context
I’ve been a Massage Therapist for 14 years. For all of that time I’ve had my own mobile business but have also concurrently rented space in a clinic, worked in a chiropractic clinic, a high-end day spa, and a nutrition/wellness clinic. Mobile work is by far my favourite though, and I concentrated on growing that in the Parramatta, NSW region where I first started my business and started again from scratch when I moved to the NSW Central Coast. All was going fine and dandy, and then in December 2019 hubby and I started looking to buy a house, oblivious to the viral mess that was about to unfold.
Editor’s note: For a full picture of what Tara and her business were contending with around this time, read her previous article, Remember to Pack the Fruit Bowl
In January 2020, we found an amazing property in the Hunter Valley, and although hubby could still reasonably commute to his work, it would be a stretch for me – it was doable, but not in the long term. I considered starting my business from scratch again in my new area, but having already done that twice, I didn’t have the energy to do it a third time. So it was settled – I’d commute to see my Central Coast clients for at least the near future, while putting feelers out for more local work. I had recently completed a research thesis for my postgrad degree and also done some casual research work for a university – loved them both – so the research path seemed like a great new road to explore.
And then the whole world shut down.
The second half of March was an immensely stressful time, because our industry shutting down was only one of the major things that was happening in my life, though it turned out to be the straw that broke this little camel’s back. I spent most of the second half of March in tears, wondering what the hell I was going to do and how the hell I was going to help pay for this beautiful new home we hadn’t even fully moved into yet. My wonderful husband, bless his cotton socks, was trying to make me feel better by telling me that I had been planning to move on from massage in the next year or so anyway, so really, what’s a little pandemic to get upset about when the end result will be the same? The trouble with that theory is that COVID-19 made a hostile takeover of my plan and moved my end result forward about a year, and I wasn’t yet ready to give up massage.
Timing is everything, or in the case of a pandemic, timing is everything you don’t want it to be.
AMT were amazing with providing members with info to keep us in the loop, and when it became obvious that our industry was not going to be re-opening in two weeks or anything remotely close to that, I started applying for jobs. I couldn’t afford to sit and wait until some indeterminate date when I’d be allowed, both legally and ethically, to work again. At this point there was no JobKeeper or JobSeeker, so I was doing what I had to do to pay the bills. I was applying for everything. Absolutely everything. You’d think that “everything” would encompass a lot of jobs, but no … for one application, I was competing with 297 other candidates just to answer telephones! And that’s not even in a capital city, so I can’t imagine what the job scene would have been like in Sydney and the likes.
At this point, I realised that even though I can’t work in massage at the moment, I’m also likely not going to be able to find work anywhere else either and I still didn’t know if I’d ever massage again, and that uncertainty was difficult. But I started to realise that the answer was “probably not”. With all the discussions in the AMT Facebook group about how to safely return to work, it was obvious that mobile massage was the most risky of all massage settings as we are not in control of the environment we work in and there is a huge potential to have a little viral hitch hiker travel with us from home to home. Given that a lot of my clients are elderly or immunocompromised, this wasn’t a risk I was willing to take on their behalf. If I’m honest, I was also not thrilled about the prospect of having to don several pieces of PPE while massaging for the foreseeable future, and there was the issue of how on earth to do all the extra cleaning (and allow for drying time) as I can’t expect clients to let me be in their home for an extra 30mins to get all that done. And importantly, the very real issue of reopening then having to close again and reopen, close, open, close …
Now more than ever I need financial stability, and for the first time, my massage business could not give me that. In my mind, the chances of me returning to massage were getting slimmer and slimmer. After unsuccessfully applying for around 40 jobs, I finally received a full-time offer in the same industry I was in pre-massage, which I consider myself extraordinarily lucky to have landed given the current environment, and I start that role mid-July. But that means it really is The End for my massage business.
And now I had to tell my clients.
I gave myself a couple of days to process it, and I found the hardest part was that when I saw clients on 16 March, I didn’t know it was going to be the last day I ever massaged. I feel like COVID-19 robbed me of the personal acknowledgement of that momentous occasion at the time that it was happening. I’m super-glad that on what turned out to be my last day, all the clients I saw were regulars who I enjoy spending time with, and my very last client was also my neighbour and friend so I’m grateful for that. I would have loved to have said goodbye to everyone in person and given hugs and little gifts, but nonetheless everyone has wished me well, said they will miss me, and told me how thankful they were for my help over the years. I even had offers of references for future work, invitations to social events, and lots of offers for cups of tea or glasses of wine if I “happen to be passing by”. It really made me realise that it’s not just my clients being an important part of my life, but I am an important part of theirs too. Many of my long-term clients have been with me while I’ve gone through several big life events, and their support was and is so incredibly welcome, and honestly I don’t know how my new workplace is going to compete with that personal connection I had through my massage. I suppose I shouldn’t compare them, but after massaging for 14 years, everything is going to be compared to that! Big shoes to fill, as they say.
I guess this is goodbye to Tara Goulding Massage Therapy – my little baby that I started back in 2006 and that has grown as I’ve grown, moved as I’ve moved, and now is another unfortunate victim of COVID-19. It’s been by far the biggest chapter in my working life, and I feel like I could write a book of all the weird and wonderful experiences of being a Massage Therapist – as could we all. (Hey, maybe we should all get together and do that!) And even though I’ve only been with AMT for a few years, switching associations was one of the best business decisions I made and I’m glad to have ‘met’ you all and had real support from our amazing community. I’m going to be keeping my eye on the massage industry to see how it evolves post-COVID-19 – I don’t think it will ever be the same, but I know with AMT’s guidance, it will be the best it can be.
Someone is cutting onions somewhere nearby and I have to go stop them.
About the Author
Tara Goulding was a mobile Massage Therapist for 14.5 years in both Parramatta, NSW and NSW Central Coast areas. She loved (almost) every minute of it and is currently in the process of coming to terms with using the title “Massage Therapist” in past tense. She now lives in the Hunter Valley NSW with her rescue pooch (see cover photo), rescue bunny, and a husband who is glad he might have a chance of getting himself a massage now.
Cover image ©Tara Goulding 2020