Another week of big changes for therapist Anne-Marie

With new lockdown rules, COVID-19 scares and appointment cancellations, we catch up with Anne-Marie to find out how she is navigating the latest twists and turns.

Sunday 1st November

The government announcement last night that massage therapists should close from Thursday 5th November to Wed 2nd December. I spent the morning contacting my clients and rescheduling them to Thursday 3rd December and onwards. They are all very understanding, however it’s incredibly hard to cancel the sessions. Having only been open two months, closing again for at least a month is really difficult. I schedule a few appointments for Monday and Tuesday this week whilst we are still allowed to work. I then arrange to meet with a friend – once we are in lockdown we won’t be able to meet. As this friend lives alone, it feels important to meet before the restrictions come into force. 

Monday 2nd November

I get ready to see my clients later today, a reflexology session this afternoon for a lovely regular client, and a new client at 5pm – the session that was brought forward from Friday. I receive a text from the friend I met yesterday – they have to self isolate for 14 days due to being in contact with someone that has tested positive for COVID. We were also outside when we met, where the risk is lower, but I have to make a difficult decision about my clients booked in for today. In theory, I was not in direct contact with the person who tested positive for the virus, but I was in contact with a person that has been asked to self isolate. There is a small risk that I could be a carrier of the virus, given that people can be asymptomatic. My friend could also develop symptoms, in which case I would definitely have to self isolate. I decided to phone a helpline for advice – but I couldn’t find one! Turning to my therapy Facebook groups, I ask for advice. The overriding response was to err on the side of caution and cancel the clients.

I make the difficult decision to reschedule my clients. Unfortunately, due to the looming lockdown, the new dates can’t be until after the 3rd December.  I call my clients and explain and we agree that it is best that we postpone the session. This is tough – not only do I feel that it is disappointing to move a session that a client looks forward to, there is also the loss of income and the unknown regarding the lockdown ending.

This really brings home how easy it is to be part of a chain where, even being very cautious, meeting up with someone comes at a risk. It’s outside of my control. Although we have to carry on as best we can to have some normality, just meeting up has meant that I have potentially been exposed to the virus. However, I know that cancelling the sessions is the right decision. If I didn’t move them I would be having sleepless nights for a fortnight, worrying about developing symptoms, or inadvertently passing the virus to my clients.

Wednesday 4th November

It is a beautiful day. I decide to go for a long run to get some sunshine, exercise, and time to reflect. The impending lockdown feels different this time. Although the initial shock and sense of being out of control was upsetting, I’ve come to terms with it. I know there are other people in the same situation – I feel less upset. We are all in this together, it’s just that we are all affected differently. I do think there needs to be more support for everyone experiencing a difficult time due to the virus. We don’t just need financial support – the effect it is having on people’s mental health is also really significant right now.

Another friend asked to meet tonight before we are in official lockdown. Initially I agree – I enjoy her company, I feel well and I would stay at a distance, taking my own cup and keeping windows open. However, the time comes and I just can’t go! I take my temperature on my non-contact thermometer: 37.5 degrees. I’m getting hot and bothered thinking about what to do! I take it again – 36.4 – then again – 37… so I decide that I should stay in.

I begin to feel anxious that I may have the virus without knowing. I suggest we do a video call instead. It again hits home how much the virus affects all aspects of our lives. I would have loved to catch up with a friend (who is also going through a similar situation with her business), but I just can’t put her at risk. If I were to pass something on to her, she would have to cancel 2 week’s worth of clients. She also visits her elderly mum, too. All these factors play a significant role in my decision not to meet in person.

Thursday 5th November

It’s the first day of the official lockdown in England. I email my clients to say that I am now closed until early December, reopening on the 3rd December. I immediately get a booking for late December with full payment. This lifts the spirits – people still want to book in! Closing down a business, even if just for a month, is mentally tough. I had only been open for 2 months since the last lockdown.

I receive an email from my professional association about which businesses are permitted to stay open. There seems to be lots of confusion as to whether massage therapists can work during lockdown. Different professional associations seem to be giving different advice and there is much confusion in the therapist Facebook groups. I admit, I’m really unclear as to whether I can work during the lockdown, despite reading the email many times! Part of the newsletter included these paragraphs –

 “The following businesses are permitted to stay open:

47. Dental services, opticians, audiology services, chiropody, chiropractors, osteopaths and other medical or health services, including services relating to mental health.” (page 32).

Having consulted with the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), if you are a qualified member of the FHT and providing a therapy service to support a client who has a physical or mental health condition or injury, and this is clearly indicated in their consultation form, it is the FHT’s understanding that this could be defined as offering a ‘health service’.”

I do see many clients suffering from stress and anxiety – does that mean I can stay open? And if so, what should I bear in mind? Should I be staying open if so many businesses are closing to stop the spread of the virus? Are my clients too vulnerable to risk seeing them? All these questions go through my mind and I jump on to Facebook to see what others are saying. Other therapists seem equally confused, interpreting the guidelines differently.

I decide to sleep on it and see what happens tomorrow. It feels like rather an emotional rollercoaster. Given that my head is already spinning with the week’s events, this has just added to the stress.

Friday 6th November

I wake up and still don’t know if I can work or not!

Another update came after the email yesterday – so I know now that I can’t work.

Until the national restrictions are lifted, members should only support clients who have a genuine health condition/medical need. This might include, for example, clients who have a health condition or injury that is currently causing them pain or mobility issues, or is impacting their quality of life.  

It is important that members assess their clients’ needs on a case by case basis, prior to seeing them, to determine if treatment is appropriate at this time. In the FHT’s opinion, it would not be appropriate, for example, to treat clients for health complaints or injuries that are minor or self-limiting (which improve on their own) or for general stress relief, relaxation or preventative healthcare purposes. While we fully appreciate the importance of supporting clients for these reasons, the focus should be on treating clients with essential health needs during the national restrictions. For those who have less urgent health needs, please defer their treatments until after 3 December and offer them some self-care advice or remote support to help them in the meantime”.

This year really has been a rollercoaster of emotions. I wasn’t expecting the lockdown to be announced last Saturday – I thought we may have gone up to a higher tier, but would be able to work with precautions. I really feel for all the therapists out there going through this. We love what we do, it’s difficult being told to close our businesses and wait.

So, I’m on holiday now! I’m not going anywhere, but think that I really need to focus on self care and my own mental health. I’m planning a week away from my laptop and the news, and time out. I haven’t been off work since August, during which time I completed “return to work” admin, so it wasn’t really a holiday!

Monday 9th November

Today there was a government announcement about a vaccine that has been tested on over 40,000 people and results suggest it is proving 90 per cent effective at protecting people against the virus. This news lifted my spirits – although this may be a while until it is rolled out, just knowing that there has been some positive progress with combatting the virus was some good news!

Tuesday 10th November

More positive news – there is an expansion of testing and more rapid tests being provided to detect asymptomatic people that may have the virus. This asymptomatic testing will help pick up more cases and stop the spread of the virus.

Friday 13th November

Today I went for a long walk, wrapped up warm, and had time to think about everything that has happened this year. It feels a strange time, with lots of uncertainty, but also now there are some glimmers of hope. 

As we follow Anne-Marie’s journey through lockdown, we would love to hear your stories, too.

Can you relate to Anne-Marie’s experience? Have you felt overwhelmed by the information available? What have you struggled with? Please share in the comments and please sign up to become a member of PPH to receive industry news and updates.

We would like to stress that all information given in our COVID series is not exhaustive and while we have tried to ensure that the information provided in this document is accurate, PPH cannot be held liable for any errors or omissions. The COVID situation is constantly evolving and the information is changing on a daily basis. We urge you to closely follow your government, professional association and insurance company’s latest guidelines and updates, taking precedence over any recommendations communicated by PPH.