It all started when I dropped out.
There’s no sense in tracking too far back before that, since the years I spent in high school and at McMaster University only make me wince and cringe.
This is me, Paddy’s day of 2012 I believe. I was directionless, disconnected, destructive and depressed. I had no sense of identity, I had it all, all the privileges and spoils, but felt completely empty.
The University experience I had felt tainted, almost from the start. Like I was haunted by my decisions, by a long term relationship that stunted my growth and left me listless and lacking passion. The experience taught me enough to know I wasn’t meant to stay and graduate. I felt I had gained every awkward experience, and met every uninspiring person I was meant to. I also felt that staying and keeping on the way I was going only meant one thing… an early death.
It was to my favour that the year was what it was. I felt I was on the clock, and time was ever more just ticking away. Like I only had so many ticks left before a certain death. And I sure as hell wasn’t going to go out miserable in the grips of “the machine”.
I left school arm-in-arm with a geneticist science genius named Ben that I’d only just met, to move to Boston where he would be paid by Harvard University to bring a species of bird back to life. We hadn’t known each other long, but I felt like, “Yes, this is what I deserve. A 26 year old savant who’s playing God, and I get to tag along. This is what I am meant to do”.
Just before our take off, he took me to a small bohemian festival called “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”, where I had my Tarot cards read by a woman who said I would be her student. I found that very unlikely, and actually quite humorous, seeing as I was just after leaving my student status behind and set on moving to another country.
I figured I would ask her anyway, “What do you teach?”. To which she replied “Reiki energy healing”.
Until then, I had never really paid much attention to Reiki, I had heard of it, I knew the word and the basic concept, but it was not something I sought out or talked about intentionally.
I took her information, and carried on.
Days later, my new boyfriend genius and I moved to Jamaica Plains, Boston. I can’t say I remember much of my time there, but what I can tell you is I lasted 9 days. NINE, not even 10 days away from home and I was back. I just couldn’t hack it. Boston was beautiful, but it was also aggressive. There were many things that didn’t feel right, and so instead of trying to make it work, I just decided to just fly back home and sort it out there.
Before I left, Ben treated me to a night out with dancing and Cirque du Soleil. That night I was so inspired I promised myself I’d go home, learn something acrobatic, and run away to the circus asap.
Moving back was a blur. Stressful but relieving, difficult but also surprisingly easy. I moved in with my Dad and found a job at a pool hall restaurant and bar that doubled as a bowling alley. I had given up on the circus dream pretty quick, in fact I don’t think I ever really gave it a try…
As money started to come in, I remembered the woman I had met, and decided to pursue the learning of Reiki energy healing. What I found very quickly was that I loved this modality. It was empowering, self-healing, magical and at times totally miraculous.
I found my sensitivity growing. I found I was able to feel things other people were feeling. I was able to read and influence the energy of a room. I even burped someone who hadn’t been able to burp their entire life.
I was so keen on this healing technique, but it was the first time I had ever considered a path in healthcare, and didn’t know how to follow it. Reiki was powerful, but not enough people knew about it, and the people who did, didn’t really go out of their way for it. So I dropped it for a bit. Though it was always something that floated in the periphery of my mind, practicing on myself randomly and out of necessity, it wasn’t something I focused on. To me it felt more like a wonderful party trick than a potential path to anywhere profound or meaningful.
At the time I had completely obliterated my ego, committed social suicide, and cut off my waist-length hippy hair. I knew one and only one sure thing about myself, that I loved to ride my bike.
So with that information in mind, I moved to Toronto and pursued a job that would pay me to do what I loved. Soon enough after I found a job with a small courier company on the east side of town. I loved my new job, but the truth was, winter was on it’s way, and I needed a second, more indoor job to pay the bills and stay healthy and sane.
I got a job at the coolest place in town, a family owned Tex-Mex, all day breakfast restaurant and bar called Sneaky Dees. What made them cool wasn’t so much their food as it was the atmosphere. Sure the Nachos were class, but their graffitied tables and punky vibe were better. It was like every staff member was a comic book character, covered in tattoos, littered with piercings, wearing torn up clothes, band shirts or combat boots. It should go without saying that the clientele were quite the same.
One night after closing, I sat eating my 4am dinner-breakfast, and one of the bouncers came in and sat with me. The thought occurred to me, “I don’t know anything about this guy other than the fact that he’s a security guard”. So I asked him, “Hey Rob, what do you do outside of bouncing?”. Now, keep in mind, he was a big guy, a closet of a man really, so what he said next took me COMPLETELY by surprise.
He said, “I’m a massage therapist”.
My jaw dropped, “What!? YOU!?”.
“Yeah”, he says “it’s a great gig. I make my own hours, I work when I want, I get to sleep in, and I’m my own boss”.
As he said his reasons, it was like my own internal list was being ticked. Everything he said was something I valued and wanted for my future self. Riding a bike for a living was great, like a vacation of a job, but I didn’t see a future in it. The weather was harsh in its extremes, and the job itself was laboursome and didn’t pay great.
The problem was, I hadn’t even really had a massage before. How was I supposed to know that it was the right thing for me? So, obviously, I went and got a massage.
I still remember the treatment to this day. The practitioner’s name was Tuan, he was in his second semester of the college and was quite friendly. Whatever he did, it didn’t matter that he hadn’t even been in school a year, he was a miracle worker. After just ONE treatment, I felt as if 50 pounds had been taken off my back. Suddenly my neck and shoulders felt free, I could move without pain and that night I slept like a baby.
I thought to myself, not only did I need this, but EVERYone needs this.
Within the week I was signed up for Canada’s #1 Massage Therapy college and eager to get started.
The beautiful thing about massage therapy is that it pairs so well with many holistic therapies; Reiki included.
Finally, I found the thing, the vehicle, through which I could channel the Reiki and actually practice healing. Here was something that people actually pursued, actually went out of their way for. Yes, it is a bit of a luxury, but it is also a necessity, and resolves issues that a medical doctor never would.
Near the end of my massage therapy degree I was determined to give back to my community. You see, throughout my two years of school, I had continued my courier job part-time, delivering food to Yuppies and pharmaceuticals to people too old, sick or disabled to leave their homes.
I knew the aches, pains and consequences of life on a bike. Having been hit by a bus myself, I knew what real pain was, what chronic pain was, and what disability and impaired movement felt like. So my goal was to provide massage therapy at half the regular price to my fellow bike messenger community.
Within days of graduating, I had found a massage therapy clinic called “The Massage Garage” in the bohemian epicentre of Toronto, Kensington Market, which is arguably the coolest neighbourhood in the entire city. I started my business “The Body Mechanic”, and I treated friends and colleagues for their repetitive strains and couriering-related injuries.
I found quite quickly that I wouldn’t be able to support myself on this clinic alone. Getting regular clients wasn’t exactly easy, and massaging a predominantly male community that I was very close to was a bit awkward at times. Even though I was providing treatment at half-price, this was still a community that only sought help if it was a medical emergency. A community that barely made enough to pay rent, feed themselves, and keep a beer in one hand and a cigarette in the other.
So I found a contractor job at 2 other clinics.
One clinic was in the basement of a Stadium, where I mostly treated Motor Vehicle Accident injuries and sports related injuries. One time I treated a limping Referee who was there to work that night’s Raptors basketball game. Sure enough, I saw him later that evening running across the court/tv screen with ease.
The other clinic was in the main floor of a government building where my Dad happened to work. Here I treated mostly office workers, and got to know the everyday struggles and stresses of office life. I developed a professional relationship with these people, and pretty soon I was busy all day every day, even during the “slow seasons”.
For nearly 4 years I worked 6, sometimes 7, days a week. My goal was to pay off my student debt, and get the *f* out of Toronto.
Don’t get me wrong. Toronto is a lovely place with almost anything you could ever want or need, but it’s also a trap. It’s a city surrounded by cities, it is expensive, the winters are long and miserably cold, and a lot of the people living there can basically just make enough to scrape by and survive. So, I wanted out.
I figured, I know I am a great massage therapist, and people have bodies anywhere you go. So, why not be able to take this skill and move it to wherever I want?
March 14, 2018 was the day. The day I left Toronto with a one-way ticket to Europe, dead set on letting the wind blow me to where I was going to call my new home.
I travelled for a few months. First through Portugal, then Spain, Morocco, and the Netherlands. It was the 1st of May when I found myself in Berlin. I was staying in a hostel called “The Heart of Gold”, named and themed after the book “A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”. This is where I met a friendly band called the Galway Street Club.
Almost right away I’d fallen in love. Not with anyone one of them just yet, but with their craic and carefree vibe. Pretty quickly they felt like family, and somehow, felt like home.
I travelled with them for about a month. First in Berlin, then back in Portugal, where I actually fell in love with one of the members. His name is Spud, and it is because of Spud that I inevitably came to Galway.
Moving to Galway in the hottest summer in recorded history made finding work difficult. Here I was, in this new, beautiful, musical and magical place. Who wants to be cooped up indoors?
When I did start the search though, I soon came to realise something I hadn’t even considered questioning.
“Was massage therapy even a thing here?”
The roundabout answer was, no, not really.
Eventually, I found a job in a spa at a high-end hotel in the middle of town. Genuinely, I was excited. It was a beautiful facility, very modern and almost space-ship like. Upon signing my contract however, I immediate lost that enthusiasm when I realised they were intending to pay me the same as they would someone waiting tables.
“Excuse me? How dare they exploit me for my labour!” I thought. Back home I was making $50 an hour, sometimes making over $300 a day. And here these people want to charge upward of €90 an hour and pay me minimum wage? I don’t think so.
While I was trying to figure out my next plan of action, I kept working there. I did what I always did. I would quickly consult the client on their personal aches and pains, do a treatment that addressed their unique concerns, and followed up with pertinent remedial self-care advice. I would walk out of the room with the client, telling them how to stretch and strengthen to resolve their problems.
It wasn’t long before I was pulled aside.
The message that was given to me was, “In Ireland, people don’t expect 100%. Heck, they don’t even expect 70%. What you’re doing is giving 150%. So you need to dial it back”.
Now, I understand they wanted to have a standardised treatment for quality control, but what I was giving their clients was not subpar to their standard. In fact, my manager confirmed that it was above and beyond, but that was ultimately wrong and I had to stop. I resisted this, and continued to do what I could do within their ironic and limiting restraints.
Fate came in the form of a special needs client who, as a result of her limitations, needed my help getting onto and off of the table. The first part was fine, but when she got off the table, she’d leaned all her weight into me, and I ended up injuring my back quite badly.
For three weeks I was stuck in bed. Unable to walk, stand or even sit without constant spasms and an unbearable amount of pain. I asked the hotel for help, surely I thought they would have some insurance for me that would help pay for my therapy to heal my herniated disc. But no, what they came back to me with was essentially, “Good luck, let us know when you’re ready to come back”.
I was outraged. There was no way I was going to give another day of myself and my skills to this company. A company who clearly exploited their therapists and treated them as replaceable pawns rather than healthcare professionals and human beings.
While I lay agonising in bed unable to move or be comfortable, I considered what my options were. I knew I could make money back home doing what I loved, but going home was not an option I would actually consider.
I thought to myself, “this is the low point, so don’t worry Giada, the rise is coming”… oh but was I ever wrong.
What seems now like not a minute later did I get the call… or should I say A call from my brother. My brother who, regardless how much love we have for each other…never calls. I answer the phone and immediately he says, “Giada, when did you last speak to Mom?”
My heart drops.
This call came in on a Saturday, I had spoken to her the previous Tuesday. He tells me he spoke to her Wednesday. He says the neighbour has contacted him, and she’s told him that our Mom’s car hasn’t moved in 4 days. What’s more, is that there’s been a package at her door since Wednesday, and that she hasn’t answered the door or her phone since. He tells me he’s on the way to her house, he tells me he will call me when he gets there, and I can’t help but feel the obvious fear in his voice.
Maybe 20 minutes later my phone rings, it’s my Dad. “Giada, she’s alive. I think she’s had a stroke.”
My world crumbles around me. I hastily book flights. I get there as soon as I can, which takes days.
For three weeks I stayed, drove to the hospital EVERY DAY to spend time with her while she healed. In that time I watched her facial paralysis dissolve, and I witness her start to walk again. I watch her cry, a lot. And the whole time I’m terrified to ask the necessary question, “Do you want me to stay and help take care of you?”.
I eventually have the courage to have this conversation. Not just with my Mom, but with my Dad and my Brother. They all tell me the same thing. No Giada, there’s nothing you can do to change this, you need to live your life, go back to Ireland, keep doing what you’re doing.
Other, less immediate family members disagree. They tell me I’m making a mistake, that I’m being selfish. That they would stay behind. But I remind them and myself in all sincerity that, if I had to return to Toronto, it would inevitably be the death of me.
My family were all well aware of my struggles with mental health over the years. I think they all knew as well as I did that severing my connection to my new found life would only lead to impending spiral and disaster.
So I returned to Galway. In shock, unstable and emotionally fragile, completely unsure of what was to happen. The only thing I could really lean on was my relationship with Spud.
I was suddenly blindingly aware that health, life and ability was fleeting. So I made a list of what I wanted. What I wanted was to be my own boss again, to find my own clients, and work in a comfortable and healing space. I wanted to travel, or at least be mobile, not fixed to one location. And I knew I no longer wanted to work in spas or work with men in a closed-room limited-clothing type setting.
The conclusion I came to was actually two. One, a women focused private practice where I could practice massage, reiki and reflexology for women of all ages and stages of life. The second, a hireable on-site chair massage service that facilitated corporate wellness days and events.
Shortly after that I got on to brainstorming ideas for names, writing out relevant words pertaining to all the unique facets and themes of my businesses.
What I came to was a pun, a play on words, “Office Kneads”.
I thought, “Surely, someone’s thought of this before”. So I google searched it and sure enough it wasn’t taken. “She Kneads” came swiftly afterwards.
I registered the businesses in November of 2018, and within months I found the perfect clinic space for She Kneads, and started getting small one-off contracts for Office Kneads.
I joined a networking group called BNI and started to make traction in the world of business.
Just over a year later, I was working with incredible companies and organisations who take care of and value their employees. I was getting contracts of all kinds, from Mom & Pop shops and SMEs, to Companies and Organisations like the HSE and NUIG. I was working at conventions and killing it, meeting incredible people and expanding in all areas.
The business model was evolving, not only were we offering chair massage, but I was hiring in contractors for guided meditations too.
I thought to myself, “this is too good to be true”, and sure enough a few weeks later we started hearing about COVID-19 and it’s impending threat.
The first few weeks of lock down were disheartening, in that I had lost thousands of euros worth of contracts. It was also, however, a welcome break from the hamster wheel I had been running on the last couple of years.
You see, while I ran my businesses part time, I had also been playing manager at a sinking ship that was disguised as a restaurant. I put a lot of hours into it yes, but what was really taxing was the emotional and energetic work of dealing with the place and people.
The lockdown gave me the opportunity to get away, to breathe, to network, and get back to some projects I had let fall away while I kept my head above water in the busy mess I called business.
It’s not every day you get paid by the government to stay home and sit tight. At least at the time the concept was pretty foreign to me. I had never been on any kind of social welfare, yet here I was perfectly capable, physically able and sitting home collecting the dole.
In my time through the lockdowns, I have paid my bills and fed myself with the governments help, but I was also able to do something else quite spectacular. I was able to create my own in-home treatment space, and publish a book.
Self-Care Solutions @ Work is without a doubt my crowning achievement of the 2020 lockdowns.
While other people used their extra money to stay drunk and saved to travel, I put every extra bit of money back into my business. After all, massage therapy isn’t exactly translatable to online, and so I had to find another way to help resolve people’s aches and pains.
In 50-something pages, I’ve condensed a ton of practical self-help information accessible right at your finger tips. Have you got a stiff neck? Maybe an achy low back? Well my book solves that, one simple step at a time.
Since the book has come out, I have created a 6 module course on its content, and even put together a webinar for corporate benefit packages.
I find myself now at a time and in a place where I am completely inspired. I have ideas for several more books, and I have started this blog askgiada.com to share information, promote ideas and connect people to the businesses of friends.
Despite the uncertainty of our current times, I finally have hope and a clear idea for the way forward