Navigating Loans, Childcare, and Possibly Starting Over | Personal Essay

Photos by Adrianne Mathiowetz.

This appears as it was dictated to Lilly Miman by Emily Sullivan, owner of Mass Metta Massage & Yoga. It has been edited and condensed for clarity, style, and length.

I have a home office in my “Live/Work” condo building. It’s a massage therapy practice, and it’s just me on the job. Friday, March 13th I had my last day of work. That was the last day I took clients, but before then little by little people began to drop off.

I thought I would have clients the next week, but then they closed school. 

After that, just general anxiety sank in. Day by day, I was wondering, “Will things open in two weeks? Will school open?” It was the dual worry of thinking about my job and about my daughter. At that point, I thought that school opening would be the real factor in reopening my business because of the child care. And then it just became very clear that it was really the coronavirus and safety factor that was going to stop me from returning to massage. 

When it became available, I got the Payroll Protection Program (PPP) loan paperwork, but it was pretty confusing to fill out. I’m privileged in that I’m a college-educated, native speaker of English, and I still found the language complicated. 

At East Cambridge Savings Bank, they were super sweet and helpful. I opened my business account with them 10 years ago, and they were saying “You should totally fill this PPP stuff out and see how it goes.” I don’t own a printer or a car so they even offered to print it out for me and hand it to me through the drive-through window which I walked up to with my kid. 

I’m a sole-proprietor with no other employees so I don’t even use Quickbooks. So. getting everything organized to match what the form needed was just really hard to do — especially at home with a four year old. 

Then there’s the unknown of unemployment insurance. I remember just going on site and trying to sign up, but I don’t have W2 forms. It made you feel like you were being punished for choosing a self-employed lifestyle. I would check the website 10 times a day to see if it opened up to self-employed people. And eventually it did, but it was stressful not knowing if I was going to get any federal aid. 

I’ve been figuring out how to maybe start virtual massage workshops. I taught a lot of Thai yoga massage workshops in person, obviously, but I think it will transfer pretty seamlessly to a virtual platform like Zoom. Teaching parents Infant Massage would be another good workshop I can offer.

I was also a teacher at O2 Yoga Studio, so I started teaching yoga classes and I can offer private yoga instruction virtually. 

Right now, morale is pretty low as more scientific articles come out and social distancing guidelines are released. Looking at other countries, I find it difficult to believe that body work will come back quickly. It’ll be very interesting to see. I mean, people are very creative and generally pretty positive in the field, so I think they are going to come up with new ways of teaching people how to be healthy and apply these modalities at home.

Thankfully, there are so many small things community-wise that have been helpful. People in my building opened up an email group right away, and usually we’re not in close communication with neighbors. A neighbor actually printed out some of the business loan paperwork (they changed the form and I needed the updated version) and left it outside her door. #TheFrontStepsProject was really helpful, too. It gave me pictures to use for social media. It was also just a reminder of the community spirit and a reminder that other small businesses were going through the same thing. That was just such a gesture of solidarity. 

Hearing from my clients-just checking in and offering support-has also been a pleasant  surprise. People in the yoga community who knew me through classes have reached out too. Those gestures really let me know how many people considered me like part of their life — how many people thought about their yoga teacher or their massage therapist as someone who had their back. I realized that I counted as a small business that people really wanted to see on the other side of this. 

Communicating with friends in other service and wellness industries has been essential. Christine, the owner of Hair by Christine, posted a hilarious photo of her cutting her dogs’ hair with the cape and everything. She posted makeover-style before and after shots just because “she missed doing hair so much.” It was just the type of humor and good energy I needed to break up the worrying of the day.

Another huge lift was the work done by my daughter’s preschool, Elizabeth Peabody House. They rolled out a lot of virtual options really quickly. It’s preschool and the kids are too young to be expected to learn virtually like some older kids, so it’s just a play based thing. But they just wanted to help and they were really smart about offering different activities but with no pressure. They also got their food pantry up and running very quickly with good social distancing rules. 

I also feel like generally the City of Somerville has done a good job. When the City started offering small business loans, I was really happy to have an application that was accessible. It was a sharp contrast to the PPP. When I was filling it out, I thought, “This is looking out for micro-enterprises and small businesses. It’s for people who have been trying to make something out of nothing and make something unique.” I felt like I was noticed.

It makes me happy to be in Somerville.

To read more of Scout Somerville‘s coronavirus coverage, click here.

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About the Author

Lilly Milman
Lilly Milman is the managing editor at Scout Magazines. She started as an intern while attending Emerson College in downtown Boston, where she received a B.A. in Writing, Literature and Publishing.