As I was lying face down on the couch, with a view of the floor, trying to manoeuvre my head comfortably into the head-sized gap (obviously made for someone with a completely different head shape to mine), my cheeks painfully squashed against the sides, my jaw clenched tight (because well, if you’ve been in that position, you’ll know it makes no sense to keep your mouth open), I thought “am I actually supposed to be enjoying this?”.
Many years ago, when the kids were small, torturous, multiplying and time alone in the bathroom was unheard of, I discovered that some women went to the spa to escape. So, I thought I’d try it. I was desperate. I asked for a voucher for Christmas. It took a couple of attempts to get the right voucher (I’ll not go into detail about the year I was proudly handed a sealed gold envelope. I opened it with much anticipation, only to find out I’d given a toilet and three goats to a family in a village far far away). But lesson learned, my husband, relieved that he doesn’t have to exert too much effort thinking about what to buy me, has been producing an annual festive gift of a fifty-minute treatment at a well-known Northern Irish hotel chain. Today, on a random Tuesday in November, I got the chance to use last year’s one.
I always find it a slightly unnerving experience. Everyone else seems totally at ease in the bizarre surroundings. Me, I am never sure if I am following the right social etiquette. Is there a dress code underneath those robes? There is something incredibly disconcerting about walking past a group of people, enjoying their morning coffee meeting by the pool, in your dressing gown and white disposable slippers, seven sizes too big. When the therapist asks, “How would you like to feel today?”, I struggle to come up with a good answer. Clever? Insightful? Alive? “Where are you tense?” she’ll whisper. “Everywhere,” I think. The dimmed lighting, the nature sounds, the calming voice, the sensory tests, it makes me tense. I worry it’s bad manners to leave without buying any of the recommended products but I know I’ll never use them. There was a refreshing eye tonic that languished in our fridge unopened for around five years until we moved house and decided not to take it with us.
There’s always something slightly unexpected at the spa. This morning, I was put under the spotlight for an in-depth skin analysis. I was prepared to be ashamed. But honestly, I can’t begin to explain how thrilled I was when she pronounced authoritatively - “no sun damage”. All that sitting inside in a dark room with the blinds closed has done wonders for me.
As I am pummelled or massaged or scrubbed or beaten, despite my best efforts to silence it, my brain goes into complete over-drive. I absolutely cannot stop thinking. I go over my whole life, all my regrets, all my anger, my childhood, what’s for dinner, who needs a haircut. When it’s all over, I am exhausted by my own stream of consciousness.
So, I know the relaxation room is the one place on earth where I will never ever relax. As I am led there and told to drink lots of water and take it easy for the rest of the day, I smile politely, give it five minutes or thereabouts and leave. Without watch nor phone, I am disorientated. I have no idea what time it is. I wonder what I’ve been missing. I have to get back to the real world. All that thinking time has given me a long to-do list.
The spa - does anyone actually enjoy it?