After years of workaholism and emotional stoicism, the verdict came in:
"Degenerative Disc Disease," my doctor said, looking over the recent result of my cervical and lumbar spine x-rays. I would google it later on and find that it sounds far more alarming than it really is.
He read some medical words and said, "Your cervical spine is completely inverted. A perfect C."
Then, he proceeded to draw a picture. He seemed amused. He's had me as a patient for a couple of years now and although he is my doctor, we had developed a rapport like two colleagues. I jumped from where I was laying.
"Let me see that," I said, standing next to the doctor and reading right along with him. "All from stress? This is all from stress?"
The lower back pains, the unbearable migraines...
"Well, stress can definitely be a factor."
I kept reading, as though I understood the terminologies. "But what does this mean? What does it mean?"
"It means," my doctor said, "that you're a mess."
I rolled my eyes. He had told me to de-stress. He had told me to exercise. He had told me to cut work. And in each visit, he had told me to learn to relax. I even got a history lesson on how he went from running his own practice and covering hospital rounds to working a few hours just 4 days a week. "I'd rather enjoy life and live like a person, not a machine."
He even wrote me a medical note for work to let my boss know that stressful situations weaken my already compromised immune system.
"What are you so tense about? You gotta just relax!"
And then the chuckle. A chuckle from a successful professional who has learned the art of not falling into the trap of the work wheel. The chuckle made me anxious. Professional medical advice ensued, followed by a prescription for muscle tension and extension of physical therapy. I was going to be just fine, my doctor assured in a serious tone. Really, I was going to be ok. I needed regular exercise, continuation of physical therapy, and relaxation techniques.
So today, Friday, was my day off. A day of nothing. An empty day. A day dedicated to relaxation.
By 12 noon my lower spine started to throb. I had been returning emails, developing treatment plans, answering phone calls, and the stress of the morning finally found itself in my lumbar region.
What's wrong with me? Why don't I know how to relax?
And so on impulse, I called a spa and made an appointment for a 45 minute deep tissue massage. It wasn't going to be one of those feel good ones but I could feel the tension knots everywhere and I needed a good work up. And then, something on the website caught my eye. A relaxation bath. Scented oils. Soothing. Healing. Etcetera, etcetera.
It was just what the doctor ordered. And so at 2:30, I set off for my very first relaxation, scented bath.
"This is your locker," the woman at the spa said. "Just remove all your clothes and put this robe and these slippers and we'll get your bath ready."
I smiled awkwardly then locked the door behind me. I removed my clothes quickly and locked them in the locker. Then, I realized that bare necessities could not follow me in the bath. Neither could my cozy socks. So off everything went and I was suddenly filled with awkward dread and anxiety. I would be much more relaxed in front of my lap top.
Once done, I went outside, wrapped in an oversized pink, fluffy robe that dragged by my feet. I could see a woman working by a buzzing tub and I could see some bubbles forming. She called me in the room. The bubbles had risen above the tub.
Was the temperature ok for me?
It was scalding hot but she assured me that was ok. A hundred and ten degrees was the norm and she only had it for a hundred degrees, but I suddenly saw myself standing outside in the middle of Summer under a scorching sun in a hundred degree weather and somehow I wasn't convinced.
The bubbles continued to rise. You don't think the bubbles will spill when I get in?
No, it was ok, the woman said nervously. Really, it was ok. But the bubbles continued to rise and the woman from the front, the woman in charge, joined us. She told the bath lady to turn off the water and she left the room. But the bubbles continued to rise and I don't know what happened but the woman walked out for some reason and I somehow found myself alone in the room with this volcanic bubble bath and it began to spill on the floor.
"The bubbles are spilling!" I yelled.
The women ran in and I walked out. I could hear them talking. Turn it off. But it won't turn off! Shut the water. The water won't shut!
I peeked in and saw that the bubbles had risen close to their height and its excess was seeping at the sides of the beautiful, white, clawfoot tub. The two dark haired women were frantically working on the knob and then finally, silence.
"We are going to drain the tub and do it again. It will just be a minute."
I waved my hand, no problem. It wasn't an issue. I was used to walking around wrapped in an oversized bathrobe with a sheepish grin on my face in a place with complete strangers.
Finally, the wait was over.
I looked at my buzzing bath that now had categorically minimal bubbles and low water. I reflected for a few seconds. My bath lady was too afraid to put the scented bubbles in and had shut off the water before armageddon happened again.
My relaxation bubble bath, my soothing, healing, scented water, had anxiety written all over it.
I looked around the room and saw a mountain of bubbles on the sink, covering the mirror. They had gathered the excess bubbles from the disaster and placed them neatly on the sink. The bubbles were thick and hard and sat like a tall, white, sculptured art piece on the sink.
My bath lady walked out and I attempted to get in. After a few ow, ow, ow! from the scalding heat, unable to sit, much less lay back, I adjusted the tub with blasting cold water and then settled in. The force from the jacuzzi was too strong for my small frame and it shook me around side to side. I laid down thinking of what the experience felt like, the buzzing, the jerking, the convulsive flow of the water. My relaxing, healing, soothing bath felt...epileptic.
"How was your bath?"
"Uhmm...I could've gone without it. I...I...don't think it's for me."
"I'm sorry to hear that. We'll give you a 10% discount."
I beamed. Thank you, that's so nice and considerate.
I was relieved that she did not ask for an explanation. That I did not have to recount the fact that I had tipped the temperature off balance and eventually shivered in the tub, watching my pruned fingers tremble. And how I had buried my face in my hands in exasperation, only to find my finger tips stained in black, quickly realizing that I had just smeared my mascara all over my face.
It was indeed an experience, but not a relaxing one.
And so I left wondering if perhaps, just perhaps, I really am just not meant to relax. Ever. And if I try, I will pay the price. Even if it is at a discounted rate.