It was the iconic Marilyn Monroe who said "I restore myself when I'm alone". Despite living until she was just 36 this message has been an echo to me throughout my life. And now, a happy, healthy 76-year-old woman I can share that, until recently, I'd never fully understood the meaning of the phrase.
I was recently asked by a National Newspaper to stay at one of the World's leading health spas! So far, so lucky! The idea was to have a week's detox to the world famous PalaceMerano Spa in Northern Italy where without everyday worries I was to have precious time to relax and re-assess my life. I had done this re-assessing once before, 28 years ago when at 48 I was confined to my home as I coped with breast cancer. The cancer had necessitated a bi-lateral mastectomy followed by immediate reconstruction, but it had given me time to concentrate on what was important in my life. I realised that my dear family and true friends were most important.... and what was purely shallow and unimportant I could safely chuck out, as mere trivia.
Well nearly three decades later and alone in a Palace (Merano), I felt it was time to dig even deeper. I sensed a greater urgency at the age 76 years and a need to prioritise and to put my theories regarding growing older and wellbeing into practise. Having spent four decades advising other people about their health and fitness (in the guise of BBC TV's Green Goddess), I knew that I now needed to put these theories into practise...for myself! It proved to be an unexpected and emotional experience...and one I was not prepared for.
The "inmates" of the spa had come from around the world to improve their wellbeing. Many had travelled from Russia, Albania, India, Germany, Switzerland, the United Arab Republic, France and a few people from the UK. There were as many men as women guests, and with the Spa staff representing 28 nationalities the language problem was not an issue. However, I chose to keep myself to myself, to experience and benefit from the treatments, and with time off to walk in the beautiful countryside and mountain air.
The de-tox diet proved to be delicious, and much to my amazement I didn't miss my white wine or coffee...both of which were banned. The treatments were varied but not for the faint hearted. Massage was deep, with special emphasis on clearing toxins from the body. Small suction cups were used with painful concentration to trace and clear the meridian lines to the body's vital organs. However it was during my daily, early morning dunking, in the specially adapted baths - followed by phyto mud therapy, that I experienced the unexpected.
The hydro jet massage was unbelievably delicious. As I lay submerged in a full bath of lovely hot water for 30 minutes, high powered water jets massaged and pummelled all areas of my body. Emerging in a relaxed, trance like state and having dried myself a little, I was encouraged to sit in a puddle of mud on a nearby couch, whilst a therapist slathered my whole body with more mud. Finally lying down with a mask over my eyes and with arms down by my sides, I was wrapped up like a new born baby. With the flick of a switch the couch was lowered down into the bath it had been resting on. I was covered with very warm blankets and left to sweat and relax.
And I did. But my mind was to play tricks with me! For the 30 minutes whilst lying there alone in the darkened room, with soft evocative music playing, I felt myself as a baby in swaddling clothes, with my dearest, sweet mother tucking me in safely. I realised I was lying on a water bed and any slight movement I made was a rocking sensation, adding to my comfort.
Tears began to trickle down my cheeks, and for the first time in 60 years I found myself weeping at the loss I had experienced as a young girl. Coming home that horrific afternoon at the tender age of 16, I had discovered my mother in the last throes of death, lying on the bathroom floor. She had experienced a cerebral haemorrhage. I had called an ambulance and then called my father at his place of work to tell him of the tragedy. I never saw my beloved mother again, and was never to say goodbye or tell her I loved her. Shocked and distressed I had quite simply blocked the terrible sights and sounds from my mind. Far too painful to re-visit....that was until now!
A wonderful man, Henri Cheno who runs Palace Merano took me aside and an hour later I found myself talking to him. I openly wept as he encouraged me to face my emotions. He consoled me...an embarrassed older women... and we talked at some depth about life and death. It felt like the final piece of the jigsaw puzzle that makes me the person I am, had been popped into place. I felt complete and now know that wellbeing is not only about physical and nutritional fitness, it's about emotional fitness too.
It might have taken a Palace to allow me to connect with myself but now I've returned home from Italy serene, positive and refreshed... in body, mind and in spirit!
I have restored myself - by being alone!