Thursday, 25 October 2012

Tough Times

There are times in our lives when everything terrible seems to happen at once. When you are afraid to check your emails or answer the phone in case there is more bad news. The last few months and weeks have proved to be just that and my heart goes out to all my friends and family who are going through really tough times. Life changing accidents, debilitating illness, losing a family member or going through a break up can all be utterly devastating and I hope this period of sadness can be over soon and we can all find strength from those around us and find some brightness for the future. 

Stress from upset manifests in different ways for each of us. My emotions, thankfully, usually come out in tears and conversation but they sometimes bypass my brain and heart and lock solid in my body. It's a way of coping I suppose... pushing the tears below the surface and putting on a brave face until you can privately grieve or let bad news gradually sink in. When it does happen physically, each piece of bad news seems to form a giant knot in my back or send a muscle into spasm. I end up walking around rigid with pain, hot water bottle stuffed down the back of my trousers and pain killers administered on tap. It's not a great way to deal with it but sometimes there is no other way. 

After three quite horrendous weeks, each part of my body seemed to have a problem... my lower back spasmed in sympathy for my stiff shoulder, my neck locked up in compensation for my sciatica, and my knees and ankles cracked in bereavement for my hips. I started to resemble a limping hunchback, walking around with cries of 'oohs' and 'aahs' with every step. I realised that if I didn't sort it out soon, I might cause permanent damage! A hasty call to my osteopath proved a quite unusual visit. 

Torben, my wonderful Danish osteopath came to this country about 12 years ago with only a handful of clients and a dingy treatment room in east London. I found him simply by walking past his practice one day and spotting a terribly designed, badly spelt poster outside the door, advertising his services. I had been having awful neck pain for some weeks so I ignored the diabolical typography (I'm a designer!) and walked in. Torben looked thrilled to have a new client. He had been very successful in Copenhagen for his skills over the years but starting again in a new country was proving quite challenging. He promised me, on the spot, that as long as I was a client, I would pay the same price for each visit. 12 years later and he has stuck to his word, even though his waiting room now resembles an actors 'green room' combined with an athletes gym. His office displays photos of himself with Usain Bolt and members of team GB. In another, he is beaming at the camera with his arms around Dustin Hoffman and other esteemed actors. But to this day, he still only charges me £35 and will fit me in to his busy schedule whenever I ring. That is loyalty for you. 

Torben truly has magic hands and a very physically robust approach, thinking nothing of clambering onto your half-naked body and putting you in a series of headlocks and leg holds the WWF would be envious of. He also has a very off-putting room... in the middle, a treatment table. Normal. A wall covered in charts and diagrams depicting the human body, bones and muscles. Again, normal. A mass of paperwork and books on a messy desk. Normal. A giant floor to ceiling window made of one-way glass. Not normal. Passersby see a mirror, often stopping to readjust their hair or straighten their jacket whilst you cringe with embarrassment in your bra and knickers, thinking they can see you. It's been 12 years and I still want to leap off the table and hide when someone stops. Torben, with his crazy Danish ways, thinks it's hilarious of course.

So this particular visit was unusual because Torben literally didn't know where to start. The neck, the shoulder, the upper back, the lower back, the sciatic pain running from my buttocks to my knees, the excruciating headache... he shook his head and said "You are a mess". No kidding Sherlock. He then leapt on me, pulling and twisting, cracking and massaging until I could bear it no more. He looked at me, eyes wincing with pain, patted me and grinned, rubbing his hands together like some manic inventor. "Do you trust me?" he asked, "I want to experiment on you." Now just as an aside, the last time he said this to me, a few years ago, he did some weird gymnastic manoeuvre and I passed out cold. "Torben, I'm not sure... what are you going to do to me?". I frowned. "Juliet, trust me, you are my human guinea pig. It's good. I will get rid of your headache". Oh God. He disappeared from the room and came back with a big metal suitcase which he lay gently on the floor and opened it with a look of awe, as if it contained 100 gold bars. 

Inside the case were a few dozen wires attached to a small box, lots of dials, a few buttons and some small, round, plastic pads. "Okay," he paused, taking out an instruction book and squinting at the pages, "we start with some small electric shocks". WHAT? It doesn't fill you with a huge amount of confidence when the word 'electric' is used and an instruction book is introduced into the picture. Imagine your Doctor examining you and saying "Ooh, not sure what that is, let me just look it up on the internet!" No, not good at all. "Torben... can I ask when you learnt how to use this machine?" He looked up from the book, "About 3 weeks ago, but you are the first person to let me use it!" and he looked at me with such gratitude, I couldn't resist. A few minutes later I was lying on the table with 5 electrodes attached to my face and head. Torben squatted down by the machine fiddling with the dials. I clenched my fists waiting for a jolt of electricity to pass through my brain... I held my breath. 30 seconds later I exhaled loudly and said "For Gods sake Torben, when are you going to do it?". Torben stood up. "I finish now", he said. "But I didn't feel anything" I moaned. Honestly I was quite disappointed. He explained that they were only tiny electric currents that pulsed so quickly it was very doubtful I would feel it. He sat me up and asked me if my headache had gone. I blinked a few times and tried to focus on my head. No pain. Bloody amazing. Gone. I hugged him, paid and left, buyount and headache-less, waving into the mirrored window as I passed, knowing full well the next client would have leapt off the table in fright. 

A week later, my headache had crept back and my bad back was still troubling me. I had a long think about what would make me feel better and decided I need a massage. A good old fashioned full body massage. That would certainly help my aches and pains. I googled 'massage in Balham', and suddenly realised that was not the best thing to do when all sorts of 'ladies' popped up advertising their particular brand of 'special' massage. I then remembered the amazing Ayurvedic massages I had in India and Sri Lanka and so I googled that instead. Up came the website of this Indian girl who had just finished studying Ayurvedic medicine in Kerala, South India. Brilliant. I rang her up and she explained that unfortunately her treatment room was not set up yet. I must have let out the biggest disappointed sigh because she then offered to do the massage in my flat. Even better. Yay.

An hour later Sonal arrived... a tiny little Indian girl with a huge bag of oils, candles, stones and towels. I cleared a space in my sitting room and put a yoga mat and some towels down on my wooden floor. She lit some candles and began asking me questions. "How do you sleep?", "How is your diet?", "Are you stressed?" etc. She then went a bit left-field and asked me what star sign I was. I laughed and said I didn't think horoscopes was particularly Ayurvedic and she looked at me quite seriously and said, "I like to mix it up a bit". Okay. She then heated some oils, lit a few more candles and began pummelling my body. I had asked her for an hours massage and so I drifted off quite blissfully, happy in the knowledge she would just stop when the time was up. I became a little concerned when I noticed it was getting dark outside. Had I drifted off? I tried to rouse myself into consciousness and said "Sonal, what time is it?". "6;30" she said casually. I closed my heavy eyes and then sprang awake as I calculated she had been in my flat for over two and a half hours! Oh my God. "Sonal, you've been here too long. Oh no. Why didn't you stop?" She looked at me quite matter-of-factly. "Because you needed more time. Don't worry, no extra charge. I just wanted to fix you." Wow. I thought of that Coldplay song and nearly burst into tears. 

I sat up and slowly looked around my flat. It looked like a cookery demo gone wrong. My floor was slick with oil. There were sodden towels everywhere and stubs of candles and wax pooled on every surface. Oh dear. Sonal began clearing away her things completely oblivious to the mess. Never mind the chaos, it was amazing. One of the best massages I have ever had. I did pay her extra, how could I not, but as she was leaving she went off on another bizarre tangent. "You are Cancer and another client of mine is Scorpio... both water signs. The perfect match in fact. Can I give him your number?" I laughed. "Are you a matchmaker too Sonal? Do I have to pay extra for that?" She smiled and just nodded. "I know you will like him. He is a carpenter. Very good with his hands. You are the kind of woman who needs a man who knows what to do with his hands." Um... Cough... embarrassing.

So after electric shock treatment and an afternoon of Ayurvedic delight, I may also have a date! Maybe it's not all bad news.


Anonymous said...

I'm sorry these past few weeks have been difficult. Know this, your not alone. Your friends and family will always be there for you. Even friends who live far away, in a desert wasteland thats been designed to look like a city, they still love you.
I wish Torben was over here. I could use his services.
Anyway, it's back to the salt mines for me.
Take care,

Anonymous said...

Torben sounds amazing and I want to visit him just to see his window!

As always, beautifully written Jules.

Thank you


Gary said...

Call the carpenter Jules!