let's take a bath

Self-Care Lessons From Stranger Things

Photo: Curtis Baker/Netflix

The two-month-old Netflix cult classic Stranger Things has an overflowing bicycle-basket’s worth of wisdom for us. In its eight episodes, it shows the power of childlike resolve, the wily mechanics of electricity, and the miracles of bathing.

When our tender buzz-cut warrior Eleven needs to access her powers in Stranger Things, she demands a bath. “The bath,” actually. It is universal and emphatic. She needs the fundamental experience of The Bath to reach her full psychic potential. Tell. Me. About. It. Though the Stranger Things self-care request that truly speaks to me is Winona Ryder’s Joyce storming into work to demand that her boss give her an advance and a pack of Camels, imitating Eleven’s bath is a more practical experiment for my life at this juncture.

Eleven, who is not just any hero, doesn’t need just any bath. She needs her bath to mimic a sensory-deprivation tank to reach the mysterious netherworld and save young Will from the Upside Down. Her ragtag team of lovables help her assemble such a tank from whatever they’ve got lying around (a kiddie pool, road salt). I too would use whatever was at my disposal to make a sensory-deprivation tank. I would embrace a can-do Indiana attitude.

In Stranger Things, adorable nugget pal Dustin determines that he needs 1,500 pounds of salt for the bath. They use road salt. I amend. I use two full bags of Dr. Teal’s Epsom Salt, which amounts to 12 pounds. Instead of goggles, I use a free eye mask an airplane gave me. Rather than a kiddie pool, I use a traditional, albeit tiny, bathtub. It is a wonder that the good builders who arranged my apartment deemed this tile closet big enough for a bathtub and I love their optimism. Optimism expressed through determination is a value that I share with these builders and the ethos of Stranger Things.

Like Stranger Things, baths are inherently nostalgic, one for the simpler times of the womb and one for the simpler times of the ‘80s; I’ll let you decide which is which. The show itself has been compared to a soak: the “warms waters of familiarity” and an “immense nostalgia bath,” “escapist but not empty.” More experiences should evoke a bath in such a manner.

In the manner of the scientist children in Stranger Things, I use an egg to test the saturation of salt in the water. At first, the egg plummets to the bottom. After the second bag of salt, the egg sinks to the bottom much more slowly. I ruin this egg. Still, this is a cool way to test the saturation of your salt bath. It also reminds me of my second favorite Stranger Things custom title card, which was Internet Saturation. My first favorite was Send Nudes, of course. This relates to baths. Don’t worry, I always stay on topic.

The main attraction of a salt bath is floating. Being relieved from holding up your body is intoxicating. Immersion into a detectably salty, warm brine is instantly alleviating, especially when free from the light paranoia that comes with being in the ocean. I melt like butter on an Eggo. It’s just me, some salt, some warm water, some white fiberglass, but it is transportive. It feels truly like where “ordinary-meets-extraordinary” (quote: the Duffer brothers on Stranger Things).

Epsom salt promises to improve the circulatory system in a way that particularly soothes sore muscles. Because I am a human who walks around and lives, with hardworking legs and a sore back and heart, I could always use a soothing. The salt helps. It also stings. It makes me very aware of tiny paper-cuts and any place where I might be vulnerable. Confronting these vulnerabilities is very Stranger Things of me.

I’m into salt’s ancient qualities too. Last weekend, I saw a documentary (cool and fun of me!) about the creation of the world and it seems like most scientists have determined that water first arrived to Earth in the form of countless salt crystals. This feels important to tell you. Another thing that feels important to tell you about Epsom salt is it also keeps your plants bright if you sprinkle it into their water, because magnesium is a crucial part of chlorophyll. This makes me upset because I already veer green with my skin tone.

So here I am, pickling in a sensory-deprivation tank of my making, thinking about how water got to Earth and what clothes of mine minimize green skin. But let’s get to the real question: Did I salt myself into the Upside Down? Well, I did not journey to a clear netherworld, because I kept my bath salts in my water. Like Eleven, did I take inventory of what is lost and what is salvageable? I won’t tell you because it’s private and an amateur-hour sensory-deprivation tank is a time for you to think about whatever you want to.

Still, I vote that the most salient piece of wisdom from the two-month-old influential Stranger Things multiverse is from an interview with the actress who plays Eleven, Millie Bobby Brown. When she had to shave her head for the part, her parents were very upset about her losing her hair, and she said, “Dude, it grows back. It’s fine.” Was there anything so wise to say about healing? Dude, it grows back. It’s fine. Mantra.

Self-Care Lessons From Stranger Things