Friday, February 21, 2014

We All Float Down Here

With nine months of The 52/52 Project under my belt, I’d grown brazen. On a bravery scale of 1-10, I was feeling about an 8.5. And that sort of cockiness, as anyone knows, is precisely when the Gods of Fear and Humility show up to knock you on your ass.

As I faced New Experience #39, I was only a tad uneasy about testing the waters, even though that water would be pooled below me: in a fully dark and soundproof tank.

I was uncertain how I’d react to an hour in a flotation tank—also known as an isolation tank or a sensory deprivation tank. Because I’d been under more stress than usual, I remained hopeful the session would live up to its mission of inducing relaxation, meditation, and even increased creativity.

On the other hand, floating in a closed box of water while virtually blind and deaf might seem frighteningly akin to being buried alive. At the bottom of the ocean.

I figured this experience would either relax me into a nearly comatose state or it would put me over the edge entirely. I was betting on the optimistic slant, partly because I’d never been claustrophobic and also because—let’s be honest—I’m not always very bright.

The nearest flotation tank was located at a progressive health center just a short drive over the Michigan line. When making my appointment, I was told little preparation was necessary. The receptionist asked me to bring soap and shampoo, since I’d be required to shower both before and after my session. In addition, she said the eight hundred pounds of salt in the water, which provided the buoyancy for an individual to float, also could irritate the skin. Therefore, she advised me not to shave my legs.

I snorted. Shaved legs? Apparently, she’d forgotten it was February.

The isolation tank was situated, fittingly, in a room in a remote area in the back of the building. I was instructed to start a timer before I entered the tank. The receptionist assured me that even while inside a soundproof tank and wearing wax earplugs to keep out the salt water, I’d be able to hear the timer to know when my time was up.

If I wanted to stop sooner, for any reason, she said I could just open the door at any time and call it a day. This was reassuring. However, I’m a gamer, and I told myself I’d give it the whole hour in order to get the full experience.

After showering, I set the timer, climbed in, and shut the door.

Floating in the silent darkness, I tried to close out the world—while opening my mind. I discovered a lot, very quickly.

Lesson #1: Time passes very slowly when you’re lying in a sightless and soundless tank of water.

Lesson #2: If you are already experiencing sinus issues, the humidity inside a small, closed tank of nearly 99-degree water will rise enough to induce an asthma attack.

Lesson #3: Time seems to stand still entirely when you can’t breathe.

At a rough estimate, I’m guessing only five minutes passed before I realized I was facing asphyxiation. Regardless, I knew I couldn’t last one minute more.

I splashed and crawled my way toward the lid, which was situated at the opposite end of the tank. I felt around for the door and began pushing.

The lid didn’t open. It didn’t even budge.

And then, I allowed myself to panic.

I thrashed around the tank. I contemplated screaming, but I knew no one out front would hear me from inside a soundproof box in a locked, remote room out back. I had the last appointment in the tank that day. How much time would pass before someone might ponder, “Hey, whatever happened to that weird lady in the flotation tank? Did you see her leave?”

Worse yet, I suddenly envisioned Pennywise the clown, in Stephen King’s It, grinning at me with a mouthful of razor-sharp teeth, and growling, “We all float down here.”

I was pretty certain no one would find my mangled, salt-encrusted body until the next morning.

Even within the small space, I grew increasingly disoriented in the darkness. And then, as my hands continued to press relentlessly upon the walls, I finally found the lid—the actual lid—and pushed it open.

Bright light and a rush of fresh air greeted me.

Able to breathe once again, I calmed myself. Then, I questioned my next move. I figured I still had at least another forty-five minutes to go in my session. I couldn’t quit now. I sucked in a few more breaths and then sucked up my courage. I closed the door again, this time trying to commit its location to memory.

Five minutes later, I found myself scrambling once again for the lid.

I lay inside the open tank for several minutes more. With earplugs and closed eyes, it remained dark and quiet. Surely, now that I could breathe, this purportedly tranquil experience might still squelch any anxiety and take me to that longed-for meditative state.

I tried to leave my mind blank. I tried to sing soothing songs. I tried to find my “happy place.” But soon, I found myself pondering everything on my extensive to-do list. For ten minutes, while I tried to relax, I contemplated all the work, writing, and personal tasks which had plagued me into a state of stress for the past couple of weeks.

What the hell was I doing, wasting my afternoon lying inside a vat of water? And, wasn’t the opened door just slightly defeating the purpose, or at the very least, cheating?
Whether I was too tightly wound that day or whether an asthma attack thwarted my experience, I allowed myself to finally climb out, after about 25 minutes. I was forced to admit that floating in a tank simply didn’t float my boat.

Like many of my 52/52 experiences though, I figured I’d given it a decent shot. I’d gone outside my comfort zone and tested the waters for something new. And I realized, as open-minded as I’d grown, that maybe closed-spaces—especially in high humidity—just weren’t my thing.

As I left the Center, I saw a sign posted: “Flotation Tank for Sale: $8,000. Comes with all equipment and 100 pounds of salt.”

Ahh, relaxing in a pool of warm water. Yeah, that could be nice.

I’m saving my money for a Jacuzzi. 

Claustrophic or not? Where do you float? How do you find your Happy Place?


  1. That thing looks like a re-purposed ice machine.

    I think this would be a cool experience... in fact, it's one of the few of your Feats of Bravery that I would actually try.

    1. Bluz: Well, now's your chance! I know a place that will make you a great offer...

  2. You are a brave and committed woman!

    As the last day of my kids' February break comes to a close, my one happy place is anywhere away from them.


    1. MSB: Did you just say I should be committed?

      February break? This is a thing? I mean, officially, beyond the snow days?