Pushing my limits helped me see my strength
When my friend called me to suggest we try a sensory deprivation float, my heart jumped into my throat. I had heard of “Float Therapy” before, but because of my PTSD I had immediately dismissed the idea. But David was excited and wanted to try it together.
He was waiting for an answer, but I was in a panic and couldn’t form my thoughts into words.
There is a tiny part of me that I keep sequestered. The part that dares to throw caution to the wind and try new things. It lies hidden behind fear and the constant weighing of risk and benefit. But I’ve been trying to coax this part out more and more, so I told David that although I was nervous I would love to try it. My panic attack didn’t really set in until after I hung up.
My PTSD manifests itself in subtle ways much of the time. Or maybe it’s become such a routine part of my life that I don’t always realize how it’s affecting me. But just the thought of spending an hour in a silent, dark pod filled with water sent me reeling. So many fears of being trapped or enclosed in small places, being forced to stay inside for a time period not of my choosing, and above all, the fear of silence.
For me, silence is tolerable when I have visual things to focus on. But in the dark, it becomes unsettling to me. Growing up in a chaotic house with five kids, I was used to constant noise and disruption. But more than that, our house was often filled with the sound of my parents fighting and my father’s angry explosions. Even when my narcissist Jekyll-Hyde dad was being charming and funny, his loud voice boomed through our house. It was not often quiet in my childhood home. And quiet was often the calm before the storm. It meant something was coming, but we couldn’t know when. It was a time to be hypervigilant.
In order to push my own limits, I had to know exactly what to expect from the float. I had questions. Would it be pitch black? I was relieved to read that the lighting would be controlled by me. Would it be silent? There would be instrumental music playing in the pod, but I could choose to turn it off. Either way, earplugs would be used to keep the Epsom salt out of the ear. Does the pod have to be closed? The thought of the lid closing down on me in the dark like a coffin felt suffocating just thinking about it. Again, it was up to me. I could close the lid all the way, or leave it open a couple of inches.
Knowing I would be in control at all times gave me the courage to try.
I met David at the spa and after filling out a little health information and a waiver, we were shown to the changing areas. We parted ways and showered to remove any oils or makeup. I then rubbed petroleum jelly on any small cuts or dry skin, as the salts in the bath sting these quite a bit. I donned a robe and crossed the hall to the room with my pod.
I chose to forgo the goggles they offered. I knew the intent of the experience was to rid yourself of as many external stimuli as possible and lose yourself to reflection and deep thinking. I didn’t want anything touching me that wasn’t necessary. I put the earplugs in, stepped into the pod and then got down on my knees in the water. Pulling the cover down over me, I decided to attempt the full experience and close it completely. The goal is to allow the water and air in the pod to match your body temperature, which enhances the feeling of floating, and this is best achieved with the lid completely closed.
I laid down and tried to relax as I got used to floating. I closed my eyes and turned off the lights. I chose to forgo the music, so all I could hear was my heart beating and the sound of my breath. I was left with nothing but my thoughts, and they were racing. Am I doing this right? How long have I been in here? Should I try to meditate? I’ve never really been able to meditate without guidance, so I decided to try to just clear my mind, which was easier said than done. Regardless, I was just happy I wasn’t experiencing too much anxiety.
I took a few deep, relaxing breaths. Taking from some reading I have been doing on emotional healing, I tried to inhale love, first filling my belly and then my chest, as deeply as I could. Then, slowly exhaling my own love out into the universe. It felt lovely. Suddenly I saw my husband’s face in my mind. Inhaling his love deeply and exhaling it back to him. Then my best friend, who has been helping me through this latest struggle. Inhaling her love and exhaling it back to her in gratitude. Then another good friend. One by one, I saw the faces of the people in my life who love me, even a few that I’m struggling to find peace with these days.
I found my mind going to the difficult memories from recent flashbacks, which have been amplified since my father’s death last fall. My eyes were closed as I floated, but my heart ached and tears rolled past my temples. I kept breathing and releasing as much of the negative emotion as I could. It was therapeutic but left me feeling mentally overstimulated.
I had no concept of time, so I wasn’t sure how much time I had left. I just kept breathing while trying to keep my mind clear. Releasing all thoughts as they intruded into my mind. It was at this point I began to really feel the float. The temperature regulation of the air and water made me temporarily forget I wasn’t really floating in space. At times I felt like I might have fallen asleep, but it wasn’t exactly sleep. It was in-between waking and dreaming, and it was both pleasurable and slightly odd. By the time the jets came on to indicate my time was up, I was sad I had to get out.
Reflecting on my float, it was definitely a positive experience. I challenged my PTSD and came out ahead, something that doesn’t happen often. And, I was able to use the absence of distraction to clear my head and do some healing.
In the past, attempting meditation has made me anxious because of my PTSD. I know the healing and calming powers of meditation, but for some reason when my mind isn’t active and busy I get the fight or flight reaction in my body. I feel like this experience has made me see that under the right circumstances I can calm my mind and I‘m confident I could give meditation another try.