Years ago, I saw a news clip about a support group for people afraid of roller coasters, poised to overcome those fears. The clip showed them huddled together in the shadow of a coaster, sharing supportive hugs and words of reassurance.
I remember feeling mystified. Didn’t they realize they could probably live full lives without ever either rolling or coasting again?
Well, turns out I was right all along. You can live with certain fears, just fine. Here’s what happened:
Yesterday, I texted my daughter, home from college for a few days, about what we could do for some fun.
Day trip? Hike? Massage? All of the above? I wrote.
She responded immediately: Ooh massage and thanks!
Rats. Reading that, I realized I wanted the hike. Oh, well. I had made the offer, and heck, a massage is rarely a bad idea. I got on line to look at spas.
That’s when I came across the “floating in the dark in a lot of salt” option. I read the FAQs, texted my daughter again; she was game, so I booked us each sessions.
What, you ask, is the “floating in the dark in a lot of salt” option? It’s an hour in your own private sensory-deprivation tank.
Basically the size of a Honda Pilot, the tank is completely sound- and light-proofed, and filled with about 10 inches of highly Epsom-salted, body-temperature water. You shut yourself in, and you float. The website claimed that floating alleviated anxiety, depression and insomnia, and that most people left feeling that their skin was softer than ever. What’s not to like? I thought.
Apparently, for me, quite a bit.
The spa was lovely and clean, the staff welcoming and informative. My floating would start with 15 minutes of whale songs, then I’d have 45 minutes of silence. I should start with my arms over my head, to release my neck, then just go where the floating took me.
Sounded good! But when I shut the door to my room, in which my tank awaited — “No need to lock the room’s door, that way if you call out for me I can get in quickly” the proprietor said — stripped down to my birthday suit and slid into the tank, I balked at pulling shut that heavy tank door. The whole set-up, floating around naked in a completely soundproofed tank, was starting to unnerve me.
Still, I was there, I’d paid for it. Ought to give it a fair try, I chided myself. So, settling back into the dark, warm water, I found I was indeed extremely buoyant and gave a few experimental wiggles. Fun! I shut my eyes, opened my eyes: no difference. Utter darkness. Hidden speakers came to life and the sound of whales singing filled the tank and I started to relax. With nothing else to do, I tried to commune with the whales.
I listened to them and floated as, eventually, their sounds tapered off into nothingness. My communing must have been more successful than I realized, because as their songs slowly silenced, I pictured my whale-pod swimming away from me, leaving me alone in the dark. I felt abandoned and sad.
Next I noticed the air felt warmer, heavier. The woman had said there was ventilation. But why didn’t I see any air holes? Was I breathing in too much carbon dioxide?
I suddenly flashed on a “Charlie’s Angels” episode: Cheryl Ladd is in a steam bath, and a baddie sticks a broom handle through the door from the outside, trapping her inside. Cheryl, pink and lovely even in her despair, knows she will soon overheat and die if Jaclyn Smith doesn’t soon rescue her.
That’s when I went into a full-blown panic. “Wait a minute,” I thought. “I don’t even know the people running these tanks. Probably they won’t try to kill me. But what if they sneak into my room, while I’m in my tank, and steal my stuff? Or what if there’s a fire? I won’t hear it. Will they come get me? What if they just run screaming to save themselves?”
Enough. I tapped out, sitting forward and shoving the door open a crack. Cool air and light flooded in, and I immediately calmed down.
I’d stay. But I’d prop the door open a bit, at least the width of a towel. Telling myself it wasn’t cheating, I settled back and tried some yogic breathing.
Well, the breathing worked fine … until my eyelid started to itch.
Assuming that Epsom salts would probably sting as much as salt water, I held out as long as I could, thinking about the whales who abandoned me, focusing on my heartbeat, wondering how Jaclyn had known where Cheryl had been trapped, doing everything I could not to think about that itch.
[Note: Epsom salts definitely sting as much as salt water.]
I (figuratively) limped through the rest of my float, showered, dressed and went to meet my daughter. She looked as pink and lovely as Cheryl had, and didn’t look at all as though she, too, had failed at floating.
We walked to the car in relative silence. I finally asked how her float had been.
She seemed to choose her words carefully. “Well, I can see where you could really learn to like it. I think it would take some time to learn to relax, probably a few sessions. But mostly I just rocketed from wall to wall and thought about the Kardashians.”
That was when I knew: no flotation-support therapy groups for me. Next time I want to have some fun, I’ll find myself a rollercoaster.