Yesterday was my 52nd birthday. My daughter, Kyra, gifted me with an extraordinary experience at Florida Floats Spa, where I would step into a pod filled with approximately one foot of water and roughly 1100 pounds of Epsom salt. There I would float, naked, in the dark, with the door shut... Alone, with nothing else but my fleeting thoughts as I drift off into sensory deprivation and complete stillness.
Funny thing about fleeting thoughts, complete stillness, and ADHD... There is at least one juxtaposition always at play, at least there is for me. You see, since I was young, I have always been told to "sit still", "be quiet", "stop moving, wiggling, shaking, talking..." I was the classic ADD kid, but never diagnosed, just always put into programs to keep me "occupied" - tumbling, dance, ice-skating, ballet, swimming, piano, oboe, drama... As long as I had "things to do" to keep me active and my mind busy, things for me seemed to balance out.
Fast forward to my 30's... I was a wife, mom of 3, working full-time and noticing that I had trouble with my internal "off button". I was struggling with the juxtaposition of being still AND being quiet. I tried meditating, still and quiet - very challenging. I found my stress levels and anxiety increasing with the weight of greater responsibilities in my life and no way to successfully "decompress". I tried mediation classes and found myself frustrated by every little noise made by the other participants, a cough, a movement, a whisper... The occasional talking from the instructor would send my head spinning out of control, breaking any ounce of relaxation I may have accidentally slipped into. I found myself reacting to the fan kicking on, a door opening, the weather outside... I often lay upon my mat wondering, "How much longer?" It was frustrating and it wasn't working. I would come away feeling defeated. I decided this type of practice just wasn't for me.
In my 40's, I finally sought help. After a very long, frustrating test provided by my Neurologist, I learned (no surprise) I have ADHD. She prescribed medication... I tried it for a few weeks, but was not thrilled with how it made me feel. I opted to use food as medicine and nutraceuticals to support my brain health and I committed to my own version of meditation - walks in nature EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. On my walks, I would challenge myself to just walk, observe, notice the world around me. I would fight the fleeting thoughts in my mind while I just kept moving. This, coupled with breathing exercises, is what has sustained me in my quest to "decompress". It was the best I could do, and it felt enough. Until... the sensory deprivation tank.
Stepping into the tank, dimly lit, water at body temperature, I sat down, pulled the door shut, the lights went off, I submerged myself in the bath-like water and began to float. The idea of the float is to reduce stress, provide a break from overstimulation (something we all experience in today's world), and give the body a significant saturation of Magnesium (something many with ADHD are deficient in). The weight of gravity is lifted off your body, every stimulant is removed, you are left with nothing but your mind. Ideally, you shut that off too; many people even fall asleep. Many people, not me. So there I was... naked, in the dark, floating in a silent pod and trying desperately to not notice things. Here's a sneak peak at how that went...
My thoughts - "Amazing! This water is body temperature and I'm not cold. What is the best way for me to rest my arms, over my head or to my side? I feel the tank when I bump the sides, wonder what's making me move since there's no circulation or jets on? Do I close my eyes or keep them open? Yep, it's dark either way. I wonder if this is what it must be like to be in a mother's womb? Except my body would be curled up, not laid out... Maybe it's more like being in outer space... I wonder if Astronauts feel like this? Astronauts should do this! Everyone should do this! My husband says he can't float, he will float in here with all this salt... Okay, Karen! Stop thinking... just relax, let your mind go... Deep breathing! Let's do some deep breathing, boxed breathing... deep breath in for 4, hold for 4, release for 4, hold for 4, repeat. I wonder how long it's been already? 60 minutes is a really long time to just 'be still', 'stay quiet', 'not think'. Keep breathing... It's getting warm in here. I feel like I can't catch my breath. I need to feel cool air on my face for a minute."
With that final thought, I sat up and cracked open the lid of my pod. The cool air hit my wet, salty skin and immediately, I felt like I could breathe better. I laid back down to float with the lid open, trying once again to "decompress". After a few moments, I began to feel chilled so I closed the lid. Back in the darkness, I resumed my boxed breathing and closed my eyes. This time, I committed to the full experience. I treated my inner child with motherly love and understanding and I told her she was safe, this was temporary, she was responsible for nothing in this moment, just let go...
Letting go was the hardest part for me. It wasn't the pod, the darkness, the nakedness, the enclosure. It was allowing myself to take it all in and not react. With time, I began to notice things differently... I saw the glow of my body through the dim light coming in through the tiny crack of the pod door. I appreciated my body, her appearance, her shape, her ability to withstand all she has endured in this life (good and bad). I thanked her. I embraced her. I encouraged her to keep going and to feel nothing. Eventually, I got there... to the feel nothing state. It's tough to describe, but you can't really tell where you stop and the water begins. You become one with the water. You feel suspended in space and time. You feel a release, not sure I've ever experienced that before. I know this, I want to experience it again!
As my 60 minute session came to a close, a jet and a light came on in my pod, bringing me back to the here and now. I sat up, pushed open the pod door, and emerged into the world a little calmer, a bit more self-assured, significantly more relaxed, and eager to do it all again!