Middle of Nowhere

Last Wednesday was extremely stressful for me, and later in the day while trying to have a breathing exercise about it I thought: I should do a float tank again.

The previous (and only) time I did a float tank, or sensory deprivation tank, or float therapy, or what have you, was late 2019. We’d been through a particularly difficult time and I had to drive up to Winnipeg to try one. It was neat but not something I was extremely keen to jump back into, at the time. Since then, a tank has been installed in a business fifteen minutes away rather than an hour and a half, and it felt like its time had arrived again. So I booked an appointment for last Friday and off I went!

You’re shown into a warm room that you have to yourself for 90 minutes. There’s a shower and of course, the tank. It’s basically a large, enclosed bathtub with a sealed door. Inside is a foot or two of water that is set for your approximate body temperature and loaded with epsom salt. When you lie down in this, close the door and turn off the lights, you’ll be floating in the void, and you can have a think or just let your body relax.

There’s a smell to the water that is not so strong as to be unpleasant, and the water has an oily quality to it. You absolutely do not want to touch your eyes after getting in the water, because that is how you get salt in your eyes, and your calm will be diminished for a while to say the least.

So you disrobe, rinse in the shower, put in earplugs and climb in the tank, closing the door behind you. There is a dim light with a toggleable switch just above the water line, reachable when you’re floating in the water and you’re ready for things to get real dark. The fluid dynamics of lying down in a shallow bathtub means that, even though you’re floating, you’ll spend a couple of minutes gently nudging up against the sides of the tank before things stabilize. In this environment you may begin to lose a sure sense of where the edges of your body are, which is interesting. Some people report visual and auditory hallucinations in the absence of external stimuli. Many folks will tell you that it helps to have a ‘creative’-type problem in mind as you’re going in, like puzzling over some aspect of a story you’re working on, or a name for something, or a colour that your spare room walls are lacking, etc.

I had one or two ideas but nothing definite and in the end decided to just let my mind go where it wanted to go. Just to relax and be curious about whatever came next. Here are my stars (things I liked) and wishes (things I wanted to be better) about the experience:

⭐A spot on the back of my neck was desperate to be scratched when I laid down or adjusted my position, but I found that if I merely noticed it, didn’t do anything, but went back to letting my mind wander, it gradually faded away and I’d forget about it.

⭐At one point I randomly imagined an elderly man saying something cryptic, then spent the next few minutes trying to work backwards from the sentence to figure out a context in which it could make sense. I think I might have been falling asleep. Later I would be unable to remember the quote at all.

⭐I tried a few different positions for my arms to see what was most comfortable, and of course my movements meant a few more nudges from the tank walls as the water stabilized again. I could never predict where the nudges would come from.

⭐At one point I spent a minute having fun by gently pushing off the ‘top’ wall above my head, then gently pushing off the ‘bottom’ wall with my feet, when I’d feel them make contact. It always took much longer to feel the top and bottom walls than I expected, and with no frame of reference for my movement speed, the tank suddenly felt huge.

⭐I did one or two other little experiments like that, trying to notice physical stimuli but also my expectations about them? Sounds pretentious when I write it out, but it was kinda fascinating.

🙏Which brings me to my wishes: at one point mid-float I opened my eyes, expecting more pitch darkness, and found to my dismay that I could dimly see. There’s one more extremely dim light in the tank, it turns out, and now I could see the outline of the door. Suddenly, instead of existing in a weird void I was back in a bathtub. I did not appreciate having a frame of reference again, and though closing my eyes was fine, I would have preferred to be able to keep them open.

🙏At times, even with earplugs and being sealed in a tank, I could hear somebody with a heavy foot tread walking past the room several times. Same as above: not horrible, but definitely unwanted.

🙏This last one isn’t the fault of the tank or the business hosting it, it’s on me: I think I gave myself motion sickness? It’s that or the mild smell finally got to me. Similar to my ‘up-and-down’ experiment, I tried something with my perception of motion, only this time I imagined I was gently spinning. After touching one of the side walls and heading back the other way, it was easy to feel like my whole body was turning slowly, so I leaned into that feeling and started visualizing that I didn’t stop at all, just continued to turn like I was laying on a record player. Then I tried picturing that I was spinning faster and faster, and then an ugly little feeling took place in my stomach. I actually got out a little before my allotted time was up because of it; here was something that was actually too distracting. It didn’t really clear up until after I’d gotten back home.

So when there’s 15 minutes left, soft ambient music plays to let you know, and you can climb out and use the shower to rinse the weird oily water from yourself. Distractions aside it was actually an enjoyable experience, though I’m not certain I’d recommend my local tank place without some caveats. Of course, the place makes some big claims about the mental and physical health benefits of floating, which I can’t really attest to either. It’s a little like a spa day; are you super chill and relaxed specifically because of the spa treatment, or was it because you finally took a day for yourself and did whatever you wanted without judgment?

Thing I Saw: the new Zelda game, Tears of the Kingdom came out last Friday as well. Players are already using its extremely robust toolset to make anime jet fighters?? Meanwhile I’m struggling to properly stick a hook on a platform haha

Thing I Learned: The “10,000 steps a day” goal that many pedometers set by default is a basically arbitrary number picked by Japanese marketers in the sixties. Moving your body is good, but maybe don’t feel guilty or ashamed for not hitting that number every day.

I’m Grateful For: It’s By-Election season and I’m the Automation Coordinator for our local voting office. I’m grateful for the flexibility with my job and life to be able to stretch myself a little bit in this way!

My daughter’s been binging Bluey episodes lately and this song actually slaps