A few years ago I was having a lot of problems sleeping. It just wasn’t happening. As part of trying to figure out why I couldn’t stay asleep, I learned that I had a magnesium deficiency. Since then, I’ve been taking a magnesium supplement. I used to take a bath with magnesium flakes, but now that I share a bathroom with multiple people, the thought of taking a bath in a shared tub makes my skin crawl (even right after I clean it).
I also made some lotion with magnesium, but the peer-reviewed jury is still mostly out on magnesium absorption through the skin. Anyway, MAGNESIUM. Also, ANXIETY. While I know that I am very lucky because a lot of people have anxiety too severe to survive without medication, I try to take as little as possible because it makes my brain feel like it’s in a fog. My anxiety isn’t so severe that it typically significantly impacts my ability to carry out my daily responsibilities, and I understand that not everyone has that luxury.
Anyway, magnesium and anxiety. In part of my efforts to find options that don’t include increased medication, I stumbled upon floating. The “salt” in the water (that keeps you floating) is actually Magnesium Sulfate which is why magnesium is relevant to this story. Supposedly, it is best absorbed through your skin in this type of set up. After a lot of reading (and some wine), I signed up. And then I spent an entire night unable to sleep over it. I kept seeing tanks that looked like this in pictures:
I am extremely claustrophobic to the point that I struggle to keep both legs under the blanket on my bed because I start to feel trapped and freak out (even if I am freezing). Most of the time when I am awake at night it’s because I’ve spiraled down into some completely ridiculous scenario of being trapped and unable to get out. For instance, I spent WEEKS fretting late at night about sliding down into the hull of a kayak and having my arms trapped beside me, then just being stuck there until I died. TOTAL PANIC over something that I am don’t even think is possible. In the light of day, it feels so ridiculous.
The nights preceding a road trip are always accompanied by my imagining every single way I could get into an accident and be trapped inside my car. It gets so severe that I have cancelled trips because I am so frantic over it. I almost didn’t go to Yosemite last month because I was afraid I would slide off one of those winding roads and be trapped in my car while I slowly died from exposure. I would have been SO MAD at myself for cancelling, but claustrophobia haunts me.
Anyway, the thought of being in a tank with a lid was horrifying and I called to cancel my appointment. The man I spoke to told me that they have walk in tanks that are about the size of a closet, then you would close a door once you’re in. I could completely stand up in the tank and open the door at any point. That sounded a bit better to me, so I kept the appointment. I decided not to be a chicken and to force myself to do it despite my level of discomfort and sheer paranoia that an earthquake would happen while I was in the tank and trap me in there forever while I slowly died from desiccation. For the record, there have been zero earthquakes since I moved to Sacramento.
I made an appointment for last Friday to float for 60 minutes. I arrived 15 minutes early and was given a tour of the facility. I was shown a “common reflection space” to use after. I asked what people do in the “common reflection space” and was informed that they typically use it meditate on their experience in “the chamber” (that term makes it WAY WORSE) or for journaling. Journaling. About floating. I almost couldn’t handle it. I know a lot of people journal about various things, and I am not making fun of that as a practice, but what does one ruminate on after laying in salt water for an hour? I am not the most introspective of people and I don’t particularly care to spend much time examining how I think I feel about anything, but I readied myself for a truly transformative experience that would turn me into a real California person.
He left me in my room (with a locking door) where I undressed, rinsed off, took out my contacts, put in ear plugs, then stepped into the bath. The water was about 10 inches deep and tepid. I thought it would be hot water, but it was barely warm. I had a button to turn a blue light on, but I was worried that having the light on would continue to illuminate the fact that I was shut in a closet of water. There was also a button to turn music on and off. Since I can’t imagine why I would want to float with only myself to focus on, I keep the music playing. I shut the door, laid down, and turned off the light. And then I just floated in the total darkness.
I wiggled a lot in the beginning which caused little waves that made me float towards the side, so I spent a good chunk of time panicking about touching a side in the darkness. I tried to focus on panic attack breathing (big breaths pushed out through pursed lips) to calm down, but my heart was pounding. It also took me a while to figure out what to do with my arms. Letting them fall by my side hurt my shoulders because of the buoyancy. Lifting them above my head also felt weird. So, I ended up folding them across my chest like I was in an actual coffin. When in Rome. I also kept causing myself to jump because I forgot a hair tie and my hair was just creepily floating about. I kept thinking of the dead woman with her creepy hair floating underwater in What Lies Beneath. I highly recommend NOT thinking about dead people underwater when floating in a tank of water in total darkness.
One of my mental exercises to help me chill out is to list the rulers of Russia or the monarchs of England backwards, so I focused on that which sent me down a mental rabbit hole of what would have happened if certain people had lived longer or died earlier (things to journal about!). At some point I started to believe that something (like a shark or water monster!) was below me which would have really been incredible in a mere 10 inches of water. I tried to get the light back on, but it was one of those damn “air buttons” where you have to push through the a giant silicone cover to actually hit a button. I have super weak hands (thanks, arthritis!), so I got into a bit of a panic when I couldn’t get it on. Then, since that didn’t happen easily, I decided that I was also TRAPPED.
I was sitting up, and when I tried to push the door back open, I just slid back across the floor of the tub (the salt water makes things super slimy). I was then grossed out that I was touching so much of the bottom of the tub and also freaking out because I couldn’t get the door open. I finally had to push against the opposite side of the tub to get the door open.
I got out of the tub completely just to convince myself that I was not in fact trapped in a salt water coffin of doom. I took some deep breaths, made myself get back in, started counting kings, and forced myself to chill out. I eventually relaxed enough to almost doze off, but my body would randomly twitch which caused waves that would jerk me back awake. This happens at night, but it rarely actually wakes me up (restless body syndrome!). One of these times I realized that there was no air movement on my face (I can’t sleep without a fan) and I decided that I was in fact trapped again and that there was also NO AIR. I got the door back open and got back out again. The cold air of the room never felt better. I got back in, but left the door cracked. And then a few minutes later the light came on and it was over.
Despite all of my self-induced hysteria, I felt really relaxed and in a bit of a fog after. I rinsed off and again regretted my lack of hair tie as my salty mop was gross feeling and completely unwieldy. I got dressed, but realized I should have bought a pair of loose-fitting clothes to change into. Getting back into my work slacks and silky blouse after was not great. I left the room and tried to chill in the “reflection zone,” but a guy kept trying to talk to me about “meditating on gratitude” and “nourishing your heart root” (wut), so I had to get out of there.
I went home and was kind of out of it for the rest of the night. My lower back hasn’t ached since, so that has been nice. The man who owned it said that as with most treatment types of things, you typically need to do it several times to fully realize any benefits and get used to it. I am not sure if I could ever get used to it, but I wasn’t completely closed to trying it again. But, then, someone commented on my Instagram that she had heard about guys taking care of business in there and had not been able to go back. I can’t believe I didn’t think about that and I totally believe it’s happened. Why do men have to ruin everything?