After I got the tank door open, I sat in the water. Then I floated, explored the tank, and floated again, never leaving the front of the tank beneath the opening.
The first part of my float was informed by my panic attack, so the experience I had during that time was more an experience of recovery.
My recovery was at first compromised as I drifted to the inside corner of the front of the tank, where I was partially concealed and could only see beyond half of the opening. I felt stirrings of new anxiety as the water controlled this re-direction of my body and my PTSD balked. Unlike the evocative guidance of currents in a general body of water, the water in the sensory deprivation tank was emphatic; I felt the movement as a pulling, or as a manipulation.
The urge to fight the water for control of my body was potent, but I didn’t allow myself to make that effort. And rather than fighting the new anxiety, I focused on breathing through it. I stared up at the rafters – I think that’s what they were; the high reaches of the non-ceiling were shadowy, and I wasn’t wearing glasses – and I listened to my heartbeat, which was the only thing I could hear.
Then something else unexpected happened: As I released control of my body, the water seemed to dilute the limitations of my mind. In this meditative state, the first place my mind visited was the place where I knew something else about PTSD: the silver lining of PTSD is the gratitude it promotes.
I would ponder this positive realization later. I wanted to take note of some unfamiliar physical sensations as I regained mental equilibrium:
First, there was the sensation of the floating, itself. I’m not one who can float easily… I tend to sink. At best, I can keep my head and lower legs above water (while the rest of me refuses to cooperate). So it was bizarre to find my entire body floating fully on top of the water with no part of my front submerged.
Secondly, there was the matter of how to relax my head and neck, as it seems instinctive to resist letting your head drop backward into water… I had to experiment to find a way to rest my head comfortably on its flat, watery pillow that had give and didn’t have give at the same time.
As for my exploration of the tank, which I did next: I didn’t venture into the dark reaches during my reconnaissance. I stayed under the opening and explored the tank by feeling around the sides and the bottom, noting the force I had to use to move my limbs in the water’s density. With my hands and feet, I felt for anything that could be used as a hold or a grip. The only thing I found was an area on the floor toward the back of the tank where two faint indentations might have worked as footholds… but they were really just slightly raised bumps. I doubted they could be easily found, much less used.
I returned to floating, staring into the room’s dark heavens and slipping back into that meditative state with no intention of doing so whatsoever. I lost my sense of bodily self. Physical sensation rejoined my consciousness only when the air flowing in through the tank’s open door began to register as cool, and then cold. I began to feel not only the disconcerting temperature difference, but also the prickle of salt drying on the exposed surface of my body. By the end of the hour, the skin on my front crackled under a layer of salt, and there were crystals in my hair. One of the strangest sensations was that of lifting my head under the weight of hair heavy with salt. It felt like my hair weighed 20 pounds. I was reminded of neck strength-training in Muay Thai, where we’d lie face-down and on our sides at the edge of the ring, raising our heads repeatedly against the resistance of our partners’ hands pressing down on our heads.
In conclusion, it seemed to me that I experienced a degree of sensory deprivation even with the tank door open. Floating on water that was just shy of body-temperature, I was devoid of physical sensation. Suspended in the absence of gravity, it was like I had no body at all. I heard only my heartbeat. When I closed my eyes, I felt a suggestion of déjà vu deep in my consciousness, like my body was remembering something inside of itself. As I thought of this later, it occurred to me that had I also been sightless, enclosed in total temperature-controlled darkness from beginning to end, the tank would have seemed womb-like. Is that one of the ideas behind this therapy?
On that note…. I wish you all a very Happy New Year!
Celebrating the eve of New Year’s Eve! Good-bye, 2016.