Sensory deprivation tank experience, Part 2c. (The experience!)

Now to describe my second experience in the sensory deprivation tank! First, I couldn’t have done it without Callaghan, my partner in crime. I was especially thankful considering that he took time from his super busy agenda. He’s signed up for the entire on-going effort, and I’m grateful to him for his moral support and commitment of time in this venture.

My goal this second time was simple: I just wanted to experience being in the tank with the door closed, if only for a minute.


Sensory deprivation tank (pic taken by Callaghan during my second attempt)

Sensory deprivation tank (pic taken by Callaghan during my second attempt)


(Never fear – I’ll have a new pic to accompany the posts I write about my third try!)

I started by getting in and stretching out on the water, lying on my front and gripping the lip of the door opening with my fingertips. If I didn’t keep that fingertip hold, I would’ve drifted to the back of the tank.

Once I had the feel of the water, I asked Callaghan to close the door and hang out right there so we could test how he could hear me through the enclosed tank. Here we found that I had to speak very loudly in order for him to hear me.

Then I wanted to test opening the door by myself. This turned out to be a good gauge of the extent of the battle ahead of me: I was able to push the door up, but it felt arduous. It felt like the door wasn’t opening easily enough or fast enough, because I could feel the water pulling at me as I was doing it.

At this point, it seems that any resistance I meet while pushing the door open will cause me to panic. I know that this is irrational (definition of a phobia)… of course some effort has to be made when opening a door. Any door. Doors do not open magically upon touch. The thing about this tank is that the effort involves some other element – the water – challenging my control of my body. No part of me is anchored anywhere when I try to open the tank door.

When you open any normal door, you’re on something solid, usually the ground, and usually while you’re standing. Your feet are rooted. I like being rooted. Being rooted in every sense of the word is essential to my wellness in every sense of that word.

Callaghan had to pull the door open the rest of the way, not because I physically couldn’t, but because I was starting to freak out. I didn’t want to get to the same level of panic I found myself in the first time.

So that was terrifying. I had to take a minute to breathe. After Callaghan talked me down from my ledge, we moved on to the next step.

The next step would not involve me trying to open the door. I would lay back on the water, he would close the door (I’m nowhere near ready to close the door myself, as that was what caused the fiasco that took place the first time), and I would stay in the enclosed tank for as long as I could stand it.

My anxiety was profound as I settled myself. He asked if I was ready for him to close the door. I said yes. I felt like I was bracing myself for that puff of air in your eye when they do that one test during an eye exam. Times 1,000.

He closed the door, and I closed my eyes. I focused on my breathing. So far, so good!

Lying on my back on top of the water, I tried to imagine that I was floating in outer space, since my body was suspended in zero gravity in the complete darkness. This worked at first, and then I felt encroaching panic urging me to open my eyes. I opened my eyes. My heart-rate went up more as my brain said YOU ARE INSIDE A SMALL TANK. I closed my eyes again as I reasoned with myself in a soothing inner voice. I tried the outer-space imagery a second time.

When I reached my threshold – past my threshold, actually – I called for Callaghan to open the door. He did and I sat up and I felt the cool outside air and I took a few deep breaths, and then I asked, “It’s been about half an hour, right? I was in there for around 30 minutes…?!” I was excited about my progress. But he said, “No. Not even 10.”

I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t crestfallen to hear that after all the painful effort, it’d only been 10 minutes. 10 minutes is a good start, though, right? I was proud of myself for staying in the enclosed tank for 10 minutes, even though it felt like 30, at least.

The aspect of the tank that really started to trigger my next-level panic was the warm, humid air inside. It was stuffy. It made me feel stifled, like I couldn’t breathe physically, let alone psychologically.

When I go for my third try, I’ll pick up where I left off. I have until then to meditate on it and to practice the meditation I want to try in my next attempt.


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