Sensory Deprivation: A Chronic Illness Perspective

A sensory deprivation tank is a lightless, soundproof tank filled with salt water at skin temperature, in which individuals float. I’ve heard a lot about these tanks in the last few years and I’ve wanted to try one.

As a person who deals with extreme sensory overload on a daily basis, a sensory deprivation tank has always sounded so relaxing. I often use sensory deprivation in the form of noise-cancelling headphones and a dark room to help calm my sensory related anxiety. So for my birthday, my mom bought me a float session at Remedy Float in Savannah, Georgia.

It’s been a little over two weeks now, since my float. My biggest question immediately after the float was, how long will this relief last. Now that I know the answer to that question, I figured it was time for a full, detailed review of my experience during and after.

I had a little anxiety, leading up to the session. Even though I knew that I wanted and needed the sensory deprivation, it was an unknown that I wasn’t sure how to mentally prepare for.

I don’t really know what exactly I was expecting, but what I saw when I got there, wasn’t it. I wasn’t planning on going to space today. But when I was shown to my “cabin”, I immediately wondered if I needed to run back home to get my spacesuit. LOL.

The employee showed me how it works, handed me some ear plugs, and left me to it.

It’s a weird feeling, when it’s so pitch black that you cannot tell if your eyes are opened or closed. At one point, I literally had to reach up and touch my eyes to find out whether or not they were open. FYI, they were open.

My session was 90 minutes long. You can get in and out of the tank as needed or even prop the door open if you can’t handle the complete darkness. I was able to spend the whole 90 minutes in the tank without needing to get out or prop the door open.

I got undressed, put in the ear plugs, and rinsed off in my private shower (just as you would rinse off before getting in a pool). I opened the door, stepped in, and lowered myself into the water. I knew the water would be buoyant, but I was still surprised by how quickly my body bounced up to the surface as I laid my body back.

I don’t know how long it took my mind to float off into a trance, but because the water is the warmed to skin temperature, once I had laid still for a few minutes, I couldn’t even feel the water around me anymore. I felt like someone had cast a “Wingardium Leviosa” spell on me (high five if you understand that Harry Potter reference, lol). During the float, my legs would twitch at random moments, which would pull me from my trance-like state. I don’t remember, now, the specific thoughts that I had while I was in my trance, but I know I had some strange ones. My mind wandered as if I was dreaming, but I was still awake.

While I was in the tank, I felt a calm that I don’t think I’ve ever experienced. When I took away the lights and sounds that constantly cloud my mind and trigger my anxiety, my brain was able to relax. My brain was able to let go. I didn’t have to try to make sense of my surroundings because there was nothing to try to make sense of. For the first time in…ever, my mind could just “be”.

One of the strange things about being in the tank is, without any outside stimulus, the body isn’t able to keep track of how much time has passed…so I couldn’t tell how long I had been in the tank.

Because I have been in so much pain for so long, my body has built up internal defense mechanisms that have allowed me to cope with the pain. The downfall of that, though, is that my brain and my body don’t connect and communicate very well. Almost like, my brain is protecting me from my own pain levels because if my brain knew how much pain I was actually it, it would stop allowing my body to function. I say all of that to explain, while I was in the tank, my brain and body were able to reconnect. I was able to tune in to the areas of my body that had been ignored without the same pressure and pain I would feel outside the tank.

When my 90 minutes in the tank ended, the speakers inside the tank started playing tribal drum music to tell me that my time was up. The music started softly and I couldn’t hear it, at first, because of the ear plugs I had in. However, I did feel the vibration of the sound waves. As my body started to connect with the stimulus of the music, I reached above my head to crack the door open, to allow my eyes to slowly re-adapt to the light.

After a few minutes, I pulled myself up and out of the tank. As I stepped out, onto the floor, I immediately noticed that my joints felt much different. There was still pain but it was much lower than it was before I got in the tank. And the pressure that I had constantly felt in my joints for, pretty much, my entire life was greatly diminished as well.

I took a shower and washed the salt water from my body. Slowly but surely, I allowed my brain and body to reconnect with my surroundings. I began taking a “pain inventory” as I assessed the level or relief I felt.

And that’s when I noticed that, for the first time in MONTHS, the pain level in my head and neck, from the chiari, was lower than it had been in a long time. As I got dressed, I cried uncontrollable tears of relief because the pain had been so severe, for so long that I was awestruck to feel even the slightest relief that no other medication or therapy had been able to give me.

The next few days, after the float, the same sensory inputs that would usually send me into a sensory overload were easier for my brain to process.

The pain and pressure relief that I felt throughout the joints in my entire body lasted about a week. I’m not sure how frequently sensory deprivation floats are recommended, but if there was any way that I could afford to float once a week, I think my quality of life would increase dramatically.

If you ever have an opportunity to schedule a session in a sensory deprivation tank, I HIGHLY RECOMMEND IT! Even if you’re only able to do it once, do it! It’s still worth it. The relief, even though it’s not permanent, gives you a reminder that there is still hope out there for relief.

Float on, friends.

(Note: I think I heard that some insurance companies will cover the cost of a sensory deprivation float. So that’s an option to look into as well, to help offset the cost.)

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