Ask Me About Floating
When I was in therapy, one of the challenges I would experience is how to stay grounded.
If something triggered me, it would become increasingly difficult for another person to be comforting, and common go-tos like comforting touch, visualization, affirmations, or even more sensory tools like holding an object, or orienting to the space would have the opposite effect. Instead of calming me down, they would escalate me further, sending me into a more dissociative state where it’s hard to hear or see anyone. I would end up in the corner by the door, putting distance between me and everything else. By that point, my body would need the remainder of our time to check back in, usually longer.
When I would describe the sensations I could remember, words like dizzy, overwhelmed, and overstimulated would kind of fit, but they down played the physicality associated, and emphasized the emotional pieces, which weren’t as easy to track or respond to in the moment. What it felt like was an unmanageable heightening of my sensitivity to my environment, triggered especially by unexpected changes. Simple, common things like my therapist having a cold, a lamp being on that isn’t usually, having to change offices, a new plant or piece of art, a scented candle, would be enough of a prompt.
My orientation to stress is heavily taped into the physical, the calendar year, situated directly into associations that I have to my environment, people in them, times of year, sounds, sights and smells, and in particular, things coming further into my physical space. This includes clothing, sweat, rain, and any physical contact. Aware of this set of responses within myself, I became resourceful at trying to first translate this boundary to others, but also better being able to move out of deal with them, not with one specific tool, but as many different ones as I could experiment with.
A friend of mine encouraged me to pay attention to my need for a removal of stimulants, and to utilize that as the basis for understanding the need that was being emphasized through my reactions. A need to have nothing to process, nothing to pay attention to, no energies but my own, no social outlets. Something that would assist me in decompressing, and safely leaving the present.
In 2017, after my initial ankle surgery, I tried floating for the first time. Flotation therapy uses highly concentrated water to literally enable your body to float, removing gravity, light, and sound, and slowing down your brain waves. For me, it provides a solitary experience of checking out, but not through dissociation. Instead, I experience it as a focused, restful meditative state, clearing away conversation, and reducing my observation and reactiveness to things in my environment. Typically, I use a sauna first, and then float for an hour, and then I take time to journal immediately afterward while drinking water.
I’ve found that presently within my mental health, I am most comfortable with self-guided experiences, and ones that don’t require other people to be around me. I need more than previously reliable, fast acting ways to reduce the physical stress I’m carrying, without increasing my compulsion or hypervigilance. When I can do that, I can better connect to other people, and better tolerate changes in my physical environment.
Recently I have started to work at a float center part time, enjoying being in a work environment that is connected to healing work, and that constructs a slower pace for my days. As someone who experiences insomnia, sleep is frequently fitful and not rejuvenating, and fatigue, migraines, and muscle soreness are regularly a part of my mornings, not uncommonly lasting all day. What I’ve found is that floating enables me to counteract some of those symptoms, sometimes skipping them all together.
If you find yourself in transition with your mental health support, without anything that works, or distrustful or dissatisfied with other forms of therapy, ask me about floating. I’ll share as well as I can.