A Float Anecdote

My mom gave me a gift certificate for a one hour session in a sensory deprivation tank. Flotation therapy boasts a lot of health benefits such as reducing anxiety and depression, alleviating muscle pain, improving sleep and expanding creativity. I love trying new things so… yeah, I was totally game.

But as my appointment time came closer I started to worry about motion sickness. I’ve never done well on water… or IN water for that matter. Aside from ralphing on numerous boats, I once got so nauseated in a wave pool that I yakked.

Ok, and what about being trapped in the tank with no light and no sound- that wouldn’t make me sick, but… would it be terrifying? Would it trigger some unknown claustrophobia in my DNA? And what would I think about for a whole hour? My brain isn’t the most relaxing place- I’d much rather ESCAPE my thoughts but how was I going to do that with no distractions? And then there’s the naked factor- you’re supposed to float nude. What if someone walked in, opened my tank and saw me bobbing about like a skinned potato simmering in a soup pot? How embarrassing. Actually, scratch that. I’m almost 50; if someone wants to gaze at my cellulite and spider veins, well, more power to ’em. Enjoy.

Anyway, all of these thoughts were ‘floating’ around my mind (ha!) when I pulled up in front of the spa. It was in a strip mall that wasn’t… particularly nice. And there wasn’t anyone around- no cars in front of the spa at all.

I turned my car off.

Ok, so I was about to be totally vulnerable- alone and naked in a sensory deprivation tank- in a sketchy deserted strip mall. It was fine. Everything was fine.

I entered the spa and there was a sign that said someone would be coming up front momentarily. There were a ton of salt lamps about and flutey music playing.

Five minutes later a frazzled girl came out of a door. She was ringing her hands stressfully which made me even more nervous than I already was. Her hair stuck up around her head haphazardly and her Vans shoes were scuffed and dirty. “It’s been a DAY!” she declared and I felt bad for her. I wonder what constitutes a bad day in the world of floating? Ugh, a DROWNING?

Before new fears could play out in my mind, the disheveled Ramona led me into a room with recliners where she said I should watch an eight minute instructional video about my upcoming session. She then asked if I would like some tea or water but I declined because I absolutely did not want to have to pee during my float. Springing a leak- something else to worry about. No thank you.

The instructional video turned out to be a you-should-float-once-a-week-and-buy-our-float-program-beacuse-HEALTH presentation.

Afterward, Ramona took me into the back and opened a dark door. She vaguely pointed to the “Beauty Room” where she said there were blow dryers and q-tips for after my float. (Ah, if only beauty could be achieved that easily: a bit of hot air and a tiny cotton swab on a stick.)

Another door opened and this time we were enveloped in a very dank, musty room. Humidity and chemicals clung to the air and I felt like I had walked into an aquarium. Ramona pointed out the restroom on the left and then she led me down a small hallway and opened a heavy door. Inside was a beautiful room with a gorgeous rain shower and a gigantic white pod filled with murky liquid. The pod looked like an egg and inside there was a baby blue light illuminating the water. Ramona explained I needed to shower before getting into my pod and after getting out of my pod. She gestured toward towels and shampoo and body wash.

She showed me how to close my pod and how to shut off the blue light. I peered in at the salt water and she said it was heated to exact body temperature and would be nice and warm.

And then she was gone.

I locked the door behind her and removed my clothes. After showering I looked dubiously at the sensory deprivation tank. Ramona had said there was ten inches of water and 1,ooo pounds of salt in there. It all looked and felt like a scary sci-fi film. What if I went into the pod Chelly and came out a Jeff Goldblum fly?

I told myself not to be silly and got in. The water was dense and hot. As I sat down and hugged my knees to my chest I could feel slight tremors of panic starting. Ok, maybe I would leave the lid open and the blue light on for a few minutes while I acclimated. Yes, yes, that was a good plan.

After a bit, I closed the lid and let myself stretch out in the water. My body shot straight up to the top, much like when you hold a helium balloon down and suddenly release it. That was fun! I pushed myself down and let go and my whole body propelled to the surface again. I giggled and the sound reverberated around the pod and bounced back at me unpleasantly. Ooooo, no more noise. Noise bad.

Floating was not relaxing. I didn’t like the saltwater in my ears, and my head and neck felt heavy and uncomfortable. I tried moving around into better positions, but that made the water move too much and I really didn’t want to get motion sick and have a barf-a-palooza in my pod. I stilled. It was SO warm and I was getting concerned with the lack of air. My imaginative brain began buzzing with freakish new fears and I suddenly realized I was, in actuality, the lone ingredient in a simmering crock pot. Chelly Stew. Very salty. OMG I WAS BEING BRINED!!! Are there cannibals in Phoenix? Maybe this whole thing was a set up. Maybe they give everyone gift cards- that’s how they attract the main course. My heart began pounding erratically and after staring miserably at the ceiling of the tank for a minute or two I decided to open it.

I grabbed for my phone and told myself that I am not claustrophobic, and no one was going to eat me and there wasn’t anything to wig out about. So I sat on the edge of my pod and told myself I was just having a relaxing spa moment while scrolling Instagram. I mean, how much longer could there be in my one hour session? I looked at the time. ONLY TEN MINUTES HAD PASSED.

Instead of sensory deprivation I was on sensory overload. Instead of relieving anxiety I was absolutely riddled with it. I told myself to be normal. No one had to know I was having a horrible, panic-inducing time. I could just wait this out… easily burn 50 minutes by reading articles on my phone.

Orrrrr…. I could jump out of this pod and run out of the building into clean, fresh air. And maybe I could even run right into an In N Out Burger. Which is exactly what I did.

I couldn’t shower and get out of the spa fast enough. I hoped Ramona wasn’t at the front so I could just hurl out the door into sunshine and freedom. But she saw me and stopped me before I hit the exit.

“Was the water too hot?” she asked, concerned.

“No, it was fine. I just don’t think floating is for me.”

She looked sad. “It can be intimidating for some.” I think she needed to say some sort of spiel because she then intoned, “Well, I am sorry the experience wasn’t what you anticipated, but I hope you enjoyed your stay enough to return to us soon!”

I gave a sort of maniacal laugh, said goodbye and shot outside like wounded antelope escaping pursuit.

Ten minutes later I said hello to an order of well-done french fries, telling both them and myself over and over, one potato to another: I will always be the eater, never the eatee. I will always be the eater, never the eatee…


OMG Chelly, you could print a book with all your short stories. I may never be able to do the floating pod thing-a-ma-jig. But I’ll cherish your description for a life time. Hopefully you thanked your Mom for the awesome experience or nightmare depending how you looked at it…..

I think I got more out of the experience having had panic instead of relaxation- because that made it infinitely more interesting! Hahaha! 🙂 And thank you… I’d love to have a short story book one day!

I always thought I wanted to do this until I read your ‘thoughts’. I was cracking up and at the same time thinking “She has a point. She has a lot of VERY valid points”.
First time on your blog Chell. I think I need to read it while sitting with Joe

Hello my friend, You have been SOOOO much on my mind. I love seeing Joe’s name here in print. Although I never met him I felt like he was a kindred spirit through your posts and pictures. I’m sending you big, gigantic, warm hugs, beautiful lady. <3

Oh no!!!! I’m so sorry it was such a terrible experience for you! Some gift! If you need counseling to get thru the trauma, I’ll pay for it!!! On the good side, your writing is awesome!!! You turned an awful experience into a humorous account for people to enjoy (except for your horrified mom!!!)!!!

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