Tuesday, October 12, 2004


Now that the pressure of the job hunt is behind me, I’m looking for ways to release the stress that built up in my body during my sabbatical. It’s high time I treat myself to some pampering to channel my stress energy out of my pores and into the universe, where it belongs. And since I’ve never been one for Tae Bo, or any physical activity that resembles hand-to-hand combat, what I really need to do in order to bring my mind and body back into balance is spend an hour in a flotation tank.

Shortly after I moved to Chicago, Natasha added this activity to my list of must-do’s. This item fell just below tap dance lessons and just above dog shows in terms of priority. She did all sorts of research and found out that the oldest flotation tank facility in the US just happens to be right here in our own backyard. For those of you who are unfamiliar with flotation tanks, here’s the description from the Space-Time Tank site:

“A flotation tank is a 8'x4'x4' enclosed structure which diminishes light and sound. Each tank holds 10 inches of water with 800lbs. of Epsom salts enabling a person to float effortlessly. The water is heated to an average skin temperature (93.5°) reducing the sensation between body and water. The tanks are fully ventilated and the solution is sterilized after each use with concentrated Hydrogen Peroxide and Ozone.”

Who wouldn’t want to spend a few hours in that?

After signing on a few more adventuresome friends, we scheduled our appointments for the tanks. Initially, I had a few concerns that I discussed with Natasha. Some of the key ones were:

1. What does one wear in a flotation tank?
2. Will I get claustrophobic?
3. What if I just obsess about work issues for the entire hour?
4. What if I get locked inside?
5. Can I get typhoid fever from floating in a tank?
6. Will I revert back to my Neanderthal origins and emerge as part monkey, a là Altered States?

With my list of concerns in hand, Natasha headed out to research all the facts she could find about flotation tanks, and returned with the confidence of a pro. She addressed my questions one at a time:

Now, I’m no prude, but when it comes to fashion, I’m pretty modest. I just didn’t know – was I supposed to wear a swimsuit? Underwear? Scuba mask and snorkel?

As I would quickly learn, unless you want to be known in the floating community as a complete freak, you wear the same outfit you were born with, sans umbilical cord. At first, I was a little uncomfortable with this. I mean, is that sanitary? Although, I don’t suppose a Speedo ever really served as any true protection against water borne diseases.

Plus, Nat sent me all sorts of links to websites that discussed the purification process used after each person floats. Apparently, not even a prehistoric water parasite could survive in that level of salt content. So there I was, naked as a jaybird. But without feathers.

A valid concern, I thought. Will I have a panic attack? If I scream, will anyone hear me? Our charming and informative guide told us that if we did get claustrophobic, we could prop open the door with our towel and leave a dim light on.

I must admit that I did have a very brief panic attack when I first crawled into the tank, although I’m not sure if that was due to the enclosed space, or due to the fact that I was buck naked sitting in 100 degree salt water. It was really the humidity that freaked me out more than the darkness. Because it’s enclosed and so warm, the air is very thick, and for a moment I thought both my lungs had collapsed. They hadn’t. I made myself calm down, put out my cigarette, and then the panic quickly subsided.

A week before going to the tanks, I had to fire one of my more emotionally unstable employees, and it was a fairly unpleasant experience for us both. I had this fear that during the entire time I was floating in the tank, all I would be able to think about would be her, and all of the other crazy people I had to deal with at work.

Fortunately, an amazing thing happens in the tank – you cannot concentrate on anything, even if you try. Your mind just keeps wandering from thought to thought in a seemingly random pattern. It's exactly the same phenomenon that would occur whenever my old boss would talk to me about his philosophy on the benefits of micromanaging employees.

I suppose this goes hand in hand with the claustrophobia concern, but I had a genuine fear of being locked inside this tank. In my mind, the tank had a giant deadbolt on the outside that they needed for some security reason.

Of course, there are no locks on flotation tanks. There are no latches, and there aren’t even any handles. It’s just a little door that you could easily push open with one finger. I know because I tested it out several times.


My doctor assured me that I could not catch typhoid fever from a flotation tank. And then she asked me to find a new doctor. Apparently she’s still upset about when I paged her at home on a Sunday because I thought I had a rare combination of polio and gout.

If you’ve seen the movie Altered States, you understand what I mean by this. For those of you who haven’t seen it, here is the edited version: William Hurt’s character is a scientist researching different states of consciousness and one of the techniques he employs is a sensory deprivation tank. After spending some time in one, he turns into a caveman. I can’t really explain it any better than that, so you’re just going to have to rent it on your own.

I thought I was being pretty clever when I joked with the owner about this fear. Apparently, a few other (hundred) people have seen this movie, and they all thought it would be hilarious to make this exact same joke to the owner. Since the film came out in 1980, he has heard this joke approximately 628,408 times. It was perhaps funny the first two thousand times he heard it, but evidently it has worn thin. Is it my fault that he works in an industry with limited material to pull jokes from?

So the flotation tank experience was amazing, and one that I must repeat soon. And the best part is that I did not, at any point, turn into a monkey. But I am typing this with my feet right now.