I've always wanted to try out a sensory deprivation chamber, even more so after reading The Mercury's feature on spending up to 2.5 hours at a time in one over a period of weeks. Floating is rumored to make you see crazy shit and sleep great for days. It's also billed as a weight-loss aid, a relaxation aid, a creativity aid, a marital aid, a quit-yer-smoking aid... it basically borders on religion for some people.
And like most women, I've long fantasized about chilling naked in a giant clam (at the very least, the back of a 1983 Mazda hatchback). So last week I did it.
- The Stranger
- Stare into the hypnotic depths of my clam.
The water is delightfully buoyant. It's a struggle to hold your arms under the water. Lying still feels almost like flying, which is to say, euphoric. And the nice people at the front desk tell you how to avoid getting salt in your eyes and ears. They tell you to count to 300 and they explain the various poses you can float in for optimal relaxation. But they do not warn you about the paranoia.
The second I switched off that glowing blue light, my pleasant flying feeling vanished and my mind turned to thoughts of snakes. Hundreds of tiny snakes writhing under and around me. I wasn't on drugs and I've never before had a pronounced phobia of snakes, but there I was, trapped in a bathtub filled with snake fear, tepid water, and the sound of my own terrified panting.
What eventually got me through the fear was fantasizing about Paul Constant's death. I can't fully articulate how it happened—I was bobbing in a panicky haze for god knows how long—but somehow, thoughts of echo chambers led to thoughts of the internet, commenters, trolls, and how they were probably all just Paul Constant fucking with me and wouldn't it be great for my self-esteem if he were dead? Because I'm not a monster, I thought about all the nice things I would say in a eulogy at Paul's funeral, and how people would applaud me afterward and say that I brought their Paul Bobby to life again and that they would cherish my stories as much as his memory. I wish you could've been there; it was really touching.
Sensory deprivation produces an odd, not entirely unfamiliar sensation—much like those fleeting, rapid-fire associations your brain makes when on the cusp of sleep. I experienced feelings of persistent vertigo, like I was falling through space, only to be rooted back in my clamshell by the muffled thump of footsteps through a hallway.
When my elbow grazed the side of my clam, I flinched and thrashed as if I'd been burned. A while later, I startled myself by farting, which I once again mistook for snakes.
Things got weird after that. I had a long waking nightmare about George Washington's wooden teeth, followed by a shorter fantasy about getting one of my own front teeth capped in wood as a kind of tribute. The more teeth I capped, the more American I'd become.
That about sums up my whole experience. Five minutes before your float time is up, the nice people at Urban Float pump music into your clamshell so you can wrap up your astral planing peacefully, before they turn the water filter on. I took that opportunity to turn my blue light back on, flip over onto my belly, and pretend to be an alligator for awhile. I'd say that was the highlight of my experience.
Afterward, the nice front desk lady asked if my experience had been relaxing and rejuvenating. I told her "no." She said that sometimes it takes two or three sessions to start feeling the full psychological and physiological benefits of floating. "We have monthly rates!" she said. Sadly, it's still cheaper for me to fantasize about Paul's tragic death in my own bathtub filled with tepid saltwater.
But I did sleep great that night.