Thursday, April 6, 2017

Anxiety Therapy

To understand the background for this post, please read the story here. 

Last semester in the height of first time everythings, Kahley took a hot yoga class at a studio on State Street in Madison. "MOM!" she breathlessly and excitedly announced. "I'm more relaxed than I have been all semester. That was amazing." The next day she texted me again. "I just slept really well for the first time since I left home. That yoga class was awesome!"

That should have been my calling card to buy the kid an unlimited pass to hot yoga for the rest of her life. When something works for a person with Generalized Anxiety Disorder, they need to latch on, clear the schedule to make time for it, and never let go.

But we're all learning alongside our girl with this disorder. Life stepped in, schedules dictated otherwise, and she didn't go back to yoga. Over Christmas break she felt better, and based on her ever changing schedule she postponed scheduling therapy sessions when she returned to campus in January. 

Staying on top of GAD is key. It does not go away, even if the person feels better due to changes in their life. It's always lurking in the background, waiting to rear its ugly head and make life messy.

When it reappeared with a vengeance second semester, Kahley immediately scheduled therapy again and made some appointments with University Health Services. If any of you parents out there are in my shoes, my advice to you is this: Encourage your child to stay in therapy no matter how well they feel. Don't let them quit it, even if they seem better. Take the therapist's lead on when and how to dial it back, if at all.  

Also - consider a multi-faceted approach. I am no medical professional, but studies show that therapy helps. So does medicine. A combination of therapy and medication works best. Add in some holistic healing?

Wonders. Kahley came home for spring break a few weeks ago, and we went together to a hot yoga class. Being in the warm room for over an hour focused her in the moment, eliminated distractions, and the intense heat forced her to breathe deeply, which is very difficult for her to accomplish in daily life. Sweat dripped from every pore of our bodies. The movements proved cathartic - bending and twisting deeper and deeper into our breath, it nearly impossible to focus on anything other than breathing in and out and stretching our bodies.

Yoga is hard! Some of those women and men can contort and flow from one movement to the next like poetry. I had to pay attention to others because I don't know what the hell I'm doing, and I need a crash course on Yoga for Dummies. The flow of many of the yogis is so effortless it appears artistic.
Then there's us. Snot flowing, guts hanging, ponytails loosening, falling into one another, stifling giggles, sucking in farts. Oy.

But we tried our best, and felt rejuvenated after the session. There's no judgment in that hot room - everyone started at some point and were giant, uncoordinated elephants like us. We both loved it so much that we returned twice more over her break. She now has a pass for unlimited yoga on campus, and it's something I am continuing as well. Just today I received this: "Yoga is the greatest thing, OMG. The 7:20 wakeup is hard, but I feel amazing afterwards." It's nice to share something like this with my girl. I look forward to future sessions with her.

In addition to yoga classes, I also scheduled float therapy for us one day. The concept of floating is relatively new and is catching on, despite being around for decades. It's a sensory deprivation experience, ideal for meditation, mindfulness, and relaxation. For all you Stranger Things fans, banish those submersion tank and kiddie pool images from your brains, because reality is far from how it's depicted on the show.

A friend of mine recently mentioned that she floats twice a month, and another friend texted me float therapy as a potential aid for Kahley. I looked into it further, and found a float club near our home.
Photograph from www.aniccafloatclub.com
We entered Anicca Float Club in Naperville and Lindsay, the owner, warmly greeted us. Lindsay and her husband Paul opened the float club based on their background in Vipassana meditation - a way to observe and understand things as they are, not as our minds might make them appear. Anicca means impermanence/continuous change. In their meditation practice, they came to learn experientially that everything is impermanent and we can observe what the mind does and how that influences the body.

Huh?

I know. This is not stuff I historically buy into. I’m the first to admit that I don’t know much beyond Christianity, and I’ve probably been way too close minded in my past about other ways of thinking, relaxing, and understanding the universe. I’m a Speech Communication and English gal, for crying out loud. I never even took physics, let alone advanced science anything. Never took a philosophy class. Never learned about any religion other than what the good old Lutheran Church Missouri Synod taught. 

But it doesn’t mean I’m not open to learning new ways of thought. And this floating / yoga / mediation stuff is intriguing. It’s why Lindsay and Paul sold most of their belongings, downsized dramatically, and dedicated their lives to educating as many as possible. Since they opened their doors two years ago, they’ve been amazed at the number of clients coping with mental health issues they’ve been able to help, not to mention the amount of mental health professionals that walk through their doors.

I scheduled our float sessions a week before the appointments. We began our day with a nice lunch together, then opted for some cappuccino while she studied and I worked.
We arrived at the float club 15 minutes before our scheduled time to meet Lindsay and receive some first time floater instructions.

In our own private rooms, we began by quickly showering to eliminate any residual oils or products on our skin, then climbed into the tank.
Photograph from http://aniccafloatclub.com
Standing in the shower area with the float tank behind me.
The actual float room is an enclosed rectangular space, about seven feet tall, six feet wide, and eight feet long. The tank is filled with 10 inches of water and nearly 1600 pounds of epsom salts, making the water effortlessly buoyant.
Not me - or Kahley. Photograph from http://aniccafloatclub.com
We floated on top of the water without trying. Since the water and the tank are the temperature of your body, you lose sense of touch when lying still in the water. It's interestingly eerie - I couldn't sense where my body was submerged in water and where it was exposed, other than around my temples. I opted for lights out - total darkness - and turned off the white noise wave sound for complete silence.

While in the float room I focused on breathing. Four or six counts in, and four or six out. For me, it's the best way to clear my mind of other distractions. Later I commented on how difficult it was to breathe deeply, and Lindsay said the magnesium sulfate actually lowers one's blood pressure and relaxes the body so much one's breathing naturally becomes more shallow. Between the epsom salts and the sensory deprivation, my mind truly uncluttered and my body relaxed. As I expanded and stretched my core I could actually feel my spine decompress - a deeply odd sensation. Any residual muscle or joint tension evaporated the longer I floated. But the most remarkable experience goes back to my concentrated breathing. At one point, I suddenly "came to" realizing I stopped breathing. Or did I? I wasn't gasping for air, so clearly I continued to take in oxygen. But I didn't fall asleep. Did I lose consciousness? The altered mental state proved deeply intense and relaxing, so I tried to achieve it again. I did another three or four times, and every time was better than the last. It was a bit of a rush, and so deeply relaxing. At the beginning I wondered, "How am I going to do this for an entire 60 minutes?" but when the lights came on and new age music softly piped in, I wished I had another 30 minutes to go. I wasn't ready to emerge.

The experience is like none other. I've had a few massages, and while they're lovely, I'd take a 60 minute float over a massage any day. I've never been so deeply undistracted. I didn't even consider the outside world while I was in the tank, and the feeling of calm lasted through our ride home, a glass of wine, and aided in one of the best night's sleep ever. My bathtub now feels significantly sub-par. I can't stop thinking about it. I loved it so much I bought additional floats so Mr. Musky and I can enjoy a twist on date night in a few weeks.

Kahley emerged from her float experience contemplative, and as she sipped a cup of dark chestnut tea that Lindsay prepared for her, she soon declared she was the most relaxed she'd been in over a year. Relaxing is hard for her. It doesn't come naturally, and she's most chilled out at home. It's challenging to unwind in a 12x16 foot dorm room when a roommate is nearly always present, and there aren't any "go to" places in the building that offer true quiet time. Meditation is something that takes practice, and hopefully over the summer she can find a time and place to begin to truly work at it.

If you ever need to escape the pressures of everyday life, suffer from anxiety, depression, or an autoimmune disease, experience chronic fatigue or pain, need a mini getaway, or want to disconnect from the world, then go float. In other words, if you're a human in this day and age, you need to do this. We all have stress of some sort in our lives. We all need time away. And while exotic vacations to the Virgin Islands might not be in our budgets, Anicca Float Club is making floating a bit more accessible with a discount for local Genuinely Speaking readers. Go to their website - aniccafloatclub.com  - and schedule a float. Use the discount code genuine for $31 off your first float, making it $49 for your first session! This is such a great offer, and it's available until June 5, 2017. I promise you - you'll emerge relaxed, renewed with less pain and stiffness, and more introspective.

Finally, thank you for the outpouring of love and support for our girl. The response to last week's post is overwhelming, as we both received countless private messages of people going through similar challenges. While there are similarities in our stories, no two anxiety sufferers experience the exact same struggles. Talking about this helps - both her and I. My hope with today's post is to shed light on alternatives to traditional approaches for alleviating the debilitating nature of this disorder, and to encourage other sufferers to keep an open mind when it comes to non-traditional healing methods.

I appreciate the comments and encouragement, and so does Kahley. For those of you who suffer alongside my sweet girl, please don't hesitate to reach out ANY time if you need a compassionate ear. Together we can make mental illness less taboo by sharing common experiences and ideas for health and healing.

XOXO,

Jen

Big thank you to Anicca Float Club of Naperville, IL for sponsoring this post. 

1 comment:

  1. The sheer thought of trying that causes my anxiety. I've looked into it, but couldn't do the closed door, dark space. I recently had to re-do my MRI because I had a terrible panic attack. Glad it helped you both. Has she looked into Buddhism? That helped my mind tremendously and remember it's not a religion, just a way of life. :) Hugs

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