A Float Delayed

I think I was in 7th grade when the movie Altered States came out. I’m pretty sure I never saw it, but I recall the previews and I was intrigued and really wanted to try it. But in 1980, float tanks were way more scarce.

Why was I intrigued though? William Hurt changes into some beast in the movie, but I knew that was very unlikely to happen to me. I think some part of my brain knew that it would be very, very good for me.

Flash forward almost 40 years to my overhearing a co-worker telling me he had just floated. I flooded him with questions and quickly had my first float booked.

It was winter in Texas and I think that prompted a little higher humidity in the tank. Plus winter means Cedar (aka Juniper) allergy season and I was a little congested. As I eagerly laid down, I had a strong smothering trigger. This stems from a childhood trauma (mentioned briefly in My Story Spine post). I quickly sat up (there’s lot’s of room in there). I took some calming breathes, cleared out my nose and slowly went back down.

For the most part, the float seemed fine. However, if I touched my side or my legs, I could feel this electricity (I’ve sometimes likened this feeling to a spider-sense). When I got out and tried to converse with the hostess, I could barely string a sentence together. Later I would think I might have been in some state of shock.

The float did not turn me into a monster like Altered States, but I think it was the beginning of the end of the PTSD monster I had carried for 40+ years. Now that monster both protected me and made me miserable. I think it helped contribute to my resilience.

Gradually that “electric” feeling I would get from my own touch would fade with each float until finally it’s just me. That anxious bundle of nerves was finally gone. The electric feeling did also remind me of my first full body massage about 20 years earlier. My whole body was literally buzzing/vibrating for almost an hour after. This set me up for some disappointment as it never happened again. I think in both cases, there was a deep release of tension in the nerves – tension on overdrive because of the PTSD.

Now when I float, it’s mostly an escape and a meditation and also a place I can reassure my previous incarnations that they helped get us where we are now and helped us release that PTSD monster. And EMDR and laughter therapy both came along the next year and helped stomp out any remaining embers of the monster.


Laughter Survival Kit: Jury Duty Edition

Four years ago I was selected to be on a jury for a capital murder trial. During the voir dire process (interviews by the attorneys to select the jury), my fight or flight response was screaming inside my head for me to run. This was likely residual triggery feelings from my own childhood trauma (I don’t think it would happen the same way since doing my most recent EMDR has me in a limbic balance).  But my sense of duty was too strong to do what the guy wearing the Metalica shirt next to me did – just say I didn’t trust anyone in the DA’s office.

In any jury room you’re not supposed to discuss the case at all until deliberations begin. But the traumatic evidence forced us to not only talk about other things, we found ourselves mostly telling jokes and other funny stories. It might have helped that our chosen foreman looked and sounded almost exactly like Seth Rogen (though the fun came from almost everyone).

We were later told our laughter could be heard all the way into the courtroom. But the judge, attorneys, and public who were in the courtroom all knew that we were doing what we needed to do (though possibly the judge and told them that if we’re laughing, we’re definitely not talking about the case). Note – we weren’t laughing about murder (though a fellow juror had been on another murder trial), we were laughing so we didn’t have to continue thinking about murder.

In a way, we bonded as a band of brothers at war. It was a very intense trauma to relive day after day and topped off with not being able to discuss the cause of the trauma with anyone.

The fortunate thing is none of us had to die – well, one person did previously die, and that’s why we were there. We took that person’s death as our duty to try and complete the mission of hearing the case out fairly. The traumatic testimony that included photos of the victim hit all of us hard. The laughter came slow on that particular day as it had to pass through some tears, but it was there and it sustained us.

While that specific trial ended in a mistrial due to prosecutorial misconduct, I am happy and relieved to say that the perpertrator remains behind bars as he was finally found guilty in a separate trial this year.

Since learning of therapeutic laughter this year during the Applied and Therapuetic Humor (AATH.org) conference, I think back to how we were naturally dealing with the pain we had to endure as jurors and wishing I could have piled on some more intential laughter.

For months after the trial, many jurors still met and laughed as we continued to try to recover from our role. Gradually our meetings grew further apart, but it is still a joy to see someone from the trial send a note to the group and know that we all still have each other’s backs.

While I don’t face quite the same trauma every day as that courtroom, when adversity or just the daily news sets my limbic system on edge, I am glad now that I can call on my new laughter skills and keep pressing forward.

Edit: I almost forgot that because this trial had some trauma and brain experts testifying, I had a huge epiphany about my spouse’s own trauma as well as my own based on the testimony about the triune-brain and how different types of trauma can impact people.

My Resilience Story Spine

A few months ago, in the Merlin-Works blog, Shana Merlin mentioned writing your own resilence story based on the story spine:

Once upon a time…
And every day…
Until one day…
And because of that…
And because of that…
And because of that…
Until finally…
And ever since that day…
The moral of the story is…

I encourage you to read her whole post. This is my first attempt, and there are many possible leaping off points in every life, but I decided to go to the beginning:

Once upon a time there was a little boy named Todd.
And every day he played and laughed happily.
Until one day his grandparents did something horrible to him and his sister.
And because of that, he wasn’t able to trust anyone deeply.
And because of that he wasn’t able to build friendships easily.
And because of that he came to rely too much on on only himself.
Until finally, he met Carol, who grew the embers of trust and laughter.
And ever since that day he laughs and let’s go of a little bit of the past.
The moral of the story is, don’t give up because it’s never to late to start living.

I had forgotten I wrote this until rediscovering it on a plane while Carol and I were on our way to The Dolphin Discovery Retreat to try and find what the next stories of our lives will be – personally and professionally. It briefly brought a tear to my eye because of how much truth and emotion is built into such a small format. And it reaffirmed how I was able to find ways to be resilient – even though I didn’t even have memories of that initial trauma until in my 40’s.

Laughter was a big part of healing that trauma – especially improv, with it’s subconscious scraping and poking). I did go to therapy (on and off, but more on in recent years) and did several rounds of EMDR. I think laughter yoga (aka therapeutic laughter) really amplified the effects of my EMDR.

So try writing your own stories and if you feel like sharing here or privately in the contact us, I welcome that.










The Guacamole Creed

A year ago over Labor day weekend, I had the opportunity to float three days in a row. Note, this isn’t floating down the Comal river in an inner tube. This is what’s known as REST (Restricted Environmental Stimulation Therapy) – aka Sensory deprivation tank floating.

I had been floating ~4-5 times a month for about 7 months for PTSD anxiety from a childhood trauma. That anxiety had been greatly reduced (thanks unlimited float membership). On that Labor day weekend though, I wasn’t prepared for what was going to happen.

Day 1:

First time in the new fancy technology tank I had been waiting a few months to try (Yay). Once in the tank, that technology happened to fail (Boo), but I resisted getting angry (but there was a bubble of annoyance in my head trying to erupt). Since I was only in for an hour, I made the best of it by closing my eyes and floating.

Day 2:

I was back in an older model tank where the staff had to turn off the cleaning cycle manually. As I laid my head back and felt the cleaning jets still on, I laughed at the two float failures I had in 2 consecutive days (BooYay?). I again decided to just float. However, the water jet stimulation on my head seemed to really help me solve several long term problems (I later specially requested to have the cleaning mode left on many months later and, while good, it didn’t have the punch that the surprise failure had).

Day 3:

Old tank again, but more normal float experience – no failures (Yay). I had been trying to develop a floatation mantra that included compassion and gratitude. And since college, I always loved Steven Covey’s “Seek first to understand, then to be understood” so understanding would likely be a part of it as well.

I was amazed (and again laughed) when a mantra presented itself to me in the tank in the form of Guacamole:

Gratitude, Understanding, Awareness, Compassion, Acceptance, Openness, Love, Evolving.

I cheerished my mantra in and out of the float tank and shared with close friends and family.

I attended the conference for the Association of Applied & Therapeutic Humor (AATH.org) in April 2018 where I experienced my first therapeutic laugh session. Shortly after that, the mantra expanded to include “Laughter” as a shared “L”. And during the summer “Light” was added as well.

A year later, and the week after Labor day, I realized I had to make this more regular than just a float mantra. On top of that, I wanted to make it more active and so the Guacamole Creed was born (also in a float tank).

The core of it is:

I am grateful….

I am understanding….

I am aware….

I am compassionate…

I am accepting….

I am mindful….

I am open….

I am loving & lovable….

I am laughter….

I am light….

I am ever evolving.

I say it as needed – definitely during floats, but also as I face adversity of some sort or when start to become overwhelmed with negative feelings (with floating and laughter this doesn’t happen too often). I fill in the sentences with whatever I am feeling at the time.