Saturday, 31 December 2016

Hydro-ease - My First Float

Earlier this year I booked "a float" with the lovely Vivian of Hydro-ease.  

The idea is that you take an hour (or more) to float in a warm bath of Epsom salts.  The water is kept at an even body temperature, and because of the high salt content you really do float.  The feeling is incredibly relaxing, and wonderfully indulgent.

Before I took the plunge, Vivian enthusiastically explained the whole system to me, and outlined some of the benefits of the weightless sensation, and the deep relaxation that results.  She explained that the experience is almost womb-like, and to get as close to that experience as possible, it is quite acceptable to wear nothing!  I laughed, and showed her the new swimsuit I'd bought online!

There are two float units at Hydro-ease. The one I used was lit with a gentle pink light. The private changing area has a light controlled by a movement sensor, so it goes out once you start floating. Inside the float tank you have the option of either relaxing in the soft low light inside, or you can opt to float in complete darkness.

After stepping into the tank, you close the doors to keep the heat in.  Inside there is a light switch, an emergency button which will call Vivian, and also a fresh water sprayer in case you get the salt water in your eyes.

I lay back in complete darkness.  

The first few seconds felt a bit weird.  There I was finally floating - in the dark - with just myself for company, and the full knowledge that I'd be here - alone like this - for another hour.

So I stretched my arms out to feel for the sides of the tank. I found if I lay star-fish-like in the middle of the tank that I was small enough to not touch the edges, but also that I could float a little to one side and use my finger tips to bounce my floating body gently back and forth.  I did this for a while enjoying the gentle watery sounds and sensations.

Soon my mind started to wander.  I found that although my thoughts touched on many ideas, I was becoming too relaxed to dwell on any one thought for long.  I'd touch on a thought, or a concern, in my head, but then feel content enough to just leave it there.

I experimented with a few more floating positions - pencil shaped with my arms by my sides - curled up in a foetal position - tall with my arms above my head . . . but in the end I just relaxed into a neutrally comfortable sun-bathing type of position and let my mind empty.

Time drifts, and when I paused once to wonder how long I'd been floating for, I realised I had absolutely no idea, and also that it didn't matter.

Eventually a gentle sound alerted me to the fact my time was up.  I suspect by then I'd actually fallen asleep, or if not asleep was certainly in a deeply relaxed state.

I took a few deep breaths and allowed myself to wake slowly.  Vivian had told me that there was a generous time for coming round, and I was glad of that.

Vivian also recognises that after such an experience, that we don't just want to dash straight back out into the real world - so after showering and dressing I spent some time relaxing with a cup of herbal tea in her snug resting room. Ahhhhhh......

Afterwards I chatted to Vivian about her work and realised that Hydro-ease is very new venture, being just a year old.  Hydro-ease is also the first, and to date only, floatation centre in Northern Ireland and on top of the floating, Vivian also offers counselling and other therapies.

So was my session worth the cost?  

I have to say YES!  A resounding YES in fact, because I left with a totally refreshed and re-rejuvenated feeling.  Sadly however it did not change my symptoms of ME, and as a therapy it would only suit those well enough to travel, shower and change at the venue. (I would not have been well enough to try this last year.)  Yet as part of a holistic approach to wellness and self-care, I would still highly recommend it. 

I really must get myself over there for another session soon. 

And for those who were wondering about whether I went for the full womb-like foetal experience? Well, let's just say I didn't take the tags off my new swimsuit! xx


Edit April 2017: I have now been back for several more floats and have even booked a series of further floats over the coming months.  I now float for 90 minutes each session instead of only 60, and this added time seems to give me a more long-lasting benefit. I also find that in the days coming up to each float, I am increasingly looking forward to the experience.  So, well worth trying, if you are considering it at all.

You can find out more about Hydro-ease here:
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Note: I am in no way linked to Hydro-ease and have received no payment or benefit of any kind for writing this post. 

Thursday, 8 December 2016

Guest Post by Simone: Far too many stories like this!

Thanks to Simone for this guest post, which was inspired by the recent blog post by Rosa Rainbows:
"How me and my M.E became worse"

Simone writes:

There are far too many stories like this. People with ME/CFS are being told by many health professionals that their symptoms are just in their head and that, to get well, they need to exercise. The problem is that research is increasingly finding that on a physiological level, people with ME/CFS can be damaged by exercise. Our cells don't make ATP (energy) properly so, when it's used up by exercise, our system collapses. Many people have been made worse by either pushing their bodies to keep going with their lives or by exercising (or both).

I did graded exercise therapy two years ago (at the suggestion of my GP). I was walking for 2 minutes twice a week (I would go to the street corner and back). It would take me 45 minutes to recover from that walk, and then I'd be wiped for the rest of the day. Logic suggests that, over time, my body would gain fitness and I would be able to increase my walking duration and feel better from the walks. Instead, the opposite happened. At the end of 3 months, I still couldn't walk more than 3 minutes, and it was taking me longer and longer to recover. I wasn't feeling better, I was feeling worse. During that time, I saw a specialist who told me to increase my walking to 15 minutes a day, three times a week. I just stared at her, when she suggested it, wondering how I would do that. She must have seen the puzzlement on my face, so she (un)helpfully suggested I break it down into 5 minute chunks, and do them across the day.

Then I started reading the research into exercise with ME/CFS. Things like abnormal ATP production, lactate levels, gene expression, changes in blood metabolites following exercise. Abnormal VO2 Max test results are such a reliable indicator of ME/CFS that a 2-day cardiopulmonary exercise test (CPET) was proposed as a diagnostic test for ME/CFS, except that the test is dangerous for us in that it can take months for people to recover from (the risks are so high that they won't do the test on someone like me). Because of the risk of harm, the test isn't recommended as a diagnostic tool.

After reading the research, instead of following the advice of the doctor to increase my walks, I stopped walking... and I started to improve a little. I wasn't cured, but I wasn't getting worse anymore. (Unfortunately, months later, I got an infection and then went backwards for 6 months, but that's another story!).

At a recent international ME/CFS conference which world leading researchers attended, provocation studies (in which exercise is used in a carefully controlled way to exacerbate symptoms, and measure physiological correlates) were a key feature. These studies are like giving sugar to a bunch of diabetics, in order to understand the process of diabetes and find ways to test for and measure it. This is how exercise (& exertion generally) is being viewed by ME/CFS researchers now, like sugar to diabetics.

It is becoming increasingly acknowledged, within the research community, that ME/CFS is a hypometabolic state. Our bodies have shut down metabolism (energy production). Many think that this shut down has a protective function (to protect us from heart failure - one well known doctor has noted for 20 years that we look, in many ways, like people with functional heart failure, but that something prevents us from crossing that event horizon - from some sort immune process or something else (still many unknowns)).

Despite this, the prevailing view within the medical profession (most of whom do not keep up with the research) is still that this condition is simply caused by activity avoidance, and that people need to be encouraged to exercise to recover. So, despite the researchers viewing exercise for people with ME/CFS as sugar is to diabetics, doctors all over the world are recommending it to their patients. When their patients say that they feel worse, the doctors tell them that it's in their head, that it's a normal part of regaining fitness, and to keep going. But it isn't. It's dangerous.

Please, if you know someone with this illness, never encourage them to exercise, or to push through. If they have been misdiagnosed with ME/CFS (which frequently happens) and instead have some form of idiopathic fatigue, they may respond to exercise. But if they have ME/CFS, there is a very strong chance that they won't respond well, and that they will instead be damaged by it.