Wednesday, July 31, 2019

From Pain to Equilibrium: Hardcore Heat

You may recall this post from last year. I've dwelt on this moment of peaceful interaction with my body on so many occasions, there's a veritable shrine to it in my mind... It took a while to parse out the components, but on (ceaseless) reflection, it occurred to me that the one novel feature I'd added into my life last summer - and entirely accidentally - was a sauna.

Did I mention that they comped me the water spa at the Germain Charlevoix (formerly named La Ferme, though the ownership has not changed)? I'm ever grateful that they did, not cuz it was a 250 dollar value (per person) and I do love being comped, but because there's no universe in which I'd have purchased it.

That's not cuz I'm cheap (though I am very frugal about some things - shipping anyone?). It's because the idea of sitting in water with other people (or even by myself) totally creeps me out. No children are allowed in the spa - or there's no way I'd ever have gone, free or no. Also, it's a silent space (something I freakin' love). And it has one of the most spectacular views I've ever seen.

I tried it out for the view and the opp to knit on a chaise. I mean, it's practically freezing in northern Quebec in August (vague hyperbole). So that's how it happened. I was sitting there in a bathing suit with a stiff 18C breeze and I didn't want to stop looking at sheep and alpacas. And there was no one else there (I went early to avoid others, even silent others). And somehow, I put my toe in the hot water, which turned into my leg and then my ass and then I swam over to the centre seating. It was fucking delicious.

I stayed until I freaked myself out. There was no universe in which I was going to the cold pools. And hell would freeze over before I'd go into a steam room. Which left one option to try (other than a green smoothie): the sauna.

To clarify, this sauna was a radiant heat version (aka "traditional"). It uses (a whack of) electricity to heat up a bunch of rocks in a custom built wood room. It was approximately 1000 degrees. OK, I don't know what the actual temp was but it seemed like I was turning into a roast as I sat there. Mercifully I was also alone in this room. I struggled with my mind - was I actually cooking?? - and I left after 5 minutes. Then I went back 3 more times that day. For 5 minutes max, each time. And then 3 times each of the next days.

Scott said: You sure do like the sauna. I responded: No I really don't. I just find it very strange and vaguely compelling. Like it's too hot for germs to survive. We left the hotel few days later, on the train (described in the post linked to above) and then I had the awesome walk around QC. And then the next day we went home.

At some point, over the following couple of months, as I descended into the most challenging time in my life (ok, let's just cut the crap and call it a nightmare), I occasionally turned my mind to the gorgeous Charlevoix countryside and the spa pools and the sauna. As I sat, numb and practically endlessly in front of a fireplace I own, for the first time - under multiple blankets plus heating pads plus tea - it started to occur to me that the sauna heat might have been germane to my momentary vacay pain-free euphoria.

When I had energy (ha!), I would research saunas, at which point I determined that the far-infrared kind were my jam (were I ever to purchase one) because of the way it conserves energy (in the scheme of things) and the therapeutic lower temps. I tried to find them in TO, to give a few brands a go, but every option I could find was far away (ok, 15 minutes by Uber but I was practically homebound) and, all in, would cost me 100 bucks a shot. I really didn't feel that was sustainable. OK, technically that's a lie.

I was so consumed by horrific anxiety brought on by dysregulation of my central nervous system - constantly tachychardic, frozen with pain, vomiting routinely from intractable nausea, exhausted in a way I cannot describe. Truth is, it took more wherewithal than I had to get to a spa 15 minutes away. Not even when my friends offered to take me. The idea of interaction was beyond my capacity at that time.

Cut to 7 months later, warm weather and increased capacity. I knew I had to get my ass to the sauna to see what it would be like. I googled again, to see if I could find a closer option and, to my great shock, I found one - private! - at a yoga studio near my house. It's one of the few studios I'll visit. I know the owner. She's quality. The place is clean. Um - this sauna had been there all along. I just hadn't found it. Moreover, the sessions are 30 min (not 60) - a timeline which suits me better - and the cost is outrageously reasonable.

I can see this post is going to go on indefinitely if I get into my next batch of details but let me leave you (vaguely) hanging with the assurance that I'll write the rest of this narrative asap and that, if you are a person managing chronic pain, you may be interested to hear the punchline...

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