Float Away the Pain

In my journey to coming off of Cymbalta to control my headaches I have been experiencing some severe withdrawal symptoms. Chief of which is nausea and what I like to call “Shocky Brain”. They are these zaps that happen about 20 times a minute where it feels like my brain is pulsing, my hearing becomes very acute and I feel dizzy. Sounds like a party, right?

So while surfing the Interwebs for relief, I came across a suggestion to try a sensory deprivation float tank. Intrigued, I searched for some place local, and came across MindSpa in Sarasota (an hour away). First off, the name MindSpa immediately had me thinking of MindHead in Bowfinger (this connection may have colored my experience, as you will see).

I decided to book a session and convinced my loving husband to take me on the 1 1/2 hour drive to Sarasota. He agreed begrudgingly, but at this point he would have done anything to get me out of our dark bedroom where I had been for a full day.

So Sunday afternoon we set off for Sarasota across the iconic Sunshine Skyway Bridge. Already being dizzy, this bridge was not helping.

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We arrive to MindHead, I mean MindSpa, which was located in a small professional office block with a chiropractor and an Insurance Company. Cross referrals anyone?

We are greeted by a lovely young girl (seriously, she was about 16 years old). I can’t remember her name, so we will call her Harmony. She gives us a tour of the small office starting with the first room where they have a couch with a giant Spaceballs helmet at one end.

Apparently they flood the helmet with all kinds of colors that align your chakras. Oooooh Kaaaaay. Then we pass the acupuncture room into the Sensory Stimulation room. Harmony invites me to try it, saying it often enhances the brain’s reaction to the deprivation process after have been oversaturated. I was hesitant, because A.) I was trying to rest my brain from stimulation. And 2.) I wasn’t entirely convinced this was an off shoot of Scientology, and this was where the subliminal programming would start. But hey, this is called a Big Adventure, so what the hey.

Sitting in a cushy zero gravity chair, Harmony puts some Oakley shades and headphones on me. I’m looking very 1989 at this point. Then she flips on the machines and my chair starts a lazy clockwise rolling from side to side and vibrates a white noise vibration I can feel and hear. There is some discordant music and chanting in some language (Thetan, maybe) coming through the headphones and lights flashing on the glasses. Here we go.

Maybe because of my heavy skepticism, the brainwashing didn’t take, but I did find myself relaxing, as if I was on a cruise ship, being serenaded by monks. Ten minutes later Harmony returns and unhooks me. I’m feeling a bit dizzy, but I’m about to have an hour to sleep it off.

The tour continues past the Nexalin room where they basically perform shock therapy. What the hell have I gotten myself into?

We finally get to the Float Room which consists of a very ugly large white cabinet. The entire room is coated in salt from the 800 lbs of Epsom salts that are in the tank. Harmony shows me where the shower facilities are and gives me a brief spiel about how to get in and out, setting the timer, some comfy positions, etc. I’m eager to get this over with started so I shoo Harmony and Matt out.

After a quick shower, I open the door, climb in and shut the door. It is dark. Very dark. I lay back and immediately float to the top like a cork. I take a deep breath and get ready to relax.

The deep breath may have been a mistake because the inside of the tank smells a little dank. Like changing rooms on the beach dank. I try to put that out of my mind and concentrate on the lovely laser show patterns of light I see above me. Wait, what? There is no light in here. Great, I’m already hallucinating.

I realize this is probably my mind just coming off my little sunglasses/rocking chair/headphones session so I continue to relax and sure enough they soon fade away.  I start to enjoy the feeling of floating free in space.

5 minutes later…

WHAT THE HELL??!?  Oh, whew, its just the side of the tank bumping against my elbow…  then my toe, other toe, elbow.  How does one keep still in this thing?  I’m keeping perfectly still.  Wait, what if some creepy ass, Epsom Salt Monster of Death has spawned in here and is disturbing the water?  Okay, calm down.  That’s highly unlikely.

10 minutes later…

GRAAWWWWWWWP!  Crap its the Epsom Salt Monster!!  When was the last time they emptied this thing anyway?!  It probably is nesting in my hair right now.  Graaawp, gurgle, gurgle.  Or, maybe it is my stomach.  I wonder if Matt will want to go to lunch in Downtown Sarasota after this…

Some unknown time later…

Snorg! Uh wah?  Oh, I actually did fall asleep in this thing, and woke myself up snoring.  Hmmm, I wonder how long I was out?  Ahhh, this is quite comfortable.

At this point my mind starts racing and ideas are coming at me.  Getting back to writing, of course, is the first thing I thought about.  Then about how I am so happy to be with a new Neurologist who is getting me on a new MS medication that is not an injection and how excited I am about that.  About how there are no shocks going through my brain right now.  It’s working!  These thoughts circle round and round my brain on a continuous loop.

236 minutes later (it seems)… 

I’m bored.

2 minutes after that…

Still bored.

2 minutes later…

Still bored, and now I have to pee.  I lay there, listening as hard as I can through my submerged ears, filled with wax earplugs.  Was that humming noise there earlier?  Is that the filtration system that Harmony said would be my hint to get out?  Are they sitting in the lobby, wondering what happened to me?  Do they not care because the sacrifice to the Epsom Salt Monster must be made and the longer I’m in here the more marinated I become?  Then I see 3 glowing green lights up above my head.  I was pretty sure they were not there when I came in this tank, so I figure I have somehow slept through the filtration system going off.  I feel around in the dark by my feet for the hatch and open the door back to light and safety.

I look at the timer perched by the open door.  Eleven minutes left. Oh, okay, I can hold out for that.

I climb back in and resume floating.  The first 5 minutes is me trying to remain still and stop bumping against the sides.  The next 45 minutes is me waiting for that damn timer to go off. I doze off again and wake myself up snoring again.

Finally…

The bubbles start blowing at my head, and my time is up.  I feel my way out again and make my way to the shower.  Dang it is cold out here!!   All the blood flows away from my extremities as I fumble to get the hot water flowing.  The shower is slippery and I shampoo my hair 3 times to get the Epsom Salt Monster Eggs out of it.  I dress and return to the real world.

It’s all very normal after that.  I pay the bill, Harmony gives me some information on package deals and other therapies.  I thank her for coming in on a Sunday for me and we are on our way.

Over lunch I relay my experience to Matt and laugh because while he was waiting, Harmony let him try the Color Dome Color Therapy (Spaceballs Helmet), but he kept his eyes closed because he too was afraid of being brainwashed.

So, would I do it again?  Possibly.  I was a little squicky about the hygiene factor.  I enjoyed the sensation of floating, but I can drive 5 minutes to the beach here and float for free.  I guess the whole experience was tainted with paranoia from the beginning, but I am happy to say that I have done it. I was feeling very relaxed and calm and the shocky brain is gone for now.

 

-Epilouge-

Got home after a lovely lunch and took a nap.  Woke up feeling well enough to start to write this post and take the dogs for a walk.  Sally REALLY wanted to say hi to a loose dog in the neighborhood and dragged me along with her.  Skinned leg and arm later and all the restorative effects of my float have been negated.  Guess I’ll have to go back (AFTER the scrapes have healed – ouch!)

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Settling in… a little TOO much!

Where had the time gone?! It has been ages since I last blogged.  What have I’ve been up to?  Well, my adventures have brought me down to Oldsmar, FL.  It has been quite a ride since my last post – job hunts, long drives, illnesses, sadness, and the beach.  Quite an up and down ride since my move down here in May!

I quickly found a outside sales job that I just as quickly found was not the fit for me.  After a scary few weeks of unemployment I did find a great job teaching at Gymboree Play and Music.  Yes, my childlike personality (fine, immaturity) makes me a fun fit with 3 year olds! It is a great job where I get to help children and their parents learn developmental skills all through play and music.  The downside of the job, unfortunately, it that little kids are kind of germy…  Cute, funny, little, carrier monkeys.  Since my start in August, I am working on my second chest cold.  Because of the amount of meds I’m already on, I have been trying to beat this cold holistically, but finally had to give in to Big Pharma and bring out the big guns. With my MS impaired immune system, I need to stay ahead of these colds to avoid triggering relapses, so Airborne, hand sanitizer and Zinc are my friends.

Speaking of friends, I’ve also started up the Pinellas County Bully Breed Walks to meet folks who are Pit Bull advocates, and to give Sally and Abby a chance to socialize (Ford is a grumpus who we have to keep with just his pack).  These walks were inspired by Stubby’s Heroes’ First Atlanta Bully Breed March in October of 2012. This group is made up of bully breed caretakers such as pet owners, foster parents and advocates, that want to get exercise, socialize their dogs, and build up the care taker community.  It is a fun, great way to meet new folks and get familiar with the area.  Since August we have had walks in Largo, Dunedin and Clearwater Beach.  November’s walk will be in beautiful downtown St. Petersburg.

I’m looking forward to a visit to Atlanta in a couple of weeks to reunite with family and the Usual Suspects.  We are having a memorial for my mother on the year of her passing.  This has been a difficult year of losing loved ones – first her last November, and then my dear friend David passing last August.  It has been an emotional roller coaster and David and Sonny have been my closest friends down here in Florida –  and they are 2 hours away! I am hoping that through work and the Bully Walks, Matt and I will make some new friends – its just sometimes we don’t like new people!  I guess that’s why we love each other!!

Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to devote too much time to my Big Adventure List.  Since I was out of work for so long, I’m having to stretch my non-existent budget to do things that are cheap and/or free.  So, lots of beach time! Matt and I have also become active with bicycling the Pinellas Trail, kayaking in Safety Harbor, and taking the Furkids for walks.  You would think that with all this activity I’m getting in tip top shape.  Sadly, no.  Stress, not so good eating and steroids have my weight creeping up and up, much to my dismay.  So, working with my doctor, I’m changing up some meds, and starting on a diet and daily exercise regime to get me down to 135 lbs by my 40th birthday.  A few posts back, you will probably recall me making this statement.  As usual, life got in the way, and I got off track.  To recap what my thoughts were back in January…

But it isn’t just about looking good.  It is more about taking control of my health.  I want to eat cleaner.  I want to get out and enjoy nature more without being winded.  I want my joints to feel better.  And yes, I want to look good.

So, my short term goals for this long term challenge are:

  1. Drink at least 8 glasses of water a day
  2. Bring homemade meals for lunches – No more BajaFresh, :(
  3. Workout 3-4 times a week (Cardio and strength – Planet Fitness Membership already done!)
  4. Morning yoga / stretching
  5. Multivitamin every morning
  6. Cut back on alcohol consumption
  7. Smaller portions at dinner time and no food after 7:00 pm
  8. Go to sleep by 10:00 pm and get 8 hours of sleep

I really need to buckle down over the next 6 months.  I am giving Matt permission to make comments such as, “Are you sure you need that piece of bread” without me decking him or crying.  I need this to work so I can move into the second half of my life healthier and happier.

And I am also making a pledge to myself to get back to blogging.  I feared that my day to day life was a little too boring for frequent posts (I mean, do you really care what happened on my DVR’d Dance Moms?) So, it is upon me to find more things worthy of blogging and getting back on track with my adventures!

I promise to work hard!!

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Moving Right Along!

Big news!  The Carter Clan is heading South!

Most of you have heard that Matt’s current job has been in a bit of limbo, and there has been uncertainty if the Atlanta Branch of his office would remain open past April.  Then, a few weeks ago, a contact of his in Oldsmar, FL (just northwest of Tampa) who works for a distributor of his company called out of the blue to offer him a job.  We had entertained the idea of moving to Florida for a while now, but the timing was never right, until now.  He is making the move to the new company, where he will be in essentially the same position, but with a nicer salary, better benefits and much more job security!

Of course this is exciting for us, as well as sad / overwhelming / bittersweet / nerve-wracking / scary…  This will be the first time that Matt has lived anywhere besides Atlanta, and this is the first time for me to move an entire house and also participate in the home buying experience.  For the first few months we will be renting a home while shopping for our (hopefully) forever home, so we want to make sure we are giving ourselves enough time to pick out the perfect one!

Now, you may be wondering, what is Kristie going to be doing in Florida? Well, I had a chance to sit down face to face with my bosses in Austin this past week to give them the news. And while the idea of a City Segway Tours Tampa / St. Pete sounds tempting, it just not may be in the cards, yet.  But, luckily the CST Family is a great one and I remain on good terms with them, so I am keeping my fingers crossed for a future project with them.  So, to start, my full time job will be finding a house, while working part time in Social Media / selling stuff on Craigslist / applying for jobs / and taking care of my Furkids.

Matt will be heading down to start work on March 4th.  I will follow him mid April.

So there you go, the news we have been teasing you about.  It is going to be so hard to say goodbye to all the wonderful friends we have here in Georgia.  Please know that once we are settled, you are welcome to come down to stay – we are looking a place near the water, so start planning your vacations!  In the meantime, if you want to come help me paint / pull up carpet / scrub floors in order to get the house ready… 🙂

To the next Big Adventure!!

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Challenging Myself to a Healthier, Thinner Me

What does a 9 hour desk job plus 2-3 hours on the couch watching TV, combined with the more than occasional quick bite at the fast food restaurant along with an adult beverage or two from time to time added to new medications that cause fatigue and lack of desire equal?  About twenty pounds added to a frame that was already a little too heavy for my liking.

I have always struggled with my weight.  My family falls into 2 categories – the half who seem unable to keep weight on no matter what they do and have metabolisms like hummingbirds, and then those of us who just smell food and gain 5 pounds.  It was really hard as a child, and when looking back, I was by no means obese or really overweight, but because of theater and dance, I was always around these lithe little girls who seemed to have shed their baby fat at the age of two.  From the age of 4 I was always aware of being the chubby one.  Many fad diets and an under active thyroid during puberty didn’t help, so I never was the one you saw wearing the short shorts or skirts.

My obsession with dieting and my yo-yoing weight gave me stretch marks by the time I was 13 years old.

When I was living in New York, working as an actress, I did buckle down, join a gym and combined with my daily walking commute, did manage to get down to a healthy 135 lbs – just right for my 5′ 6″ frame.  After moving to Atlanta, though, back in 2000, stress, and an unhealthy relationship that (in retrospect) really messed with my self esteem, I became an exercise junkie and borderline anorexic – eating only salads and the occasional piece of fruit.  My weight, plummeted down to 110.  Finally I was as thin as my sisters!  I could fit into a size 4 jean!  It didn’t matter that my hair was coming out in clumps, and I barely had enough energy to stay up past 7:00 pm – I was skinny!  Then one day in 2004, something strange happened.  I was walking from my car to my office, and my legs went completely numb.  It was as if suddenly they had fallen asleep.  I shrugged it off as a pinched nerve and went about my day.  Later that afternoon at the gym, as I stepped on the treadmill, I found I could barely pick my feet up to jog, and tripped on the treadmill.  I made an appointment with my doctor who referred me to a neurologist.  At the time I was diagnosed with Transverse Myelitis.  A lesion was found on my spinal cord, and I was told that often it is nothing, and that I was lucky to catch it early and treat it with steroids before permanent paralysis set in – but I should get the occasional MRI every few years because folks who experience TM, often develop Multiple Sclerosis.

Soon after this attack I left my job with the cushy medical benefits so, it was a good 7 years before I had insurance again, so, no doctor visits to follow up on this fluke attack.  I broke up with the unhealthy relationship, and jumped into a healthy one with a guy who loves me, and unfortunately my cooking.  After settling down into a comfortable marriage and taking a break from theater, exercise also took a bit of a back seat to spending time snuggling with my new husband and Furkids on the couch.

Then in June of 2011 I began to be plagued by headaches and double vision.  After many months of mis-diagnosises, it was finally determined that I had Multiple Sclerosis.  The treatment of steroids, and the following medications to treat the lingering nerve damage, fatigue and to stave off future attacks has left me feeling tired, unmotivated, flabby and  gross.  And 165 pounds.  That’s right.  I just publicly announced my weight.  That gives me a BMI of 26.6 (Overweight).

So along with 99.8% of the population, I have committed myself to losing weight in the new year.  One of my goals on the Big Adventure List is to lose 30 lbs by April 24, 2014.  This will put me at 135 lbs and a BMI of 21.8 (Normal) – A very reachable goal in my book.  But it isn’t just about looking good.  It is more about taking control of my health.  I want to eat cleaner.  I want to get out and enjoy nature more without being winded.  I want my joints to feel better.  And yes, I want to look good.

So, my short term goals for this long term challenge are:

  1. Drink at least 8 glasses of water a day
  2. Bring homemade meals for lunches – No more BajaFresh,😦
  3. Workout 3-4 times a week (Cardio and strength – Planet Fitness Membership already done!)
  4. Morning yoga / stretching
  5. Multivitamin every morning
  6. Cut back on alcohol consumption
  7. Smaller portions at dinner time and no food after 7:00 pm
  8. Go to sleep by 10:00 pm and get 8 hours of sleep

I’ll be using the SparkPeople and MyFitnessPal tools plus a million othe apps on the iPhone to help me out.  Any other suggestions will also be greatly appreciated!!

Wish me luck!

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Oh Hi! You’re Still Here!

Time to change the subtitle of my blog, because the Mayan’s got it wrong, AGAIN! Silly Mayans…

Yes, I realize I have been MIA for six months, right after posting about how I was going to be blogging more.  But, see, there’s this thing called Real Life, and it took over in a crazy, crazy way.

I finished the show I was in and jumped right into another one for the holiday season, much to the disappointment to my husband and Furkids, who were missing me at night.  Then, sadly, 2 weeks before opening my mother passed away.  It was definitely a trying time. but I have been blessed to be surrounded by wonderful friends and family who have lifted me up and given me so much love and support these last couple of months. Also, getting to spend the last few weeks of my mother’s life with her, growing closer and sharing memories is a gift that I will cherish forever.

So, 2013 is here!  While I didn’t get all of my Big Adventure List done, I now have the opportunity to continue this adventure we call life!

This year marks my entry into my 39th year on this planet, so the Big Adventure List will have a new goal – to complete as many things on the list before Kristie can shout “Lordy, Lordy – Look who’s Forty!!”

And, new ideas have cropped up, so here is the List!!

Lose 30 lbs

Go on a road trip with friends

Go rock climbing

Hike part of the Appalachian Trail and camp out

Go to Space Camp

Explore the Grand Canyon

Complete a 5k or a Muck Ruckus Challenge

Go an entire day without using technology

Go Zip-lining

Volunteer at an animal shelter

Be in a film or TV show (even as an extra)

Learn another language

Hike part of the Appalachian Trail

Ride a mechanical bull

So, I have until April 24, 2014 to get this done – Wish me luck!!!

Follow this list on Pinterest!

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Keep calm and carry on…

“…It’s not easy taking my problems one at a time when they refuse to get in line.”

I have been in a creative slump the last few weeks.  It isn’t that I haven’t had anything to blog about, I just didn’t have the energy or will to do it.  Life, work, health has been a little chaotic, and just having the energy to get home and fall in bed at night was more than I could handle.

It occurred to me a week ago when a lovely young blogger gave me a shout out on her blog, that I have been AWOL too long.  Also, I now have less than 6 months to complete as many things off my list as I can, so time to get crackin’!

So, I have vowed to get over this hump and back to writing.

I have had some things happen in the last few weeks that are worth a quick mention, plus some great things on the horizon which will possible take this blog into some new and interesting directions…  stay tuned…

What have I been up to?  In a nutshell:

Rehearsing!

I am back on stage in a featured role for the first time in entirely too long.  I will be playing Doatsy Mae in Onstage Atlanta’s Production of Best Little Whorehouse In Texas.  Doatsy is the proprietor of the local cafe in town who follows the gossip surrounding the scandal that is the Chicken Ranch, and who enjoys goading the simple, yet foul-mouthed local sheriff.  It runs July 6 – August 4.  Would love for everyone to come and see it (though not for the faint of heart – lots of language and sexy type dancing – not by me, thank goodness!)

Gardening

I by no means have a green thumb.  It’s a little more, say, puce.  Basically, if it is an un-killable plant like ivy or a Hosta, I’m good to go. Every once and a while, though,  like to try and spruce up a little side garden we have at the house.  A couple of weeks ago I went a little wild at Home Depot and bought about $200 in plants, bird feeders, soil and pots.  The end result was pretty nice, If I do say so myself.  Except, with temps soaring into the triple digits this weekend, I’m hoping they survive!

              

Sleeping (Or not, really)

Last week I participated in a Sleep Clinic to discover why I have been waking up every night, and feeling lethargic during the day.  It was quite an interesting experience, and when I get the results, I’ll do a full post on it.

Take Your Dog To Work Day

June 22, 2012 was pretty much  like every other day for me at work – except it was Take Your Dog To Work Day!  Now, Ford and Abby come to work with me often, so this is no special surprise.  But it was fun to let the public now about the day, and it also inspired me to use their Facebook Page to promote animal welfare and adoption opportunities…  more on that in a second.

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Coming up on the horizon are a couple of exciting prospects that I hope will get me writing a little bit more, and may have the potential to veer this blog into having a few different sections – one for my Bucket List, and two new ones for some new things I am taking on.  First, I will be volunteering some freelance writing to Angels Among Us Pet Rescue.  As you may know, animal rescue is a cause near and dear to my heart, so I am excited to help them out by writing articles and posts for them to help get the word out about the animals in need of homes.  You will see me cross posting those articles here as well as on Ford and Abby’s Facebook Fan Page.

Second on the docket is a weight overhaul.  This last year, my health took a bit of a hit with the MS Diagnosis, and the combination of medications, lack of energy, depression and fatigue have caused me to pack on an additional 20 lbs onto a frame that was a little to heavy for my liking to begin with.  I got a nice wake up call a couple of weeks ago when some routine blood work for my life insurance came back with my cholesterol, sugar and sodium levels nearing the “Bad zone”.  No bueno.  Also, I am committing myself to compete in the MS: MuckRuckus Challenge on October 6th, and I know there is no way I could do it right now in the shape I’m in.  So, with the help of my friend Amy and Advocare, I am starting their 24 Day Challenge to Cleanse and jump start my metabolism so I can have the energy to get back into training and losing this weight!  To be accountable, I will be blogging it here – the good, the bad and the ugly!

So, look for some changes – hopefully you will enjoy my journey.  As far as my next adventure, It looks like white water rafting may be coming up next!!  Stay tuned.

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Got a nice shout out today from a young writer who follows me up in Newfoundland (I think…). I don’t know much about Newfoundland aside from what I learned reading “The Shipping News” (I wonder if Leah has ever had seal flipper pie?) Well, anyway, it reminded me that I have not had a post in sometime and for that I am sorry, I have been keeping busy, though, and hope to have something for you soon. In the meantime, check out Leah’s blog and her suggestions….

 

http://asbiediaries.wordpress.com/2012/06/21/blogs-that-i-find-interesting/

Aspie Diaries

Hey blog world! Thanks to the Freshly Pressed page here on WordPress, “The Book Of Awesome” and several other sources I’ve discovered lots of really neat blogs that I think everyone should definately take a look at!

www.1000awesomethings.com: This is a blog I discovered when reading “The Book Of Awesome” which was written by the author of 1000 awesome things. His name is Neil Pasricha and I absolutely think his blog is awesome! He’s already reached #1 so there are no new posts but I still think it’s worth a read. It’ll make you laugh and put a smile on your face!

www.nobodysview.wordpress.com: This is a blog written by… well I don’t know who it’s written by. The author doesn’t give out his name. I go to this site to read the live AGT blog. Every Monday and Tuesday he watches the show and as he watches he blog…

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Today’s Inspiration

I needed to read this today as I have been feeling every bit of my age and more these last few days…

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Can’t Wait For Summer

One of the best things about my job is, from time to time we get to meet some very fun folks.  Last April (on my birthday, actually) we were joined by local band Yacht Rock Revue a 70’s light rock tribute band.  They were filming a video for their new original single “Can’t Wait For Summer” and this was the result:

So. Much. Fun.

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Swimming With The Gentle Giants

Last week I had an absolutely amazing experience! I got to swim in the Ocean Voyager Tank at the Georgia Aquarium where I came face to face with a Whale Shark.

Why would I willingly get into a tank that not only has four of the world’s largest fish, but also is home to thousands of other fish – some that, if provoked, might want to snack on me?  Folks, the name of this blog is Kristie’s Big Adventure…  work with me here!

It started a couple of months ago when I submitted my Adventure List to the syndicated radio show, The Bert Show.  A week ago, I received a call from the show’s producer that I was in the running to be able to participate in the aquarium’s Swim With The Whale Sharks Program. I was elated! I was asked to come into the studio on Tuesday, along with other finalists to talk about why this was on our bucket list.

That morning, we gathered in the studio conference room – 7 folks very nervous about what we would have to do to get picked. Would we have to tell some sob story and get the sympathy vote? Would we have a challenge (there were a nervous few minutes when we contemplated what eating plankton might be like). We were ushered into the studio where they were live on air and we waited. After a brief tease, it was announced – we all would get to swim! Suddenly, six people who were my competitive rivals were my new best friends!

That afternoon we met at the aquarium where we were introduced to James who would be our host for the day.  We started out with a bit of history about the aquarium and the fish that we would be encountering on the swim.  In addition to the whale sharks, we would also be swimming with manta rays (the only ones in a US Aquarium), sting rays, zebra sharks, sawfish and the ominous sounding predatory trevally jacks.

After signing our waivers, we made our way down to the tank where we stood at the top.  The place is huge!  The tank, roughly the size of a football field, has over 6 million gallons of water which is recirculated every hour. Making the water salty like the ocean takes almost 2 million pounds of salt. While we were up there, many photos were taken and tweeted before we headed to the locker room to change into our wet suits.

After donning our oh so flattering wet suits, we were outfitted with our own regulator and air tank.  This was much easier to use than a snorkel, and it also helped to keep us oriented face down in the water.  The aquarium provided me with a prescription mask, so I could see clearly without my glasses (and the yellow mask made me easy to find in pictures and video). A quick group picture, and we were ready to get wet.

I was partnered as a swim buddy with Bert Show Cast Member, Kristin Klingshirn, who to say it mildly, was a little terrified. As we sat on the edge of the dive dock, we shared a last second look of “are we really doing this?!” and then it was into the water we went.

It took a while to acclimate ourselves to swimming slowly using just our hands to move us (they discouraged kicking, because it would send the fish away from us). There were a few bumps into the folks in front of us before we got into our groove.  Then we were actually able to enjoy what we were doing.

In a word, it was amazing.  The fish showed no fear as they swam under us, next to us and even toward us sometimes.  Kristin had a small encounter with one of the aforementioned predatory trevally jacks.  It swam right up to her face and stopped. After a few seconds of a staring contest, it darted off, scaring the heck out of both of us. The whale sharks would cruise right under us, sometimes even bumping us as the passed by.

We took a leisurely Figure-8 route around the tank, crossing over the acrylic tunnel that bisects the tank where we could wave at the spectators below. It was a peaceful swim – but a little tiring.  It is hard to describe the thrill you get when one of these magnificent creatures would swim close to you.  The manta rays were overwhelmingly beautiful, performing graceful barrel rolls and seeming to soar through the water.

The swim was over entirely too soon, and we reluctantly climbed out of the tank, each sneaking a last peek underwater before exiting. After a quick shower and changing back to our street clothes, we gathered once again in the education room to watch the video of our experience.

People who say that it is unethical to keep fish and animals in aquariums and zoos for entertainment value really miss the point of what the good people at the Georgia Aquarium are doing.  Without their research and conservation programs, we would know very little about these creatures and how we can protect the species in the wild. Every dollar that the aquarium makes goes towards their costs and funds research. They are not for profit. Swimming with the fish they are preserving and educating the public about has definitely been one of the biggest highlights of my Big Adventure!  Thank you to The Bert Show and The Georgia Aquarium for making it a reality!

(Look for me with the neon yellow mask!)

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