You know how they say that grief has five stages? The same could be said for taking a polar plunge. They’re both characterized by a vicious sense of shock to your system riddled with pain, anger, regret and a sharp, stinging feeling of loss. Grief traditionally progresses through shock, denial, anger, bargaining, depression, testing and finally, acceptance. Doing a polar plunge is just like that.
To kick off 2016 and my new tentative tenure as a DareMe columnist, I decided to try doing a polar plunge for the first time, one of those seemingly RI-ish “things” that I had never gotten around to doing until now. I was in Newport anyway for New Year’s so the timing seemed ripe.
There’s the delightful atmosphere of camaraderie, solidarity and comisery at play with the people gathered for the event. And boy do people gather. You’d think something as insane as jumping into freezing cold waters would be something reserved for the most adventurous of hippies, but it’s a legitimately popular thing that people do. And everybody was super friendly.
I was very afraid to actually follow through with the dip when it came down to it, with the closest experience being that one time I leaped out of a hot tub in peak winter to make a snow angel on a dare. But I was young and foolish then, and trying to impress a girl. This is entirely different. These days, the most adventurous arctic adventure I have is getting out of bed in winter with no slippers on.
Besides, wading into beach water has always been a challenge for me. As a child, a great fear of mine was seaweed, the kind of juvenile fear with echoes that linger into adulthood. I still feel a sense of unease at what lies beneath and it takes several minutes of internal cajoling to coax myself into actually submerging my whole body.
But now when it’s FREEZING!?
Shock: my entire top layer of skin goes instantly numb. The cold seeps into my pores. I gasp a bit for breath and let out a screech, like a baby banshee.
Denial: It’s just a trick. This isn’t actually happening. My body isn’t freezing solid, right?
Bargaining: Maybe it won’t be so terrible if I get out immediately and don’t linger. Blankets! Warm beverage!
Anger: THIS IS MISERY! WHY DID I LET ANYBODY CONVINCE ME TO DO THIS!?
Depression: The cold … it’s … it’s in my bones. This towel is doing next to nothing. Pneumonia is going to claim my life.
Acceptance: Hugs help. Hugs help a little bit. Okay, they help a lot. Maybe I’ll actually survive. More hugs please.
Later, I did some research to see what actually was happening. The initial “cold shock” basically makes your body freak out, which accounts for difficulty breathing. Blood vessels along the outer portions of your body constrict, as they feebly attempt to move that precious blood to the inner organs, you know, for survival. Muscles numb up, causing some weakness or even paralysis. As your body temperature decreases drastically your blood pressure escalates to try and compensate. For that reason some people feel dizzy or lightheaded.
I suppose in the grand scheme of things, starting the year off with this element of self-sacrifice is a noble venture. And a lot of odd people will tell you that shocking your system like that has health benefits. You know, the kind of vaguely placebic benefits that compare to when people tell you that the antioxidants in that fourth glass of wine will actually improve your body rather than harm it. But hey, some of us like to live a life of danger.