Welcome to “How I Stay Sane,” a weekly column where real dads talk about the things they do for themselves that help them keep grounded in all the other areas of their life — especially the parenting part. It’s easy to feel strung-out as a parent, but the dads we feature all recognize that, unless they regularly take care of themselves, the parenting part of their life will get a lot harder. The benefits of having that one “thing” are enormous. Just ask Josh Solar, 37, who lives in Kansas City. For four years, he’s been doing cold water therapy — the practice of sitting in cold lakes and showers — and considers it the reason for his resilience in the face of personal strife.
My buddy turned me on to the practice of cold water therapy about four years ago. He just wanted somebody to go with him so that he would be accountable. And honestly, I loved it.
After I work out, I wait at least an hour to get cool, then hop in the shower or, if it’s winter, a nearby lake for 15 minutes. Beyond the physical benefits of waking me up and refreshing me, it’s also a mindfulness practice. Life throws unexpected things at you all the time. If I didn’t have any resilience, I’d be so uncomfortable about being uncomfortable.
Growing up, I was a really privileged kid. Both of my parents are still together, they love each other, they were there for me and supported me. You know how most kids have some sort of traumatic experience? I had nothing. Nobody that I was close to died; I lost a pet, at 17, and that was probably the hardest thing in my life until I was 33. But when I turned 30, my son got sick, and no one could figure out what was wrong with him. He was sick for 18 months before we got a cystic fibrosis diagnosis. Then my daughter was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis, too, as well as arthritis. And then my wife’s twin brother died of a drug overdose.
This all happened within six months. I had no practices or anything at all in my life to handle stress or hard things. Right around that time is when I started getting really deep into meditation and deep into cold water therapy. I realized that this allows me to be present. To sit with my wife as she walks through grief. To come to grips with my kids having these illnesses that there is no cure for. All of those things.
Now, I go a couple times a week and sit in a lake for 10 minutes. Every time I do it, I know that there will be the initial shock, and I know that it’s going to suck. But what happens is, every single time, I say: I’m going to recognize that this sucks, I’m going to do it, and I’m just going to focus on my breath and stay calm through it, and then, I can handle everything that life throws at me.
The winter is my favorite. If I’m in the lakes and I’m sitting there, if I’m not focused on my breath and I let my mind wander, I will instantly get cold. It just forces me to be 100 percent present. After a few minutes, once my body calms down, it’s like I’m in this really blissed out, enlightened state.
I have not ever been frostbit. I know my neighbors think I’m crazy, because when it snows here I’ll go and lay out in the snow. I just lay down there in the snow with shorts on. I also go running in the winter in shorts and running shoes. One of my favorite feelings is when I come in from the cold, and I walk in the house, my veins open up and the blood flows through them and it’s almost a tiny bit painful, but it’s a rush of feeling. I feel so alive and energized. I feel ready to take on whatever comes my way.
Life is hectic. Right now, my rule is I handle all of the day to day errands. I cook all the meals for my wife and the kids. I pack lunches. I do school duty. Do doctors appointments and make sure the kids get their treatments. It’s just one thing after another. I know that when I start to feel stressed out I just say: I’m going to to take a shower really quickly, and I’ll come out, and for whatever reason, I’ll just feel so much better. Actually, I’ll feel great. I’ll come out energized. I can handle all of the business of life and the chaos of raising three kids.