Now I’m wondering if I will qualify for ketamine sessions. What if I’m too “well” already?
I had to take a questionnaire first and answer a bunch of questions ranging from mental health history to dependence on opioids, suicidal ideation, and what my expectations were for ketamine sessions. In the part where they asked about coordinating with my current provider, I chose no.
Photo: Hnapel, CC BY-SA 4.0 , via Wikimedia Commons
The reason being, my current line of treatment is traditional medicine and I’m not confident of how the conversation would go with my psych nurse, the person who prescribes me Wellbutrin and Prozac. I wrote in the questionnaire that I’d like to get off of those drugs permanently and I’m not interested in having psychedelic medicine conversations with people who aren’t open to it.
Admittedly, I don’t know if she’s open to it or not. I just don’t want my groove disturbed if she isn’t.
I also trust the pscyh nurse I’ll be consulting with before ketamine therapy to take into consideration any medications I’m currently taking.
Peer monitor for ketamine session
Did I mention I asked my friend Tuey to be my Peer Treatment Monitor? As part of the ketamine therapy agreement, I have to have a partner, family member, close friend or trusted adult who can create a safe, comfortable and distraction-free environment while I am in my session. The person can be a passive observer or just remain in a nearby room to check in occasionally.
Tuey is my best friend from New York, someone well-versed in ketamine therapy of the dance floor variety.
“What do I have to do?” he asked.
“I have no idea, but the guide will walk us through it when the time comes.”
I’ve scheduled my first ketamine session—presuming I qualify for the therapy—the first weekend of December.
I chose Tuey for obvious reasons:
He’s also seen me in despair.
God I miss him right now like the earth needs the sun.
I hope they see me as a good candidate.
Talking ketamine with my mom
Over my birthday I was in the car with my mom, driving four hours from Maryland to Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania. I told her I wanted to share something with her and I wanted her to listen with an open mind so she could know to leave her AA listening aside momentarily. My mother is more than 35 years sober and still very active in Alcoholics Anonymous.
“I’ve been really intrigued by ketamine therapy for depression,” I ventured. “And I’ve been reading a lot about it.”
My mother has seen me slog through the last couple of years, from the chronic pain of car accidents to perimenopausal malaise to complete midlife meltdown. At one point, she even had to sit by and watch and wait in fear that I was going to off myself because I just didn’t want to live anymore.
Through online research in psychological circles, I found the words to articulate my particular mental state: existential depression.
What is existential depression?
Existential depression is untouched by the usual therapies, all the combined cocktails of antidepressants and therapy and reframing and retraining the brain not to mention the courses and coaching and meditating and praying. All that you can think of to sort yourself out in life doesn't get to the source of existential depression.
Existential depression is more reminiscent of reading Rosenkrantz and Gildenstern are Dead in 10th-grade English. My best friend and I walked around for weeks afterward gloomily wondering why we should bother doing life at all.
My cynical mind clings.
Sure, I get it. You grow up, you learn some lessons, have some kids, go through some tough times, accomplish some things, fail in life, succeed, contribute, find your purpose, yada…fucking…yada.
I can’t bear the thought of having to keep doing that for another three or four decades. And if that level of resignation has so taken hold of me, how on earth will I get through life day to day for however long it takes to die?
Has any of this made a difference?
I will be on a continuous quest for personal and spiritual development for the rest of my life - and everything always makes a difference.
But the one thing nothing has touched—I explained to my mother in the car—is the taint—of resignation and cynicism through which I now experience the world. This is in spite of the fact I have a bright personality and positive attitude that may not show this is how I am experiencing the world.
“I have lost my joie d’vivre.” I said.
"And why should that matter? I guess it’s because I know it’s this lingering lack of lust for life that colors my view. And I want to see if psychedelic medicine, or in any case, ketamine therapy—a close cousin—can help me shake it.”
Reading Michael Pollan’s book, How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Pscychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence.
Setting my own intention...
I recognize that self-love and self-compassion are a weak area for me. No wonder my regular therapist repeatedly prescribes compassion podcasts as homework between sessions. Although I've gotten pretty good at self-care during the pandemic and post-midlife meltdown (December 2019), I miss feeling great about myself. I miss loving who I am. Self-care does NOT equal self-love.
Self-care does NOT equal self-love."
Back in the day the gay boys in New York called me Special K⏤nicknamed like the hardcore club drug "ketamine" we used to snort on the dance floor at Sound Factory.
Special K was what we did coming down after a night of dancing, sweating, and multiple hits of ecstasy. It was a way of easing out of one altered state and into another. It kept the party going.
“Time for breakfast!” Someone would announce, and out came the inch-tall brown bottle and mini spoon to serve up a bump of white powder to our eager nostrils.
I remember a 7 a.m. pileup at my girlfriend’s house, five of us draped across each other and a sofa, not being able to tell where one person’s body ended and another began.
“I can feel her cables,” said one guy, referring to my friend’s skinny legs beneath the blanket, which cracked us all up.
Somebody got up to go to the bathroom but decided it was better to crawl. It might’ve been me.
“Don’t look in the mirror,” everybody called in unison. “Whatever you do, don’t look in the mirror!”
Looking in the mirror after taking Special K was like looking at a sickly, papery, two-dimensional version of yourself. It just got too weird too fast.
One time I was so completely within the ketamine world⏤down in a K-hole, went the expression⏤that life outside those Manhattan windows ceased to be real. The only thing that existed was life in the apartment, and I was totally alright with it.
A couple of my friends had out-of-body experiences.
“I was on the dance floor and suddenly was up above everybody and could see people dancing,” my friend told me. “Even though I could see myself dancing down there, I was out of my body watching the whole thing.”
That was more than 30 years ago.
I never gave much thought to ketamine again. Never once craved it or wanted to do it or missed it in any way, especially being 31 years sober.
Responding to an ad for ketamine therapy for depression
But then the ad pops up on Facebook: Ketamine Treatment with Psychotherapists for Anxiety & Depression.
“Are you fucking for real?” I actually said out loud, still amazed that psychedelic medicine (although ketamine is not psychedelic necessarily, it often gets categorized that way) was seemingly gaining ground so suddenly.
I had to click and see what it was all about.
Depression? Yep. Got that. It's better than it was. At least I don't want to die all the time. Still, I found the possibility of a few psychedelic sessions, potentially weaning me from multiple antidepressants for good, to be quite seductive.
Aside from that, it just sounded like a fucking good time.
Lifting up out of this realm of reality?
Loosening negative brain patterns and behaviors?
Connecting with self and the Universe and realizing self-compassion...
How much is it? I wondered.
After watching some videos and reading about the protocol—everything very well-monitored and guided with professionals in mental health and substance abuse and a wide range of holistic modalities, I said fuck it, I’m doing it.
I’ve got to know if psychedelic medicine can produce the ultimate healing: get back my joie d’vivre. I haven't felt it since before my first car accident in 2014 and the onset of perimenopause."
I used to embrace life and experience authentic gratitude, in practice and belief, almost daily. In spite of my growth and improvement through intensive outpatient therapy, ongoing cognitive behavioral therapy with my regular therapist, numerous coaching sessions, meditation, energy release and grief work, and a return to doing things I enjoy, including engaging socially with friends and participating in what I consider to be my purpose in life (giving voice to things that matter to me)—a lingering cynicism colors my world, and I resent it.
Not to mention, I used to trust the Universe and I kind of just don’t anymore. Can ketamine therapy help me?
Navigating the psychedelic medicine universe as a sober person