SUBSCRIBER BONUS: My experience with ketamine therapy
Ketamine treatment has been a godsend for my depression, but it's not a day at the spa
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It was December 2019. Brandon and I had been dating for two years, but he wasn’t yet living with me, and it had been days since I had seen him. I kept telling him to stay home, I wasn’t up for spending the night together. (In fact, one day I told him I didn’t even want to text, and we’d try again tomorrow.) I wasn’t seeing friends, I was struggling to focus at work, and I didn’t want to go to the gym. My seasonal depression was back, and every year, it was getting worse, dragging me down deeper and holding me down longer.
I’m no stranger to depression; I’d been battling it since leaving rehab in 2000. I was on Prozac for a few years, then came off it, not liking the side effects. It was the worst in November or December, coming in fast, hovering like a dark cloud for a few weeks, then disappearing on its own. But the last few years, depression felt much closer, darker, and heavier all the time.
Still, normally I’m a functioning depressed person. I work, I show up at the gym, I take showers, and I eat. I don’t socialize, I distance myself from family, and I spend all my free time on the couch or in bed, but I at least function. This time, in 2019, I couldn’t. I had slowly withdrawn more and more, taking no pleasure in anything (not even the gym or hiking). I isolated, I stayed inside, I slept a lot, and I could not kick myself out of it.
One of Brandon’s friends had recently shared his ketamine experience, thinking it may be of interest for Brandon (who has also struggled with depression). Brandon gently mentioned it to me as a potential option.
I had been researching therapeutic psychedelics for the last year, in part for a panel on which I spoke the prior summer, but also because the subject interested me. Ketamine seemed the most accessible treatment—it was legal, administered in a healthcare environment, and had been studied widely, showing great promise for the treatment of depression (including Major Depressive Disorder), PTSD, and suicidal ideation.
How it works: Ketamine creates a dissociative experience (a “trip”), but that’s not the treatment. Mechanistically, ketamine can restore synaptic connections in the brain, and help the nerves responsible for neurotransmitters (mood) communicate more effectively. Regrowing and reactivating synapses helps the brain’s ability to change, which may help it shift out of depression in a way that antidepressants or psychotherapy can’t.
The idea terrified me, though. I had done ketamine recreationally when I was a drug addict. I wrestled with whether using it again (even therapeutically) would somehow “break” my recovery. I was scared I’d like it, and the urge to use would return. And I was equally afraid it wouldn’t work, and I’d be stuck in this dark hole forever.
I was desperate. I was exhausted. My life was starting to fall apart. So with the blessing of my therapist, I set up an appointment at a local medical clinic, run by an MD.