I have recently applied to be included in a Health-Canada-approved study into the use of psilocybin in the management of treatment-resistant depression (TRD). I have survived the first few stages of the screening process and I really hope to be admitted to the study.
How I got to this point (including my decision against trying ketamine instead of psilocybin) will be the subject of my next few blog posts. By then I should learn whether or not I am admitted to the study. If I am, I intend to share the experience with interested readers here.1
I have been depressed for as long as I can remember. During decades of psychotherapy with a wonderful psychiatrist (who has now retired), I recognized that my depression was chronic and was rooted in my childhood. My father died of colon cancer when I was two, leaving my mother to single-handedly raise my younger sister and myself while also working. When I was about eight, my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer and, despite several years of surgery and other nasty treatments, she died when I was thirteen. This was not an era when bereaved children received any kind of counselling, and my family didn’t talk much about what was happening to us all.
My sister and I were “left” to an aunt and uncle who lived in a prairie city about 2000 miles from where we had grown up, and these two – in their mid-thirties when their own children had been born – were none-too-pleased to have two young teens join their household. They were especially unhappy with the elder one, me, who was ungrateful and a bit precocious. I finished Grade 12 at the age of 16 and started university the same year, so I mostly hung out with teens who were at least two years older than I was. I taught my cousins about the Beatles, the Stones and other cultural phenomena their parents felt their primary-school children were too young to hear about, but I also taught them about rage and disobedience. I spent every other weekend grounded and, by the time I was 17, I was no longer living at home.
I’ve had lots of happy times in the decades since, but those times have floated on the surface of a deep grey-blue ocean of sadness and hopelessness that has always been there, always. Sometimes it’s been overwhelming, sometimes it has been something I’ve been able to ignore. But it has always been there. (Note: Although I have considered suicide, I’ve considered it only to ultimately reject the idea. I’m fortunate to have always been able to think clearly enough to recognize what a terrible effect such an action would have on those who love me. Now I have reached an age where I trust myself not to become actively suicidal, and I am very glad of that. If you have suicidal thoughts, get help right now.)
When I was younger, my depression and related issues contributed to anxieties and phobias that I have largely learned to overcome, or at least suppress. Today, stubbornly resistant to the unconditional love of an utterly wonderful family and an abundance of hugely supportive friends, my depression manifests itself primarily in procrastinating on the things I like most to do – like writing – as well as in an increasingly persistent awareness of the size of the ocean of blue inside me, and its longevity. I am tired of it, and I want it to go away.
In addition to counselling and psychotherapy, I have tried many remedies and coping mechanisms over the years. When I was very young I found I felt better when I was smoking and drinking – preferably both at the same time. These activities also made me far more sociable than was my actual nature. So I smoked and drank with increasing dedication for decades, until I finally admitted to myself that these two addictions were no longer making me feel better; instead they were eroding my physical health and making my mental-health issues considerably worse. Recovery from nicotine and alcohol became my newest hope for emotional stability and after many years of trying, when I was fifty I finally managed to quit both.
I have always considered it fortunate that I never had access to “recreational drugs,” but over the years I’ve been prescribed various sedatives and anti-depressants (one of which I continue to take, but want to ditch). I have seen counsellors, psychologists, a hypnotist, and the aforementioned wondrous psychiatrist, among others. I have found the benefits, albeit temporary, of physical exercise and I have taken up meditation in a fairly serious way. Many of these options have helped relieve one symptom or another, but not the big ones (the deep sadness and the procrastination) that I feel are preventing me from living to the fullest the life I want to lead (and am, thank god, still physically and mentally capable of living). I still have three (THREE!) novels I want to write.
I am a pretty good dissembler and most people don’t know that I am perennially depressed. Despite all the therapy, I have always suspected that everyone feels the same way I do, and been certain that it is really my own fault that I have not managed to attain a more cheerful and positive outlook on life. I still think this may be true. In the past few years, with political instability, climate crises and the pandemic always in the news, I have been certain that we’re all in the same boat. Or rather in the same grey-blue ocean, to extend my own metaphor.
However, in the past few years, I have also become interested in some promising results associated with the use of psychedelics in the treatment of PTSD and chronic depression. Not only am I reading some amazing anecdotal accounts of almost-immediate “cures,” the science is also building a case for the use of “magic” mushrooms or a synthetic compound you’ve probably heard of (lysergic acid diethylamide, or LSD), often combined with therapy, in the treatment of these disorders. Although I came of age in the Sixties and early Seventies, somehow I missed out on the psychedelics, so I had no background experience with which to compare what I am now hearing on podcasts, and reading about in articles and books, about these “trips” and their effects. The benefits of “microdosing” these substances is also of great interest to me. Unlike many, I have no negative convictions about such mind-altering substances – and so, unlike most other recreational drugs, I am open to at least giving this a try.
Since prescribing psilocybin is currently illegal in Canada, as is purchasing it for personal use, I was stumped as to how to access this treatment that had so piqued my interest. What I learned in my efforts to track down a source of psilocybin and someone knowledgeable and trustworthy enough to help me use it properly will be the subject of my next posts.
1 The study administration has said that they are fine with my blogging about the experience, whether I get in or not, provided I include no photos of the actual treatment or treatment setting.