To Hell… and Back!
The last time you heard from me on this subject was in mid-August, just before we left on a three week trip to Germany. At that point, I had just learned that the study I was in would not permit me to try a second dose of psilocybin: the study’s protocols dictated that a second dose could only be given if the first dose had provided some benefit. Which makes sense.
Still certain that the disappointing outcome of my first experience was the result of having received an inadequate dose of psilocybin, I was determined to give a larger dose a try before I went back onto antidepressants. However, I didn’t want to try anything on my own without a coach/doula, so I decided to leave the next step until we returned from Germany. (I have blogged extensively about that adventure. If you are interested in knowing what we saw and did, check it out here.)
While we had a splendid trip, I had a very hard time emotionally in Germany due to the continuing effects of a) not being on anti-depressants and b) what felt like PTSD, a condition I’d experienced since the psilocybin dose in June. Every moment when I could not distract myself with sights and sounds was like an eternity. I was anxious and occasionally even panic-stricken over nothing at all that I could put my finger on: it was all amorphous – fears for my own future, fears about all those I know and love, and an overwhelming sense of pointlessness and hopelessness. The hardest part was that my sleeping pills stopped working, so I lay awake for hours listening to my heart pound, fearing that the next moment would bring something terrible (exactly what, I did not know). The agitation was unrelenting. The nights were terribly long. The pleasures of travelling were diluted by a wash of grey that diminished all the colour. I found it impossible to talk with other people with any pleasure. (As I have said elsewhere, I am eternally grateful to my husband for sticking with me through that time.)
On top of it all was the fear that this might go on forever. How could I possibly continue to live like this? I couldn’t. I was never actively suicidal but I could see that continuing to live with the feelings I was experiencing was going to make the rest of my life a torment. I regretted ever embarking on this journey.
But still my stubbornness triumphed. After (to my astonishment) making it safely back to Canada from Europe, surviving a case of covid, and then making a trip to Edmonton (not to mention one to Emergency where I waited for six hours to be handed a prescription by a skeptical doctor for Ativan, which ultimately did nothing for me) I decided, based on my knowledge of the short-term (as opposed to long-term, which have not been proven) benefits of ketamine in treating depression, to try a series of medically supervised oral ketamine treatments as a stop-gap measure, so that I didn’t have to go back on the antidepressants right away. [That may be one of the longest sentences I have ever written.] I figured if I could just get a break from the desolation, I could take the time to find a coach/doula/sitter and do the higher dose of psilocybin that I still really felt I wanted.
Keep in mind that it had not originally been due to the depression that I had sought out psilocybin. I have always been more interested in the consciousness-expanding properties of psychedelics, as I have detailed at great length in earlier posts on this site. The depression was a by-product of the preparation I made in order to try the psilocybin. I had been cautioned so often about not using the drug when I was on antidepressants, and the withdrawal had been so tortuous, and the aftereffects so awful, that I was absolutely determined not to go back on them unless there was no other alternative anywhere at all.
I changed psychotherapists at this point due to the fact that the first one had not only not shared my view of what I wanted out of life, but had not even seemed to be able to grasp it. She was kind, but encouraged me to learn to relax, to bask in the light of my earlier achievements and to enjoy my grandchildren. I do enjoy them, but not full time! I have other things to do as well. I intend to keep writing and pursuing other interests forever.
My new therapist, who uses cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and likes working with older people, is wonderful. She “gets” me. We are making progress. (If you are looking for a therapist, and have the wherewithal to pay for one or have some insurance coverage, I recommend the Psychology Today “Find a Therapist” website. It includes therapists in all areas of practice throughout North America. I found one in my region, but since we do all our meetings virtually, I have realized that it doesn’t actually matter where the therapist is located. Canadians: If you do not have insurance coverage, and even if you do, go to Act For Mental Health and send a letter in support of more government assistance for mental-health-treatment programs.)
I was able to obtain approval for the ketamine treatments through a medical clinic in Toronto, and I commenced my series of dosing sessions there in late September. The only problem was that my blood pressure had gone up due to all of the anxiety, and the ketamine drove it even higher – so high that the nurse who was assigned to monitor me through the treatment was very near a panic episode herself – especially when some medication she gave me to bring the blood pressure down had no discernible effect. The second treatment was even worse and of course, there was no way I could let go and enjoy the ketamine experience when I knew that the medical staff on hand were monitoring me with a view to calling an ambulance at any minute.
After two of six projected ketamine treatments, I quit. I was too frightened to try a third treatment, and I had noticed almost no improvement from the first two, which was not surprising given the conditions under which I took them.
In the meantime, I had reached out to an organization called Therapsil, which has established a community for therapists, advocates, community members and patients to lobby the Canadian government to legalize psilocybin for therapeutic use. They are also hoping to become a hub for connections among interested people (particularly, to start with, re: end-of-life trauma). I spoke one evening to a very knowledgeable organizer in Vancouver, and she said that my assessment that I had simply received too low a dose sounded right to her as well. But I had reached out to them in the hope of finding a sitter to be with me when I took a larger dose of psilocybin (experienced sitters can offer reassurance and guide the candidate to safer ground if a trip starts going off the rails), but after that first contact, I essentially got “ghosted” by Therapsil. They did not respond to emails I sent asking how to go about finding a sitter, etc. I think they’re less interested in patients at this point, and more interested in therapists – and that pissed me off, of course, so I signed off from their site.
Meanwhile, Back on the SSRIs
And then, Dear Reader, I finally gave up and, in consultation wth my family doctor, I went back on the anti-depressants. It took about six weeks for them to reach an appropriate level and kick back in, and I was still terrified for most of that time that they would not work for me any more, and that I had consigned myself to one of the lower rings of hell for life.
And then the dawn broke. I started to feel better and better until now (it sounds incredible, I know), I have reached a point of contentment (most of the time) that is greater than any I can remember in my life to date. I am eager to move forward on projects, I enjoy hanging out with people, especially my grandchildren, in a immersive and appreciative way I have not before. I’ve decided that memories are the best part of getting older, rather than being something to avoid. I’ve stopped worrying about being judged by other people. I have focus and plans and I am keen to keep my health so I am going for long walks when I can. I joined a choir. I continue to do the therapy and that is really helping too. My blood pressure is back to almost normal, which is so great because worrying about one’s blood pressure is not good for one’s blood pressure… especially at night. Now I am sleeping very well. I feel like I’ve got a new lease on life and I intend to make the most of it for as long as it lasts.
I have now learned from posts on Reddit that many people who are on SSRIs have used psilocybin mushrooms without all the negative effects that I was warned about. They just need to take more of it to get to the same place. So I’m not done. I still intend to take a trip. But I still want to do it with someone who knows mushrooms but doesn’t know me: Many people take trips solo but due to my age and my tendency to worry, I want to have a plan that will reduce my fear of doing anything stupid or dangerous. So I will get to it one of these days. Stay tuned. But first I’m going to finish my new novel.
As you may know, I have created a list of resources for people to access who are interested in articles, videos, books, studies, etc. related to psilocybin use. Here are a few more I’ve found since I last posted. Let me know of any others you may come across. As always, your comments are welcome and appreciated.
“Why some moms are microdosing mushrooms,” The Washington Post, Feb. 8, 2023
The Roland R Griffiths, PhD Professorship Fund In Psychedelic Research On Secular Spirituality And Well-Being
There are also several subreddits that may be of interest to my readers: Depression Regimens, Shrooms and the Psychedelic Experience, Psychedelic Therapy, Microdosing, Psychedelic Therapy.