Other times, not so much. At the start of my second session, I blurted out a silly thought: “An infusion of ketamine is like taking a two-hour Uber trip with a clown.” (Luckily for me, the anesthesiologist didn’t seem offended.) But a few moments later, my mind slipped, inevitably, to evil clowns — and that’s how our president, Jair Bolsonaro, appeared during one of my bad trips. His eyes were glazed, hair parted to the side, as he hovered happily over the pandemic dead. It was terrifying.
During these frightening moments, I often asked to “come back,” saying that the experience was “too difficult.” I pleaded for help. In my worst moments, I felt that I had to solve impossible temporal paradoxes to stay alive. (What if this session began before I was born? What if I’m permanently stuck in a ketamine loop?) My brain was filled with loud construction sounds, and I felt I was about to die.
Little by little, my body habituated to the drug, and the sessions became gentler. It was important to bring my own music — relaxing, uplifting songs. Nothing distorted or anxiety-inducing. (Anything from Radiohead was off limits, believe me.) The brain easily tuned in to a nice song, which could guide the journey. When things were going to a dark place, I learned to say, “Change the song, please.” And back I went to a garden full of happy dogs.
But by the end, after six infusions over three weeks, I didn’t notice any easing of my depression. I still felt sad, dispirited and anxious; nothing had changed. So I called it off. Enough of giant hands and k-holes for me.
I wouldn’t deem it a failure, though, not even a terrible waste of money. Something important remained from my ketamine experience: For the first time I realized how powerfully depression is ingrained within my brain. I physically felt it — the black dog — acting inside my old neural wirings.
It was something concrete, physical, like ruts where traumas line up to bring me bad thoughts. That’s why it’s so easy to stay there, trapped by pain, and why it takes so much effort to escape. I understood that chronic depression might not respond to language and thoughts, that only a rewiring of the brain’s neural pathways might dislodge it.
Ketamine didn’t do the trick for me, sadly. But I’d be ready and waiting to try anything else the scientists have up their sleeves. (Psilocybin, anyone?) I have, at the very least, learned an important lesson: no jokes during hallucinogenic trips. And no clowns, either.