Former Club Drugs and Puppies: My Recipe for Treating Depression
"I feel like I'm Alice, falling down the hole, and the world turns gray and I am seeing textures that remind me of the wallpaper at Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion"
February 11, 2020
I sit in the pleather chair, wearing a tie-dye sweatshirt and fuzzy socks. An IV tube is attached to my elbow and the machine beeps as it starts to pump.
This is my first ketamine infusion, a regimen I’m trying for my treatment-resistant depression. It stands in a long line of ways I’ve attempted to address this chronic illness: traditional talk therapy, antidepressants, antipsychotics, mood stabilizers, inpatient hospitalization, a stay at a residential treatment center. I’m a marathoner and hold multiple fitness certifications. I’ve changed my diet, my environment, my lifestyle. I’ve significantly cut back on alcohol. I feel more stable, and I’m no longer a danger to myself. And yet, I still faced anhedonia, the inability to feel pleasure. My productivity levels were frustratingly low. When my psychiatrist suggested I look into ketamine, I jumped at the chance to try something new, something that has such impressively high response rates. During this same appointment, she also suggests I get a dog and texts me a picture of her own dog once we’re off our video call. “So, to review,” I write back, “I should look into former club drugs and puppies?”
Luckily, I live in Los Angeles, where alternative treatments abound. I don’t usually get my medical advice from Chelsea Handler, but I’d heard director Alek Keshishian on her podcast talking about his experience with ketamine. Because it’s traditionally used as an anesthetic, oftentimes anesthesiologists will administer it. Keshishian recommended looking for a psychiatrist-run clinic.
As I sink into the first treatment, the music turns to what I can only describe as multidimensional. I’m wrapped up in it and it seems larger than life as I slip away from reality. I feel like I’m Alice, falling down the hole, and the world turns gray and I am seeing textures that remind me of the wallpaper at Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion, which I had visited the week before.
I feel my world spinning out, and it scares me a bit; I feel like I’m falling off the earth, and I wonder if I’m dying. It’s hard for me to form what I’m calling “normal” thoughts, but I remember reminding myself that I’m being medically supervised with a pulse oximeter on my finger and a blood pressure cuff on my arm.
I walked in scoring around 15 on the PHQ-9 depression scale. (For comparison, I scored 25+, or very severe, when I went for residential treatment.) By the end of the first infusion, when I took the assessment again, I scored a two—that’s how fast-acting it is.
OK, sure, you say—you’re high, of course you’re happy. But I still felt great the next day. And the day after that and the day after that. My grandmother had cataract surgery and marveled at how clearly she could see the world after; I feel this way, but emotionally. I moved to LA just a few months ago, and I knew I was feeling really depressed when I didn’t care anymore that I was near the ocean, which is usually my happy place. But the day after the first infusion, the water sparkled a special blue, and I was so excited and grateful to be living in California.
As I write this, I’ve done eight infusions and have a ninth scheduled. The typical course is anywhere from six to 12 infusions. If I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard progress isn’t linear in mental health recovery, well, it would be paying for this ketamine treatment. And although I generally respond well to this, there were a few precipitously low drops, though none to as low as where I was when I started.
Even on my most tired or dark days, I still have more mental clarity and motivation than I did before I started. My work comes easily to me, and I’m able to really apply everything I learned in therapy that felt like it was sitting somewhere just beyond the surface of my brain, in an unreachable spot that I could see but not access. The ketamine clinic has me speak with a therapist after every session, and she reminds me that I’ll still have some low days — that’s normal for everyone. But I finally have faith that I can get past these tough days—that it’s worth getting past them, and my life isn’t hopeless. And I got the dog, too.
About the Writer:
Theodora Blanchfield is a Los Angeles-based writer. Her work has appeared in Women’s Health, Bustle, Glamour, Cosmopolitan, Huffington Post, and Mic, among other sites. She blogs about grief, mental health, and using running to handle it all on Preppy Runner.
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