For those following my mental health journey, I haven't had a Ketamine infusion since November 2018
I'm happy to say that I'm still making positive strides. That I don't let the past trouble me, and I don't let my future paralyze me. And I certainly don't think about dying as a means to an end to my restless mind.
With careful timing, I was able to scale off my antidepressants, and I'm currently working on balancing my mental health through discipline, routine, and structure. I'm finding success through channels that have recently opened up to me – channels that felt neurologically unavailable to me before my journey started last spring. I've made new patterns that are sticking, and I have a pattern of sticking to my habits. And I have data to back it up.
My thoughts will not define me
I'm not going to tell you my shaded mindset has changed and I'm full of sunshine; it hasn't, and I'm not.
Since my first Ketamine infusion, I've been able to find a space to live between the space where my thoughts and ideas exist – where my thoughts are no longer "inside" me, but with me. And I can pick them up and put them down much more gently I ever knew was possible. Before Ketamine, I'm not even sure I knew breaking my thoughts was an option. By the ways I was feeling, I wasn't aware that my views were somehow different than me. I didn't understand: thoughts are mere patterns programmed by what we've experienced.
So I'm learning new patterns, and challenging my beliefs. I've been balancing mindful books on my head, and they're not always perfect.
But I do feel... better.
What I mean is I feel better. Do you know what I mean?
As in, I can genuinely feel better than I could before I started treatment.
I feel a new connection between two parts of me that I couldn't always find. I can navigate through my emotions and draw a fresher outlook more further than I was able to this time last year. What I understand, is that I'm learning to connect to my senses again – and it was through Ketamine's impact on neuroplasticity helping me make these connections (even three months after my last treatment).
There is a lot outside of medicine I've been working on with a significant impact on the way I feel. The ketamine infusions did not auto-correct me into happiness, but the medicine's inherent properties did allow me to find growth and balance where I could make decisions to do good for myself. By not letting myself to feel defeated by the parts of me that were out of my control.
Ketamine helped me separate myself into different parts, not in a way that made me feel in pieces, but in a way that allowed me to feel whole.
When I started this journey, many of the feelings that my Ketamine experiences uprooted were stifled at the surface. By social, biological, or personal reasons, I wasn't able to bring myself the sort of release that's required to process those profound rooted experiences (i.e., cry).
But because of the extraordinary images still imprinted on my mind's eye, I didn't always need to cry, especially if I wasn't ready. I have symbols that I can use at any time to check in with my feelings. These symbols are everlasting and their usefulness unbounded – they help keep track of thoughts, attitudes, or behaviors – and feel as fresh as the moment I saw them. Sure details have darkened, but the feelings and beliefs they evoke remain the same.
Some of the of the most emotional experiences of my life are tied to these images. Even though they happened months ago, they are fresh in my mind I've been working on integrating those experiences into my life.
I sincerely hope more and more get to experience this type of lucid imagination. I am re-treated every time a person reach out to me to share one of their delusive or elusive sightings. It's impossible to put into words without getting into metaphors and unlikely to make any impression you the reader, as they had on me. But so many of the signals become universal once you understand how to read them.
On the more rational side of that line, I have some indicators I've been tracking to help me double check the validation of how I'm feeling.
When I first reached out to my primary physician about my feelings of hopelessness, I was introduced to The Depression Anxiety Stress Scale (DASS): a self-reporting tool medically designed to measure three related negative states of depression, anxiety and tension/stress.
I felt compelled to track this number after my 3rd session of Ketamine when one of the medical staff members very eagerly showed me my drop in scores between my first two sessions. I thought it was remarkable how well the score aligned with my feelings toward the depression and progress within the first week.
Since then, I've used my scores as a benchmark and as you can see the support of my progress in the chart below:
(A score under 10 is considered to be within the normal range, a score of 10 to 13 is mild, 14-20 is moderate, 21-27 is considered severe, and scores 28+ are considered to be extremely severe depression)
In the graph above, you can mouse over each point and check out details and percent change between each check-in vs. the all-time progress. Each Ketamine infusion date is marked with a medical emoji (⚕️). I've been collecting my DASS scores through registrations with my care providers including Ketamine Wellness Centers, but I also use Youper (mobile AI) when I can't get in to see a professional.
When I reached out to Ketamine Wellness Centers, my depression score was abnormally high. Although you might not have seen it on my face, I had many extremely severe symptoms. How exactly? Well, luckily I had these notes written down from the weekend before my infusion:
- Unable to finish simple chores and tasks
- Avoiding family and friends
- Indifferent toward work and responsibilities
- Unhealthy outlets multiple times a day, especially when faced with problems, always looking forward to relief
- Irritable and continuously in a state of wondering rather than accepting
- Hopeless as if nothing is ever going to feel better
- Thinking that even if I do get better, it would be temporary
- Worrying I might act out on some of the uncontrollable thoughts
- Feeling family would be better off without me
- Urge to end life or run away in situations
(what a bunch of crap)
My best scores on the scale registered well after Ketamine – right after Christmas where I had a breakthrough with my grief and some cognitive behavioral work with my therapist. It didn't take long for the tax season to catch up to me to give me a recent test, but I've also used this information to help double down on my patterns and have seen significant improvements.
To go from those highs to the lowest scores in that amount of time has been nothing short of remarkable. As with any progress, my treatment has not been a linear decline – those advances and declines represent the waves of life that I've learned I need to ride – not control.
Exercise / Diet / Motivation
I've known for as long as I can remember that my inactive lifestyle was contributing to my problems. But before the Ketamine, I felt too far removed from my body to gain from the activity. I couldn't tell myself what my body needed, and I couldn't always say when I was in pain.
In fact, before Ketamine, I considered my mind and my body two entirely different entities. I can't tell you what it is about dissociating and coming back that seems to shock you into this connection, but I found the link almost immediately.
My first week of treatment, I found the energy to go for a run. That was the first run I'd gone on since moving from Omaha to Seattle. That's a significant amount of time to wait to exercise – even for me. No wonder I was aching. My body was crying out for me.
Now, that doesn't mean that I enjoy running. But I'm forcing myself to do what I can and appreciate what it brings me (Seattle weather permitting).
I found running to be very helpful to supplement some of the serotonin drugs that I was on, and I'm learning that cardio has some of the same re-uptake benefits and as your traditional SSRI.
Well, what do you know? Oh no... Maybe this is all about diet...
I don't want to spend a lot of time talking about diet and supplementation, but through trial and error, I can say within a certain degree of certainty how quickly my mood drops if I'm not nourishing my body with foods that can be converted in my brain.
Look, I know the dig on supplements. But I can't seem to break some diet patterns, and I've found vitamins and minerals helpful to fill in my dietary gaps (instead of kidding myself that I'm going to be inhaling kale for breakfast).
If I find myself in a bad mood, I'm immediately asking: have I eaten? If so, have I taken my supplements?
You're welcome to contact me for my experiences, but please speak to your doctor for advice and always be wary of possible drug interactions.
Motivation is hard to keep up, but I've been experimenting with anything that helps me focus on my breathing. The most apparent exercise that comes to mind is meditation. Another skill that I've been using daily since my journey started last fall, I've been practicing 10-15 minutes daily mediation for the previous 150~ days.
While I was researching this article, I naturally found myself taking a moment to let that number resonated with me – that's a whole day around the sun, focused on my higher-self.
That makes a part of me very proud to say.
So, the mediation skill very naturally leaned into Yoga, where I've found the most benefit to my anxiety and cases of derealization. Stretching has taught me not only to query my higher-self but to give attention back to my body in the areas that need it the most. Since learning to listen to my body, I've also introduced light resistance through kettlebells and other household objects (or household children).
It's interesting to me – my motivation toward exercise has completely changed from a superficial, ego-driven task that I grew to spite – now motivation and exercise have become a more organic, mindful practices I've can use to heal my self. And I look forward to using with my time to do just that!
This one is easy – daily questions.
How much gratitude have I allowed myself? Am I thoughtfully engaged in intercommunication? What’s the most beautiful thing I saw today? Have I felt touched recently and did I feel those emotions genuinely?
For example, in the last two weeks, have I felt like crying? If I felt like crying, did I cry (+1), or do something different (-1). There's no real score to keep. It's simply allowing yourself to think whatever it is you feel in a self-serving manner.
It's not just crying, but respecting the science behind your appreciation for yourself and those around you. Gratitude is a simple trick with lasting impacts on higher overall levels of satisfaction and emotional well-being.
Aside, I'm happy to say that I was able to have one of the first cries concerning the recent grief I've been facing, and with little effort, gratitude opened an outlet for healthy healing. I've known for some time our nervous systems regularly needs to have a cathartic release, but as with a lot of things with a depressed mind, it had felt foggily unattainable.
I'm finding my anger and frustration can easily be influenced into sadness and guilt, but instead of allowing it to engulf into hopelessness, I've discovered new strategies for releasing that energy. It's nice to let go of thoughts and gracefully move on with my day knowing I am not letting <whatever> swallow my time.
So what is left?
Although I feel better than before, I don't always know where I'm heading – or how I'm going to get there. Nevertheless, I feel focused and full of thoughts, desires, and details that appear to me in places I thought were lost or gone forever.
Sure, I have issues with my self-confidence and maintaining balance. It's nothing special to sit here and say I'm an anxious 33-year old father who has to remind himself that he's good enough.
But I think it's worth noting that I'm no longer severely depressed, and I no longer use suicide as an escape plan. Which is why I reached out to Ketamine Wellness Center to begin with – and how many times can you honestly say you contacted a service that 100 percent resolved your troubles?
I know because I've juggled unresolved issues for many years. Not just in my personal life, but in my professional career as well. Bad luck I guess. Or bad a strategy.
So I've spent a lot of time thinking about strategy. How we interact, document, and solve our issues. I've thought about what makes data, well... data. I've thought about what makes bad support, bad software, bad vendors, bad processes. I've thought about how to identify technical debt and voodoo solutions in places that are surprising me.
With the help from many, I've been able to locate the parts of me that I needed to change to separate those things from me to where I no longer felt burdened by my thoughts but rather merely visited by them. And I would like to pay for my successes forward.
I am excited to have this unique experience to share not only with individuals but with my professional world as well.
I have a vision of helping companies heal their employees. I'm inspired by business research like the Neuroleadership Institute, and many of the internet cultures and communities fostering mindful living all across the globe.
I'm working on applying what I've learned about my brain and my patterns to the way we solve problems as organizations and how we can eliminate that technical debt – or at least minimize it. And maybe if I can just touch one person, one company, it'll have an impact on another person who might have felt just as overwhelmed and overworked as I did. Or maybe we can change the whole ecosystem together – with the science of human performance.
There's no reason for all of us not to start applying this research pragmatically and performing at our best. There's no limit to what I'm trying to do; I want to make working life more comfortable by improving interactions and providing space between customers, employees, vendors, partners, managers, and owners. I plan to help introduce the mindfulness and confidence that healed me and foster the healthy outlooks that come with it.
That's all very exciting but...
I still fall into my default modes
And I'm accepting that. I'm not trying to claim that I never hurt, that I am in control of my emotions, or that I'm full of vigor and will be saving the world tomorrow. I'm not going to sit here, at 11:57 pm and try to tell anyone that I'm fixed and flexible against the tides – because I absolutely am not above my feelings – but for the first time I can remember, I'm not going to let the best parts of me best devastated by the worst bits outside of me.
My wife will tell you better than anyone. I'm not always able to rationalize my emotional depths, but I think she'd at least agree I'm at least able to navigate and calibrate how I think — focus on how I'm feeling – and provide the space to make decisions to set myself up for better outcomes as a routine.
I'm here to tell you I feel better. And I'm still improving
There's a fantastic power to understanding and acceptance and with it comes immediate control of your world view.
Not control of the outside world, of course (that's for the wizards and politicians).
I mean by taking control of your thoughts – through the energy of your feelings – chaos will give in to the order of your higher-self.
I could have never done this without taking the first step on my journey to recovery. If you or a loved one are temporarily living – or if you're like me, and have always lived – with feelings that nothing is going to help, nothing is going to get better, and it's only a matter of time until...
If you choose, that nagging feeling could have only been a matter of time until you asked for help.
There are cures for Depression and Suicidal Idealization. It's time to drop the labels and use this medicine for its best purpose – you.
I experienced Ketamine through services received at Ketamine Wellness Centers, who operate several branches across the country – start at www.ketaminewellnesscenters.com and get hope today.
PS - A different option of Ketamine has been making news; lately, a drug called esketamine made in nasal spray form by the pharmaceutical company Janssen has been backed by a US Food and Drug Administration advisory committee. While the research and progress are exciting, it's worth reminding – the intravenous ketamine for treatment-resistant depression I've been using is also safe, regulated, and clinically available for you to use all across the United States and other countries.