Lethal Weapon

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Well, I made it through the move mostly intact.  I did sustain some damage to my digestive system–whether viral in nature or induced by a potent combination of pre and post-move celebratory beer, three screw drivers, two pints of coconut ice cream, and a vat of espresso, I can’t really be sure.  Now, six cars’ worth of boxes and furniture and seven laundry loads later, I’m settled in at my parents’ house until the big move in August.  The plan was for a three week marathon of cooking and eating, but the current condition of my stomach has put a bit of a damper on things.  Instead, I’ve spent my time here so far passed out on the couch, watching TV, or–if I’m feeling really productive–knocking off more pages of my crossword puzzle book.  This foray back into the couch potato-dom of my former depressive days has been interspersed with a whole host of doctor’s visits (prescheduled ones, unrelated to my stress, alcohol, and caffeine binge), so all in all it’s been a banner week for me.

I’m trying hard not to be salty about this turn of events, but I can feel the clock running down and these last days of living at home seem fleeting and precious.  Also, it’s a little hard to maintain your grace and composure when it feels like the universe is deliberately fucking with you.  I’ve already had to reschedule my ketamine infusion because I didn’t think an hour long trip on a drug that produces mild hallucinations and double-vision would jibe well with the amount of nausea I was experiencing.  I did an extremely scientific experiment to test this theory where I watched the last ten minutes of a Nicholas Sparks movie (judge all you want–I’m already judging myself harder) while crossing my eyes and slowly shaking my head back and forth.  Results were inconclusive, but I decided to push my appointment back to err on the side of caution.

That alone wouldn’t have been so bad, but then came the real gem in this treasure trove of misery.  (If you’re squeamish about female genitalia, I suggest you stop reading this post–or better yet this entire blog, as I have no patience for what I’m assuming is either a lack of maturity or, worse yet, some inane gender bias.)  I went in for a physical and was nearly through with my Pap smear when my vagina decided it had had enough and transformed the speculum into a projectile weapon, launching it across the room at a surprising velocity.  While I couldn’t see where it landed as I was flat on my back on the exam table, from the sound of things it achieved some real hang time.  At first, I thought the device had simply been removed, but then I heard the clatter of plastic against tile floor and the doctor, in a tone of bemusement, saying, “Wow–I’ve never seen that before.”  I’ll take Things You Don’t Want To Hear From Your Doctor for 2,000, Alex.  I should have been mortified, but thankfully I have no shame and was too busy trying vainly to stifle my laughter.  As soon as the doctor left the room I whipped out my phone and gleefully relayed the story to my best friend in graphic detail.  She was very impressed with my vaginal strength, and then asked a follow-up question that hadn’t even occurred to me–“Did it hit anyone?”  Considering this possibility sent me into a fresh wave of hysterics.  Fortunately for everyone involved, the answer is no–the doctor was clear of the line of fire.  Otherwise, I might have proposed rounding out the appointment with a mercy killing.  Perhaps next time I’m at at a gynecology appointment I’ll request they wear a helmet–just to be safe.

The only item left on my medical checklist is a visit to the dentist’s office tomorrow to grind off the residual glue from my DIY dental work removal where, at the rate this week is going, I’ll most likely clamp down on the dentist’s hand, severing a finger or two, then inhale the digits and choke to death in a bizarre and gruesome fashion worthy of a Final Destination sequel.  But hey, at least I won’t have murdered anyone with my vagina–and right now that seems like the most I can ask for.

Honey-Don’t

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It turns out, there is such a thing as being too productive.  My once beloved to-do lists–hallmarks of my post-ketamine productivity–have run roughshod over my life.  They consume my every conscious thought.  I awake each day and arrive home each evening to a chain of emails I’ve sent myself and then replied to endlessly, with items to be purchased, phone calls to be made, errands to be run, notes, reminders, and thoughts that have roused me in the middle of the night, taunting, You’ll be sorry if you’ve forgotten us come morning!  So, I write them all down on one of my myriad lists–the number of which seems to multiply exponentially with every passing week.

In architecture, there’s a term called “project creep.”  It’s the result of a nagging feeling that, if you’re going to do X, you might as well take care of Y, and, oh hell, let’s throw Z in there, too, while we’re at it.  It’s how clients who set out to do a guest bathroom remodel end up with a two story addition and a new garage.  They start with well-intentioned, realistic plans, but before they know it, reason takes a back seat to their burning desire to tackle every project they’ve ever dreamt of in one fell swoop–no matter how implausible or costly.   On ketamine, my project creep looks a little like this: I need to brush my teeth.  While I’m at it, why don’t I polish them with some baking soda?  (Crunchy hippie trick!)  Hmm, do I have any floss?  Cut to fifteen minutes later and I’m drooling over the bathroom sink, enthusiastically yanking my dental work out with a safety pin and a pair of rusty needle nose pliers, all the while praising myself, Look how much you’re accomplishing!  You’ve wanted to do this for ages!  Keep at it, you’re almost done!  Thank god I had to go to work or that avenue of productivity might have ended with me sitting in a bathtub full of ice, performing DIY surgery a la House MD, shouting, This is great!  What is this, my appendix?  Who needs that?!  Ooh, I’ve always wanted to take a stab at suturing.  I’m learning so much!  Mercifully, my organs are still intact, and I’ve since made a dental appointment to clean up my handiwork and grind off any residual glue.  (I may have no qualms about prying wires from my teeth with simple tools, but I draw the line at wielding anything with a power cord near my face.)

Beyond the day-to-day chores, moving has sparked a whirlwind of “getting shit done” that has me tackling bigger ticket items, as well–things I’ve been putting off for years.  I’ve arranged long-overdue doctor’s appointments (my automated healthcare system informs me I haven’t had a physical in eight years!  Who knew?!), cleaned out my closets three times over, purchased new dinnerware (after eating from two plates, one bowl, and barely a handful of silverware–all pilfered from my parent’s collection–for the past eight years)–I’ve even made plans to purchase a proper dining table!  No more eating on the couch like a slovenly frat boy, for me.  Gone are the days of licking spilled barbecue sauce from my sweatshirt because the couch cushions jostle my plate when I lean forward to inform Netflix that, Yes, I am still watching and I find it rude–and more than a little judgmental–that you felt the need to ask.  Soon I’ll be sitting upright in a formal dining room, eating over a table (okay, okay, it’s not actually a proper dining table–it’s a dough-prep table.  What did you expect?) enjoying my meals like a grown up, living beyond my means like a grown up, eternally fretting about finances like a grown up.  Ahh, adulthood–feels great!

All this productivity may seem like an asset, but I’ve reached the zenith of tackling necessary assignments and sailed right on by to inventing problems to solve in an attempt to soothe the task-driven beast in my mind screaming, DO MORE!  DO IT ALL!  YOU HAVE NO NEED FOR SLEEP WHEN THERE ARE THINGS THAT CAN BE DONE!  I can’t seem to strike that sweet balance between efficiency and down time.  Rather, my options appear to be ignoring the beast altogether at the risk of missing the occasional directive of actual import, or bowing down to the pressure and checking items off my lists in a maniacal frenzy before appearing to reach the bottom and jotting down, “Add more to-dos to your to-do list,” resulting in some sick, ouroboros-like cycle of eternal, gratuitous labor.

I’ve made every attempt to mellow out.  Yoga feels like a painfully slow waste of time that could be better spent making phone calls.  Watching TV is no distraction–so much paperwork and research can be done while watching TV that it’s more of an adjunct, really.  Even my favorite activity–baking–is interrupted by mad dashes to my computer as I recall yet another baking tool that needs to be added to my To Purchase list (subsection: kitchen). The only real cure I’ve found seems to be crossword puzzles–a hobby with which I’m so obsessed, my mind so consumed, that the world around me disappears until I come to hours later covered in ink (yes, I do them in pen–I’m a rebel, Dottie), still muttering in crossword-ese.

So, if I seem a little distracted to you lately, please understand I have a lot on my plate.  There are t’s to crossed, i’s to be dotted, any number of lists (currently, eight) to be expanded on and amended, a tome’s worth of paperwork to be completed and submitted by an irksomely vast array of deadlines, and I’m still trying to figured out the name of that 18th century Austrian composer.  You know the one–begins with an A, fifteen letters, the sixth of which is C.  Surely, one of you must know.  For the love of god, somebody help me out, here!

So Long And Thanks For The Crippling Self Doubt

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I quit–the two most freeing words in the English language.  Just the sound of them–I quit. I quit. I quit!–like music to my ears.  If I were holding a football, I would spike it and do a celebratory dance.

After eight months of dealing with passive aggressive jabs and a boss whose rapid fire mood swings left my neck aching from the whiplash, after eight months of trying to be a diligent, hard-working, considerate employee, wanting so badly to please her, but always falling short in her eyes, after eight months of micromanagement, of being told I wasn’t sweeping fast enough (it’s called being thorough) or stacking and carrying boxes correctly, or that I really ought to use six staples instead of five, after eight months of keeping my head down and trying to anticipate what was expected of me only to be told I should do something differently, or work on something else entirely the moment I began a task, and then, when I dared ask what she’d like me to work on–just hoping to get things right, to make sure I was giving her what she wanted–being told I should already know despite the fact that she changed her mind on a daily basis–after eight months of this mishegas, I am finally free.  I could go on and list examples of this insanity, of the cutting remarks and ridiculous one-eighties, but why waste any more time on this cluster-fuck of misery?

The thing is, maybe there is someone out there who’s a better fit for this job, someone naturally suited to working at break-neck speeds and handling constant critiques with patience and a can-do spirit.  Maybe, despite my efforts, I was actually falling short. Who’s to say?  I’m certainly biased toward my own experience and, as with all things in life, each party has their own view of the truth.  So I’ll be gracious and admit that it’s possible–maybe I wasn’t the employee they were looking for, maybe there were ways in which I could have been better.  But even without assigning blame (or going so far as to assign it to myself), trying to force your square peg of a self into a round hole of a job until it chips away at your edges leaving you fractured and small is as good a reason as any to say, That’s it–I’ve had enough.

I started this position during the fall of last year, just after beginning ketamine treatment.  I was a new person at a new job and boy, was I excited.  I was buoyant, I radiated positivity, and I felt exceedingly capable and eager to work after years of being too ill to have any real capacity to achieve.  I went into this job with a killer attitude and, for the first time in my life, I felt such a sense of accomplishment and pride–I was finally the hard-worker with the sunny disposition that I had always dreamt of being.  Because things started out on such a high note, you can imagine how the aforementioned trials and tribulations of this job and my tenuous relationship with my boss came as that much more of a slap in the face.  It wouldn’t have stung as much when I knew that my capabilities were lacking, that I was sick and it was affecting my work, but for once that wasn’t the case and my self confidence took a real hit.

I have a nasty penchant for second-guessing myself, for ceding the high-ground to others for fear of laying one ounce of unwarranted blame.  “I can handle the heat,” I tell myself. “Even if this person is mistaken, even if I’m correct in thinking I’m the wronged party, let’s play devil’s advocate and grant this person their version of the truth.”  And in this way, I allow myself to be stripped down and I hand over the knife that does it.  It’s trying enough to be dressed down by your boss on a regular basis, but when you don’t have the faculties to stand tall and remain secure in who you are–when you’re a dedicated and competent employee, but the moment someone suggests otherwise a little voice in your head pipes up, “Are you, though?”–it cuts that much deeper, and the mental gymnastics involved in parsing it out in your head are enough to make anyone cry, Uncle.  (You would think the fact that I’ve always had excellent relationships with my former employers and coworkers, despite my illness previously preventing me from living up to my full potential, not to mention the wonderful relationship I currently have with my employers at my second job, whom I love dearly, would be an indicator that maybe it’s not me–but obviously my mind isn’t capable of such rationality and clear-sightedness.)

I’m a firm believer that there is something to be gained from every experience, no matter how positive or negative that experience may be.  This job had its good moments, its moments of beauty (how could it not when you’re working with flowers?), like, um–well, I’m sure I’ll be able to recall them once this cloud of rage and resentment obscuring my recollection has receded.  In the meantime, I will try to leave this job grateful for what small joys it has provided me–an abundance of free flowers rescued from the trash, a deeper knowledge of plants and a more passionate appreciation for their diversity and splendor, the ability to remain mindful in the face of adversity and contempt, and the ability to staple boxes and wash buckets really, really fast (though, not fast enough, apparently).

So, was it irresponsible to quit my job six weeks before I had planned to?  Was it fool-hardy to give up that (admittedly small) chunk of change with no other plans for income in sight?  Of course it was.  But, my god, does it feel amazing.  Good fucking riddance.

Drug-Life Balance

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While it’s well documented that intravenous infusion of ketamine is, by far, the most effective route of administration for the treatment of depression, there’s been some debate on the efficacy of intra-nasal ketamine in maintaining ketamine levels between infusions.  My doctor falls in the camp of believing these interim doses are beneficial, so I take intranasal ketamine three times a week, as prescribed.  Having never gone longer than a week without the interim doses, I have no real basis for assessing their efficacy at prolonging the effects of the infusions, but I certainly believe they have their benefits.  Sure, I won’t deny the appeal of legally permissible psychedelic drugs, but the real appeal of these interim doses is the grounding effect they seem to have.  With my mind’s tendency to veer off course, to spiral downward or become stuck in a rut, taking a dose of ketamine interrupts that trajectory and brings me back to center.  It’s kind of like a reset button.  I don’t take for granted how useful this effect is in stabilizing my mood and preventing relapse, but I will say that mild, four-hour long drugs trips three times a week can sometimes be a bit of an inconvenience.

Ketamine is a drug that lends itself well to mental endeavors.  It elicits contemplation and introspection, it invites you to recede from the physical world and take up residence in the vast, inner-workings of your mind.  Because of this, ketamine highs are well suited to creative and intellectual pursuits.  That worked wonderfully in the winter when there was an abundance of time spent indoors (can you say cabin fever?) and I wiled away the hours writing, studying, and drawing.   But spring has finally sprung (after taking its sweet, fucking time), and now I want nothing more than to spend every waking minute outdoors, being active and reveling in my ability to leave the house without six layers of pants on–and I want to be present in this revelry.

When strolling along the lakefront path, I don’t want to be this ethereal, disembodied orb of consciousness, untethered from my bobble-headed meat-suit as it drifts aimlessly behind me like a wayward dog on a leash.  I want to hike, bike, swim, and paddle with my brain and body working in tandem and all of my faculties intact–feeling every heartbeat, every twitch of muscle fiber, every droplet of sweat.  I want to connect with the world around me, to bask in the sunlight as it bakes my melanin-deficient flesh to a tender crisp like an oven-roasted butternut squash.  (Just kidding–in a total rookie move I forgot my sunblock and now my skin is an arresting shade that can only be described as “lobster bisque.”  And if you’re wondering how I landed on that particular produce, I will admit that it’s something of a childhood nickname on account of being born with a head shaped like a butternut squash.  My mother takes perverse pleasure in reminding me of this by posting pictures of my face carved, drawn, or photoshopped onto butternut squash in varying stages of preparation and cooking with comments like, “Oh my?  You’re beginning to look a little feverish!”  All the psychological damage is starting to make sense now, isn’t it?)  So, it would appear that mid-day dosing is no longer a viable option and night time dosing messes with my sleep schedule–what’s a girl to do?  Luckily, the answer came to me after a particularly agonizing day of work.

Last week, upon coming home from a job that has been slowly eroding my spirit and sense of self worth with the patient brutality of Chinese water torture, I blinked back hot tears of rage, feeling like the lowliest spec of shit in a vast, cosmic ocean of the stuff (a sub-atomic shit-spec, if you will).  I ranted, I seethed, I took a really, really long shower, which is kind of my go-to move when I come home foaming at the mouth (having finally subdued my previous go-to move of putting my fist through the wall), and I played every moment of my shift and every shift before that–every jab of passive-aggression and shred of confusion and uncertainty–over and over in my head, sputtering to myself through the torrent of hot water like a lunatic (no surprise there).  I lamented the steady stripping away of my joy and positivity– something I’ve discovered only recently after having spent the better part of two decades searching for it.  But, before I could descend any further down this precipitous road to hell, I gave myself a pep-talk.  I employed every cliche in the book–If you stoop to their level, you’ll only be hurting yourself.  Don’t let them win.  Take the high road.  Don’t let the bastards get you down!  Eventually I settled on a “nod and smile” approach to work.  I would get in, do my job, keep my head down, and get out as quickly and painlessly as possible.  And do you know what helps achieve that zen-like, level-headed approach to a tenuous work situation? Ketamine.  Here was my shining solution: I would enjoy my days of adventure and athleticism, take my ketamine dose before work, float through my afternoon shift, and emerge on the other side bright-eyed, hopefully not shaking with rage, and ready to greet the world once more.

Some of you might be wondering whether it’s ethical to take drugs before work (you bunch of narcs, you). But firstly, I’m not driving, operating any sort of machinery, or engaging in any activities that could remotely be considered to pose a risk to myself, others, or even inanimate objects, and secondly, ketamine isn’t like other drugs.  Its high (extremely mild at the dose I’m taking) doesn’t impair my ability to function at my job in the slightest, and to the contrary, it actually wildly increases my productivity, focus, and motivation, allowing me to stay on task and approach work with an incongruous enthusiasm for what is essentially the world’s most boring job.  Also, I wash buckets for a living so, really, what do you people want from me?  At least with ketamine on the brain, I can spend those bucket-washing hours when my mind would otherwise be void or contemplating making a break for the fire-exit, focusing on internal productivity–hell, I wrote half of this blog post while scrubbing scum from an endless tower of glass vases!

So, there you have it: drug-life balance.  It sounds like a joke, I know, but anyone who’s ever dealt with an illness that requires medication can attest that finding a routine that works for you and allows you to make the most of your time while still managing your health is no easy feat.  I’m just thankful the medication that works for me has pleasant side effects and the super useful ability of allowing me to maintain my job without quitting in a blaze of foul-mouthed glory and Kool-Aid-manning it through the plate-glass windows to sweet, merciful freedom.

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Fasten Your Seat Belts, It’s Going To Be A Rough Landing

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Today was an infusion day and returning from that long, strange trip comes with a bit of turbulence upon landing.  The ketamine come-down is something of a rude awakening–like being yanked from the midst of a pleasant dream before you’re ready.  You come to, blinking into the harsh light of reality, and it dawns on you, “Oh yeah–this shit.”  As I teeter out to the car, the landscape swimming disconcertingly before me, melancholia sets in (and the demonic trees that populate the parking lot of my ketamine clinic, covered in a profusion of five inch spines and looking like they’ve grown straight up from the depths of hell, certainly don’t help matters).  I find that I’m weary and vulnerable, lacking in the armor and fortitude necessary to withstand the inexorable barbs and stings of existence.  There’s nothing to take the edge off–the whole damn world is edges–and I feel like a newborn foal, stumbling unwittingly into the jaws of life.  I like to refer to this cluster-fuck of feelings as jet-lag.  If you think the effects of intercontinental travel are a bitch, try disembarking from a trip that spans time, space, and any number of astral planes.

Because of this jet-lag, the post-trip period is a critical time to practice mindfulness and self-care, to strive for compassion and positivity.  It’s important to take it easy, indulge in a little rest and relaxation, veg out on the couch for a few hours watching a light-hearted TV show and–oh shit, this is the real world, time for work!  Ketamine treatment is expensive enough and taking time off work isn’t always feasible, so if you must return from your stroll through the enchanting world of psychedelics only to plant your feet squarely in the pile of dog shit that is low-wage, unskilled labor, make sure to treat yourself with kid gloves (or at least plastic-bag hands if we’re going with the dog shit metaphor.)  

When, ten minutes into my shift at the flower shop I find myself succumbing to exhaustion and dizziness, leaning further and further over the utility sink at dire risk of collapsing into a pile of half-washed buckets, I try to be understanding of my inability to handle the most basic of tasks.  I offer myself gentle words of encouragement and support.  It’s okay that you can’t stand of your own volition–standing can be tricky!  Today let’s settle for inconspicuous leaning, make it look like you haven’t surrendered the will to remain upright.  Really sell it with the eyes–mimicking the wide-eyed, maniacal stare of a Tarsier is a great way to feign liveliness while expending minimal energy.  You look totally sane, I promise!

In this state of rawness and fragility, it’s especially imperative that I be mindful of my interactions with others.  When my boss sees fit to correct the method by which I’ve chosen to stack and carry cardboard boxes, I remind myself not to take this as a personal affront to my intelligence.  And though her way is, in fact, wrong and would result in an inability to carry more than one stack of boxes at a time (compared to the six I’m managing, which, even with the two boxes I’ve fumbled, is still far more efficient, thank you very much), I don’t point this out to her.  Instead, I commend myself for the abundance of maturity it takes to refrain from rubbing her flawed logic in that smug face of hers.  (I now forfeit my gold star for maturity as a result of the previous sentence.)  

And when my shift finally ends, though I fear I must be losing brain cells at a rate inverse to the number of cardboard boxes I’ve made (so, nearing a thousand, then), I remind myself that the mere ability to show up to work each day, and furthermore to engage in these menial tasks with a pride and positivity of spirit previously unthinkable, is not something to take for granted because before ketamine, managing a steady job (let alone with a smile on my face) wasn’t exactly in my repertoire.  This reminder to be grateful ought to be tattooed across my body Memento-style for how easy it is to forget and how essential it is to one’s course of living. 

As I make my way home from work, the side effects of the infusion continue to recede and the antidepressant effect begins to take hold.  I notice color creeping back into the world like the first blush of spring after the cadaverousness of winter.  Instead of rushing back to my apartment, I stop to browse in a used book store (one of the aforementioned jobs I couldn’t manage to hold down in the midst of the depressive episode known as my pre-ketamine life.)  I decide to take the long way home along the lakefront and for this I’m rewarded with a dramatic sweep of nimbostratus clouds framing a small window of amber light on the lake’s horizon at the heart of which glows a rainbow.  (I could form some grand metaphor from this fateful trick of the weather, but that would be a little too on the nose, wouldn’t it?)  By the time I make it home and step beneath the warm spray of the shower, I find that I’m grinning like a fool for no apparent reason, other than a dawning weightlessness that wasn’t there this morning.  The hard knot of dread and dispassion has been cleaved from my gut leaving a tender spaciousness in which the first inklings of joy and wonder take root.  The ketamine has worked its magic and now it’s my turn to tend to this budding potential, to make use of this miraculous feat of chemistry–at least for another six weeks until the ketamine wears off and I finally achieve that perfect cocktail of apathy and heedlessness required to tell my boss that I could sweep faster, as she so helpfully suggests, but the resultant dust storm would be counterproductive to actually cleaning the floor, so, you know what?  That’s fine–she can just choke on it.

(All kidding aside, I’m actually quite fond of both my job and my boss and have a great deal of admiration for her–we just occasionally differ on what constitutes constructive advice and what I feel are certain tenets of human decency and respect that might prevent others from unnecessarily micromanaging their hardworking, perfectly capable employees in tasks that a trained, or even untrained, monkey could do.)

When Opportunity Knocks, Either Pour It A Stiff Drink Or Shoot It In The Face

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It’s Friday evening and you’re having a few drinks.  (Or maybe it’s Wednesday morning—I don’t know your life.)  As the alcohol seeps into your bloodstream, you develop a buzz and your perceptions start to shift.  There’s a faint shimmer in the air and your mind and body feel warm and loose.  As if by magic, the night unfolds before you, ripe with potential.  Opportunities that weren’t there before, or didn’t seem possible, are illuminated by the flashing neon lights of intoxication:  Step right up!  Seize the moment!  No longer stifled by the burden of self-doubt or that pesky common sense, the alcohol whispers in your ear, See that cute guy at the end of the bar?  He’s totally checking you out.  Go talk to him!  You’ve got this.  You stumble your way over there feeling like a million bucks and before you know it you’re making out like a sailor on leave.  It doesn’t seem to matter that you don’t know his name or his astrological sign, or that he then tells you his astrological sign as if he thinks it’s relevant to the proceedings.  Sure, sober-you might be turned off by this fact (because it’s not a fact—it’s an inane and useless bit of trivia with no bearing on reality and the idea that people set store by such things is completely absurd).  And sober-you might be tempted to share these parenthetical musings with the suddenly not-so-appealing man now clamped to your face like a lamprey eel.  But sober-you has left the building and drunk-you can’t be bothered.  She merely winks at you in the mirror over the bar and cheers you on.  This is going great.  You’re killing it.  You’re on fire.  No really, you’re on fire–your elbow’s in the votive candle–but don’t worry, you won’t feel a thing ’til morning.  Ahh yes, morning.  When sober-you is back on the scene, surveying the wreckage and screaming, What the fuck was I thinking?!  Common sense slinks back in with its tail between its legs and, with it, the white hot sting of shame and regret rising in your throat like bile–wait, forget the metaphor and grab a bucket because you’re actually going to puke.

This drug and alcohol-induced confidence is a phenomenon most people have experienced at least once—some, many times over.  With any luck, you get it out of your system while you’re young and eventually the novelty and romance of it all wears off and you’ve learned enough to stop making the same foolish mistakes.  For some people, of course, the illness of addiction is at play and “growing out of it” isn’t an option.   For others, particularly those with mental illness, substance abuse can be a tempting form of self medication.  It’s something I’ve struggled with in the past and it has been a terrible source of pain and destruction for me and those around me.  But I will admit that it has occasionally been useful in steamrolling a few hurdles and coaxing me off the couch and into the world at times when the inertia of depression or paralyzing anxiety would otherwise have rendered me unable to function.  I’m certainly not advocating for this course of action—actually, let me take a moment to state the obvious:  Attempting to self medicate your troubles away is incredibly dangerous and will only cause more problems than it solves.  Don’t do it.  End of story.  But it does lead me to my point (you had no idea this long-winded rambling was leading to a point, did you?): What if there were a way for people with mental illness to experience that same sense of possibility and promise without all the negative consequences?  Enter ketamine.

Unlike many people with depression, I rarely felt worthless or incapable, or doubted my own inherent abilities.  I found I couldn’t access these things in the thick of illness, but I knew they existed somewhere deep inside, buried under a pile of symptoms and neuroses, gasping for air and never dreaming that they might live to see the light of day.  Without access to these resources, I lost faith in the concept of possibility.  Not only was I lacking the capacity to manifest my desires or ambitions, I didn’t even have desires or ambitions because I couldn’t envision any outcome that didn’t fill me with existential dread.  I wasn’t worried that something terrible would occur—some apocalyptic catastrophe.  It was far more rational than that.  Simply put, no one likes to feel like shit and I felt like shit all the time, so I went through life dreading every moment.  That feeling wormed its way into my potential to achieve.  If I didn’t trust that the future held anything but misery, how could my endeavors end any other way?  On the rare occasions when opportunity came knocking, I’d grab my shotgun and tell it to get the hell off my porch.  I couldn’t envision an opportunity with the prospect of changing my dire circumstances, so I just stopped trying.  But ketamine has opened up the field of possibility in a way I’ve never before experienced.  Suddenly, I have so many options it should be overwhelming, but there’s a little voice in my head (one without liquor on its breath, thankfully) telling me, Don’t worry.  You’ve got this.

Ketamine induced potential is different.  It’s not about an over-inflated sense of confidence or a lack of inhibition prompting you to strip off all your clothes and jump in the freezing lake for the hell of it.  (Not that I would ever do that.  Repeatedly.)  You retain your rationality and sound judgment (assuming you had it in the first place).  It’s less, “I’m on top of the world!” and more, “I could totally write this novel I’ve been thinking about.  What’s the harm in trying?”  And, if you’re in the midst of treatment, ”Wait, did I already write this novel?”  The concept of time distorts and you grow confused about whether or not you’ve already done this thing you aspire to do, so that by the time you come down it all feels so tangible, so destined to be—like a memory that just hasn’t been created yet.  Confusing, I know, but I’m high right now and I kind of feel like I’ve already written this blog post.  In all seriousness, though, the real trick of ketamine is that it instills in you a sense of possibility that lives on long after the high of treatment has worn off—the road before you no longer seems so daunting and you begin to believe that making an attempt is worthwhile, or, at least, not too scary.  I used to conflate having potential with an innate ability to achieve or the promise of success.  Now, I understand that potential is about making an effort—not necessarily knowing that something will work out, but accepting that whatever the outcome may be, you will have the resources to deal with it and everything will be okay, so why not give it a shot?  If it doesn’t work out, that guy at the end of the bar will always be there, waiting to lift your spirits with a smile and another beer.  And did you know he’s a Virgo?  You guys are like, so, totally compatible.

Grab The Pitchforks! Grab The Horse Tranqs! Forget It, It’s Too Late–Run For Your Lives!

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It’s been four weeks since my last infusion and, right on cue, the ketamine has worn off.  I have an infusion scheduled for Monday, but in the meantime, the monsters are running the show with all the propriety and deft skill of a pack of roid-raging frat bros pounding Four Lokos and hulking out of their salmon shorts.  They enjoy day-drinking, loud music, and flying into fits of unprovoked ire.  Rather than fighting them in a no-holds-barred, WWE-style smack-down inside the wrestling ring that is my brain, I find it easiest to sit back and indulge their every whim.  Yesterday, when they wanted to spend the entire day on the couch googling pictures of baby warthogs and crying unrestrainedly, I said, “Wow!  Sounds like a great idea, guys!  I certainly didn’t have anything productive I wanted to get done.”  And when they couldn’t sleep last night I consoled them, “It’s okay, that’s what coffee is for.  I’m sure I can mainline enough caffeine to be moderately functional at work.  Better yet, we’ll get someone to puppeteer my comatose body around the office, Weekend at Bernie’s style.  Won’t that be fun?”

I’ll be honest, as much as I enjoy gallows humor and sarcastic wit (the native tongue of my ancestors, along with Yiddish), it is incredibly disconcerting—and more than a little terrifying—to go from being a contented, thriving, and productive member of society to a snarling, wounded id-beast with little desire for life or any of its accoutrements, in the span of 24 hours.  Sometimes it happens more gradually and you can actually feel your brain losing function, as if powering down a computer.  Other times it’s lightning quick, like upending a glass of water on the motherboard and waking up to the sudden crack and fizzle of a short-circuit.  But, unlike before, I can now take comfort in knowing this condition is temporary.  I just have to hang on for dear life and ride that wave of despair until someone chucks me an injectable, narcotic lifesaver. 

In the meantime, I find I can occasionally take a perverse pleasure in wallowing in my own misery–like the morbid satisfaction of picking a scab—a useful skill I picked up along with my lifetime supply of misery and my “I have depression and all I got was this dirty shirt–seriously, someone come help me with the wash” T-shirt.  (It was a package deal.  I sent away for the calendar with 12 months of blacked-out days, but they were fresh out.)  With the apathy that permeates depression comes a kind of release—slogging through life with an inability to care is beyond damaging, but finding yourself with no fucks to give does allow for a certain freedom.  And with rescue on the horizon, I see no harm in indulging in this small consolation prize.  Spending money I don’t actually have on expensive beer and kimchi?  Sure, why not!  Kicking the nauseating Pollyanna attitude in favor of fanning the flames of righteous anger after being forced to work weekends?  Intensely satisfying.  Allowing my inner curmudgeon free reign as I wander the aisles of the grocery store barking, “Move it or lose it!” at small children and muttering, “Where’s the fucking vinegar?” loud enough to garner looks of concern?  A merciful acceptance of my true nature.  This is my window of opportunity to lie uselessly on the couch, crack open a beer at noon, and revel in my general unproductiveness without those pesky feelings of guilt nagging away.  I mean, how much damage can I really do in one weekend?  I don’t know, but I sure plan to find out!

(Note: You may be wondering, “Why let it get to this point if you have an effective solution?  Wouldn’t it be better to schedule infusions so that the ketamine doesn’t have a chance to wear off?  Excellent question!  Ten points to Gryffindor.  The unfortunate truth of the matter is that ketamine treatment for depression is currently very expensive and not covered by insurance.  I’m fortunate to be able to afford as many treatments as I can—an opportunity many people suffering from mental illness don’t have.  So spread the word, support for-the-people healthcare reform, and, if you’re like me, don’t forget to thank your parents for all the drugs.  (The stuff every little girl’s dreams are made of—like a pony, but better!))