silhouette-of-person-standing-in-shallow-water-near-shore-at-sunset

Just Float Away: The Ketamine Chronicles (Part 20)

Erin, the PA, tells me I have gorgeous veins. It’s just one of my many redeeming qualities. Prone to perfectionism and crippling indecision? Yes. But hey – at least I have great veins. Starting the IV for my ketamine infusions is always an easy process, which is nice. This time, we once again did a pretty robust dose of ketamine with some propofol to make it less intense. Erin got me set up while we chatted, and then Dr. G popped into the doorway, explained just how many anti-nausea drugs I got (technically four(?), if I remember correctly), and then stopped. “What are we NOT going to do a lot of this time?” He asked.

“[brief silence] Looking around!”

I got a figurative gold star for my answer. I promised Dr. G I’d keep my eyes closed, popped in my earbuds, and settled in.

The familiar floating sensation reminded me strongly of water, as usual. Behind my eyelids, the blackness rippled and flowed, hinting at some unseen current. Soon, minuscule red specks glittered against the dark, moving with the gentle waves and forming dynamic shapes. It seemed as if there were something beyond the darkness that I could nearly see, like I needed to travel through the black, quiet water to reach something.

I began to imagine that I was lying on a beach, submerged in shallow water, looking up at the sky through the water that lapped at the shore. The sand beneath me was gritty, but the water was clear and the sky was blue. It was peaceful. Soon, though, the movement of the water reminded me of my recent road trip vertigo and the anxiety it created, and the peacefulness was ruined. I wondered if it would even be possible to have a panic attack while mildly sedated, but decided that I should put effort into preventing one, regardless. After all, it would be rather counter-productive. Bobbing and rolling in the imaginary water did make me anxious, although part of it was at the thought that freaking out would be pretty embarrassing. In trying to resist the anxiety, I realized that I was only making myself more aware of the movement. I needed to not fight it – to just accept that I was not going to feel completely still.

Once I let myself float away, the infusion seemed to speed up, and large chunks of time just disappeared. I don’t remember anything except standing in a room in a family member’s house, recalling the details of my surroundings with what seemed to be incredible accuracy. I actually worried momentarily that I might be flouting Dr. Grindle’s orders by having my eyes open. He might confiscate my gold star. Except wait- my eyes were closed. And yet, the windows let bright sunlight in through the blinds. The ones on the right were broken three slats up. The wicker chair with the yellow cushions was angled just right in the corner. The dresser with a sand dollar and a starfish on top sat just how I remember it. That rug that years ago was closer to shag but is worn and aging now, laid on the floor. I took in the scene quietly. There was nothing happening; I was just absorbing the room’s contents.

It seems like the more I think about it now, the less I remember of how I got home. The infusion finished and Erin took the I.V. out. Then, Dr. G handed a bottle of apple juice to Erin, who offered it to me. I reached out and took it with my wacky inflatable car dealership arms and then decided to wait for my facial features to materialize before trying to drink it. Somehow, I got my shoes on and made it to the car with my mom, who politely stopped after every three or four steps down the parking garage stairs and turned slightly to make sure I was still on my feet.

I may have fed the dog twice that night. My memory of post-infusion actions is incomplete, and I don’t doubt for a second that Stella would take advantage of that. Maybe that’s why she begs for food in the evening after I’ve already fed her– because sometimes it works! This is why it’s important to not make any important decisions following a ketamine infusion. You might end up with a new boat or no house or, you know, a spoiled dog.

 

 

blurry-photo-of-beach-with-camera-moving-while-taking-picture

Vertigo-Induced Panic is Terrible

We clambered into the car, half of the backseat piled with our stuff so that the dog could have the back. We’re all isolated these days, and since we were able and the infection data in the states we’d be in looked ok, we got on the interstate for a family visit (with careful precautions). Two months after the passing of my grandfather from COVID-19, the family was feeling the distance. We made it in 14 hours, a new record for the journey we’ve made dozens of times.

I’ve always gotten motion sickness in cars, so road trips can be a boring affair for me. Hour after hour, I look out the window, listen to music, and let the movement of the car lull me into a drowsy stupor. As a child on this trip, I would fall asleep for a while and wake to the car slowing down as we took an exit to a gas station or a rest stop. As an adult, I find it hard to disengage from the road; I’m always paying attention to the other cars and looking out for danger in our lane.

Traveling during a pandemic made us uneasy. We stopped as little as possible, only getting off the highway for gas and careful bathroom breaks. Few people wore masks, and we got odd looks and a wide berth on our way through the doors to the little convenience store in Nebraska. In Iowa, we took a side door past families eating at outdoor picnic tables, used the facilities, and beelined it back to the car. Illinois was busier, and by then we were exhausted. Despite spending the entire time sitting, long road trips are remarkably draining.

We left home at 5 A.M. and arrived at our destination at 8 P.M. After unloading the car, supervising Stella’s obligatory investigation of all smells contained in the house, and eating some real food, we each turned in for the night.

Coming from semi-arid Colorado, I’m unaccustomed to the humidity. I was instantly too hot under the blankets. After I threw off the covers, I tried to relax and put my sweaty discomfort out of my mind. When I closed my eyes, I felt the world moving beneath me — gently but unpredictably. I’ve had mild vertigo before. Boats, amusement park rides, and treadmills all produce a similiar feeling of unsteadiness for me. This, however, did not subside as my previous spells have tended to do. Instead, it only became more intense. I sat up and tried to take deep breaths through the rising nausea. The room was jostling around me, and I felt very high up on my bed. I slid to the floor and started to panic; it was only getting worse, and at this point, I didn’t think I could get up without falling over. Realizing there was no trash can in my room, I decided that I might have to throw up in the dog bowl. (Thankfully, that was avoided.)

In an attempt to convince my brain that my body was stationary, I lay flat on the floor, pressing my palms and heels against the hard surface. Truly panicking now, I took gasping breaths and tried to keep my gaze locked on something still. It was not working. I crawled to the wall and sat with my back pressed against it, crying, shaking, and trying to get my breathing under control. I felt like I was in a rickety wagon, speeding along a track while bumping and swaying dramatically. Even when sitting completely still and looking only at one point, the world around me continued to move.

I don’t know how long it took — I’m sure it felt like longer than it was — but the panic subsided and I eventually felt capable of making it downstairs to the kitchen. I sat at the table and looked at a spot on the tablecloth for over an hour. Slowly, the vertigo improved. Moving my head as little as possible, I got up to get a snack, hoping it would settle my stomach. I shuffled two small steps forward, then stopped to wait for things to slow down, then repeated as I moved through the kitchen and back to the table with some crackers.

Part of the anxiety came from the overwhelming disorientation, which then produced more anxiety because I instantly thought “how will I get home?” Sitting in a car for 14 hours created horrific vertigo and a subsequent panic attack, so the thought of doing the same thing a week later worried me.

Thankfully, our trip home was uneventful. I took Dramamine and we made more lengthy stops. I also hogged the front seat for part of the drive. The vertigo I noticed upon getting home was much less intense and didn’t stop me from swiftly falling asleep. Human beings are not well-suited to spending an entire day in a moving vehicle, but it was more than worth it to see family. Even with the masks, the social distance, and the little Lysol wipes wrapped around the serving utensils, we managed to fully enjoy our time together.

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Trying a Sleep Mask: The Ketamine Chronicles (Part 19)

While walking through the grocery store the other day, a cheap sleep mask caught my eye. My previous ketamine infusion, in which I was utterly entranced by a framed picture of what looked like a standoff between a wolf and a mountain goat but was really just a river and some rocks, piqued my interest in sleep mask-wearing. I grabbed the mask on a whim, intending to give it another try at my next infusion.

My first attempt to cover my eyes during a ketamine infusion was at my very first appointment. Not knowing what to expect and finding that I had never experienced anything like it, I was overwhelmed by the bizarre sensations. I remember the darkness behind the mask inducing a feeling of slow spinning, like turning a heavy stone on the end of a long, long string and then letting go. Soon, my head began to spin in one direction while my body spun in the other, and I took the mask off, preferring to keep my eyes open.

I hadn’t worn a sleep mask during an infusion again until yesterday. I brought my newly purchased satin mask, seemingly made for someone with no nose, and slipped it on just as the infusion started. My immediate reaction was “I don’t like this”. But, sensory processing disorder makes it hard for me to discern what exactly something feels like and if it’s to my liking or not. Therefore, my default is no new things ever. I decided to give the mask a few minutes, which I attempted to measure by the progression of songs on my playlist. By the time two or three songs had gone by, I had mostly forgotten about it.

At first, I was frustrated because nothing seemed to be coming to me. It was just dark. Gradually, subtle circles of purple and yellow faded in and out. I couldn’t tell if the ketamine was working yet or not, so I shifted my attention to my body and found that I was all stretched out. My feet were incredibly far away from my head, and the more I thought about it, the more I stretched. I got thinner and thinner, and I eventually was reminded of taking Flat Stanley home in elementary school. (Flat Stanley is a children’s book about a character who travels the world. As part of a literacy project, kids make paper Stanleys and keep a journal about his adventures, swap Stanleys with a partner via snail mail, then mail them back, often with photos of Stanley out and about.) I felt like Flat Stanley- like I had been rolled out with a rolling pin and then peeled back up. Briefly, I considered the strange photos that would result if somebody took me on their family vacation, this flattened-out woman waving in a gust of air, Little Timmy reaching up to hold my paper-thin hand while everyone says “cheese”.

Sometimes, the things I see in my ketamine infusions are bizarre or fantastic, and sometimes, they’re closer to real memories. After the Flat Stanley adventure, I enjoyed a slow-motion movie of my dog, Stella, running by me. We locked eyes as she rushed by, a moment captured in the dusty roll of fur on her shoulder and her tongue lolling out of the side of her open mouth. In slow motion, the prairie grasses waved lazily and Stella’s paws hung in midair, a snapshot of a great freedom gallop. I’ve seen such an image hundreds of times, yet my lucid memories never produce such a striking, detailed image as what I saw during my infusion.

My thoughts of Stella led me to a less pleasant memory. She killed a young rabbit the other day; I tried to stop her but was too slow. The weight of its still-warm body in my hands came back to me in my infusion. I looked at the delicate veins in its ears and a bit of fur stuck to one dark eye as I gently wrapped it in an old cotton t-shirt. Seeing it again during my ketamine infusion wasn’t disturbing, but it evoked some sadness and sense of wastefulness.

I only vaguely remember other images from this infusion- mostly measurement things like ticking numbers on a digital counter and tape measures stretching out. Overall, wearing the sleep mask made me much less concerned with time. I never have any idea how much time has passed, even when I try to keep track of how many songs have gone by. Usually, returning to the real world periodically reminds me that time exists, and I then wonder where I am in its course. But with the mask, I was just floating in darkness. I still don’t love the feeling of having my eyes covered, but it wasn’t as bad as I thought it might be. Occasionally, I considered taking it off but decided that lifting my arms would be too much effort. I did eventually sense that a good deal of time had passed, and I lifted a corner of the mask to peek out. Erin told me I had ten minutes left, so I leaned my head back and forgot all about time, once again.

I have not been doing well, lately. I tried to go off of one of my medications (with the OK from my prescriber), and it backfired tremendously. I’m back on it and hoping that things will return to how they were before I decided to go messing with my meds. Hopefully, this ketamine infusion will help me get back on track.

 

drawing of landscape with tree and river and words about self-compassion

Art for Mental Health Awareness Month

May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and Mental Health America has several initiatives to spread awareness during May. One of these is #mentalillnessfeelslike. Peruse different categories on their website, where MHA has compiled Instagram posts from people participating in the hashtag. It’s always comforting to find validation in others’ experiences.

The hashtag got me thinking about my own attempts to represent what mental illness feels like to me. This blog is mostly writings that describe my experiences with depression, anxiety, and their various treatments. So, for something different and a trip down memory lane, I thought I would take a jaunt through some of the art I’ve made on the topic of mental health/illness.

The following slideshow was my attempt to depict a strange sensation brought on by an antidepressant I no longer take. It left me feeling “better”, but in an artificial way, as if I could feel my depression just outside the boundaries of myself. It was sort of like being squeezed into a neutral mood that didn’t fit.

Depression 1Depression 2Depression 3Depression 4

And then we have The Potato Scale of Depression, born when I responded to “how are you” with “everything is mashed potatoes”. What I meant by that was that the world was dull, my senses felt mushy, and seeing past any of it felt impossible. The beauty of the potato scale is that it opens the door to describing your mood in a creative, silly way, while still communicating a serious topic. And, you get to have eye-opening conversations about how you and your conversation partner rank various types of fries. Of course, this is an abridged version of the scale; there’s a whole world of poorly-prepared potato dishes to choose from. (Soggy latkes, undercooked gnocci, etc.)

Potato Scale

Clearly, analogies are my favorite way to say how I feel. This next one is a good reminder for present me.

Balance

The rest are simply some depictions of what mental illness feels like to me.

 

collage-of-flowers-and-words-from-magazine-spelling-it's-going-to-get-better-with-watercolored-woman's-face

 

silhouette of wolf standing on ridge with tall grass at sunset

The Wolf and the Goat: The Ketamine Chronicles (Part 18)

At this point, I’ve lost track of how many ketamine infusions I’ve had (they don’t line up exactly with the number of blog posts). My treatment-resistant depression has dug its heels in once again, and I’m wrestling for the millionth time with whether or not there is any chance of improvement for me (despite having experienced significant improvement that fell apart when the pandemic began. Clearly, it is possible). In a conversation with my therapist in which I explained my growing sense of hopelessness and how it makes me reluctant to keep going with ketamine infusions, she pointed out that I have said that ketamine makes a difference. It’s true. It’s tough to remember that the hopelessness is the depression talking. I can’t trust my assessment of the world when I’m getting all my info through the warped view of depression. At least, I think. Sometimes it’s all so confusing.

The Wolf and the Mountain Goat

The wolf had its mouth open, partway through devouring some kind of amorphous, green animal. Perhaps a giant frog? An algae-covered sloth? Try as I might, I couldn’t interpret the image correctly. But there, below the wolf’s fearsome jaws, was a pure white mountain goat kid. It stood perfectly still, watching the wolf eat its catch. That mountain goat should move, I thought. Directly below a hungry wolf definitely seemed like a risky place for a baby mountain goat. But nothing moved at all. The image was static. And then I remembered that I was not supposed to have my eyes open during my ketamine infusion, and I definitely was not supposed to be staring at the photo on the wall across from me. There is no wolf in that photo- nor is there a mountain goat. It’s a picture of a river flowing through rock formations with greenery on the shore. It was quite a trip.

framed photo of river flowing through canyon

framed photo of river flowing through canyon with shapes of wolf and mountain goat outlined in red

I can’t unsee it.

Ketamine Visions of Water

From the beginning, I could feel the warm air inside my mask. At some point, it started to feel like liquid, like I suddenly possessed the ability to breathe underwater. I’m fairly neutral when it comes to swimming in real life, and I don’t have any particular fascination with water. But ketamine always brings out these intense associations with bodies of liquid water and, occasionally, ice. Ripples and waves of all sorts, whales, jellyfish, cold rivers flowing downhill, being on a boat, icebergs; these are all images from previous infusions that stand out enough for me to remember them. Perhaps the physical sensations of unsteadiness trigger my brain’s water-related pathways. Except that I’m always decidedly stationary during ketamine infusions. In any case, I’d be interested to know if other people also see lots of water during their infusions.

This time, it was the ocean, or perhaps a very, very deep lake. My perspective was from beneath the surface, and I could see someone sinking slowly from the glowing blue into the inky blackness below. I was watching the person, but I also was the person. We were sinking through vast expanses of empty ocean, only water and light around us. It was striking but lonely, only the silhouette of a human form, gently falling through deep water. Slowly, the light receded above and I began to think that I didn’t want to be in darkness. It occurred to me that the person was drowning, and although I felt comfortable enough, that meant that I was also drowning. We were, after all, the same person. I didn’t know what was beneath us, and the unknown was somewhat unsettling. But everything was heavy, and the constant pull of the water was hard to resist. It was confusing; how was it possible that I was breathing the water that filled my mask? I must be drowning, but I felt fine, only incredibly heavy. Then I heard my own voice in my mind say forcefully, “open your eyes”, and suddenly, I was back in the room, looking at the wolf and the mountain goat once again.

Space and My Mental Map

Have you ever looked at a familiar room and felt like you’ve never seen it before? Like you just never really looked at the angles of the walls or the color of the furniture? I’ve noticed that my ketamine infusions often give me the sensation that a room has changed and space is distorted. When my eyes are closed, I feel as though everything is moving closer to me, but also over me. It’s like the weight of my body is folding space so that my surroundings move up and over me. Things feel much smaller, and I’m always momentarily surprised when I open my eyes, the space instantly expands, and I find myself in a bigger room than I expected. And every time, it’s as though I’m looking at a room that I’ve never really looked at before. By the time I’m semi-lucid and ready to set my legs in motion towards the hallway, the feeling has passed and the room is familiar again.

Some Thoughts on Masks

I don’t often relax in places that aren’t my own home. Even friends’ and family’s places give me that tense feeling of being a guest; I’m less familiar with my surroundings and therefore need to be alert and polite. It’s uncomfortable to imagine that someone might walk by and catch me making myself at home by taking a nap or, I don’t know, putting my feet up. I’ve obviously been forced to let that go to a very large degree for my ketamine infusions. But it’s gotten me thinking — this might be why I tend to open my eyes so much. My vulnerability alarm goes off when my eyes are closed anywhere that’s not my home. I guess it periodically yanks me out of whatever trip I’m on so that I can look around for a second. Maybe that also explains some of why I remember such vivid scenes. It’s like when you wake up in the middle of a dream and can recall it with perfect clarity, versus sleeping all the way through it, and then all you know in the morning is that Shrek was there.

That said, lots of people wear a sleep mask during their infusions and find that the darkness helps them immerse themselves in the experience. I have found that wearing a mask that covers my nose and mouth does make me feel oddly secure – like it’s hiding me from any eyes that may look in my direction. I wonder if a sleep mask would have the same effect, or, as I expect it might, just make me feel more vulnerable by preventing me from looking around occasionally. Who knows – I may try it someday.

(Imagining my entire face covered in masks makes me feel like the spider in that viral voice-over video: I cannot see you, you cannot see me…I am hidden.) 

 

 

The Day 2 Mystery: The Ketamine Chronicles (Part 17)

It’s been two days since my most recent ketamine infusion. Usually, I write these posts as soon as I’m able so as to not forget too much of the bizarre experience. This time, I found that I didn’t have much to say immediately following my infusion.

For transparency’s sake in my attempt to document my experience with ketamine, I’ll just say it. My mental health has been in decline over the last few weeks, to the point of struggling once again with self-harm, something I thought I had kicked over a year ago. The previous infusion seemed not to do much for me in terms of mood, but gave me more energy and motivation, a mismatch that left me restless and confused. I felt the drive to do something but had no desire to follow through. Perhaps this is what led me back to self-harm. Multiple stressors, not exercising as frequently, and a strange mix of motivation and hopelessness led me back to an old, unhealthy coping mechanism.

I had my most recent ketamine infusion on Friday. Like last time, it was relatively empty of bizarre images, at least that I can remember. At this point, my dose is pretty much at the upper limit of ketamine for my body, so Dr. G has been giving me propofol to make the experience less trippy. Last time, I stubbornly kept my eyes open for a lot of the infusion and seemed not to care about breathing. This time, I don’t think I could have opened my eyes if I’d tried. I remember chatting with Erin, the PA, while she got the I.V. set up. I know we talked about haircuts, but I’m not sure what else. The propofol hit me way before the ketamine did, and the last thing I remember is Dr. G taking an exaggerated deep breath and wagging his finger at me sternly before leaving me in Erin’s capable hands.

When I closed my eyes, the world disappeared above me as I sank down into peaceful nothingness. At some point, I remember feeling as though I were a passenger in a car on a highway, open road stretching ahead of me. We began to go a little too fast for my liking, but I was stuck– carried along by the seat beneath me. This is the only image I remember with clarity from this infusion. I also remember that, because I couldn’t feel my face, I was occasionally concerned that I may have taken my mask off. Laughable in hindsight that I thought I could have moved with enough coordination to do that.

Yesterday, the day after my infusion, I felt no different than I have for the past few weeks. Actually, I think I may have felt worse. But today, I awoke with a wonderful sense of relief from my symptoms. Whether this lasts remains to be seen, but it follows an interesting pattern. The day immediately following an infusion is often disappointing for me. I’ve learned to not put too much stock into whether or not an infusion has helped based on the day after. The second day, however, is usually when I notice the changes. I don’t know how common this is, but I think it’s interesting.

I have already put on my exercise clothes, anticipating a long run later in the day. I’m looking forward to today’s project of re-painting the grape arbors. I have mental plans to clean the kitchen and change my sheets, and maybe even vacuum. It’s great to feel better, but the previous few weeks have me apprehensive about this infusion; will it last? Will I need to adjust my medication or have more infusions to stabilize my depression?

We shall see. But for now, it’s nice to feel a bit better.

ink drawing of dandelion seed heads growing in grass

Observations From the Garden

I got up at 6 and walked through my routine because that’s what I always do, depressed or not. I fed the dog, made the coffee, poured a bowl of cereal, and then stared into it while the dog did her rounds in the yard. But by 8, I was beginning to wonder why I ever got up in the first place. So, back to bed with the window open and my blankets pulled up to my chin.

Lately, depression has overtaken my days with sleep and restless boredom. What time is it? Doesn’t matter; every day feels like a week. At night, the anxiety comes. I feel like I’m crawling out of my skin. Or like I want to reach inside my chest and pull out my lungs, let them spin out the twist in my trachea. Maybe then I could breathe.

To pass the time when the sun is up, I move between sleep and hobbies. Sitting outside in the backyard, my sketchpad page is still blank. Pen or pencil? I pick up the pen but am unable to draw more than a few dandelions from the scene I’m observing. A flock of house finches has found our backyard – it’s more dandelions than grass, and they’ve all gone to seed. The birds are foraging, bobbing their heads and moving among the unmown grass. One finch struts up to a tall dandelion, and, with an almost imperceptible flutter, attempts to perch on its vertical stem. The dandelion head begins to bow to the ground, and the finch rides the bending stem to meet the grass. Foot firmly planted to hold the flower down, the finch returns to bobbing and pecking.

There’s a sound behind me, and I turn to see a five-foot garter snake glide through the raspberry bushes, following a taste in the air. A busy robin chatters while it gathers last year’s grape leaves for nesting material. Stella digs a layer out of the hollow she’s claimed as hers, then situates herself in the cool dirt she’s uncovered. A hummingbird trill draws near, then it whizzes by on its frenetic journey. Everything around me moves, yet I feel like I’m in stasis. Animals and plants follow their daily rhythms, foraging, hunting, racing the sun to get enough calories, and I feel disrupted – out of sync.

I don’t know how to fix it. Usually, I keep up with my treatments — meds, therapy, ketamine — and simply wait for it to pass. I use what coping mechanisms I can—preferably the good ones, and let the turning of the Earth carry me from one day to the next. This time, I can’t help but feel the uncertainty of the time we’re living in. The disruption is not just to my mind, but to the world. When will this sense of weightlessness, of falling through empty space be soothed? When can we once again feel the ground beneath our feet, knowing by its predictability that it is moving us inexorably from today to tomorrow?

Connecting During the Pandemic

As a highly introverted person, I didn’t expect social distancing to have much of an effect on my mental health. After all, I don’t get out much to begin with. But what I’m finding, and what I’m hearing from others, is that the few social interactions we introverts had prior to pandemic life were more important than we realized.

I’m starting to really feel cooped up. I miss my library, my dog park, volunteering with other humans, and not sucking air through a mask while I run. My world, small as it was, has shrunk. But perhaps more than the social isolation, it’s the uncertainty about when it will end. Before, I might have chosen to stay in, but it was a choice. Now, this strange, lonely way of life stretches on indefinitely. I’m feeling restless, anxious, and sad. I sometimes joke that I’d like to go live on a mountain by myself, and while I’ve always known that wouldn’t actually be good for me, it still sounds tempting. But now, the social interaction that used to threaten to overwhelm me is in short supply, and I’m finding myself a little bit lost.

Luckily, we have options for connecting with others from a distance. I’ve been enjoying video calls with friends, yelling across the fence to my neighbors in their backyard, and texting extended family members. We have social media, phone calls, blog posts, any number of ways to get in touch with people who are far away. Even when digital methods fail, there are still connections to be made at home, and creativity goes a long way.

Towards the beginning of the pandemic’s reach in the U.S., when schools were closing and people started staying home from work, some kids in my neighborhood took it upon themselves to spread some positivity. I stepped out the door with Stella’s leash in hand and headed down the sidewalk for a quick walk around the block. At my mailbox, there was a message written on the sidewalk in chalk. It said “keep calm” and had a pink heart and a blue flower next to it. It made me smile and, frankly, gave me some warm fuzzies. All the way around the block, there were short messages encouraging everyone to stay safe and some adorable drawings of flowers and butterflies. It was a great reminder that we are all feeling the stress of the pandemic in our own ways and in our own homes, but we can still find ways to connect.

keep-calm-written-in-sidewalk-chalk-with-pink-heart-and-blue-flower

woman face with eyes closed against dark background

Close Your Eyes: The Ketamine Chronicles (Part 16)

“I think Stella is a bad influence” is a phrase I remember hearing Dr. G say during my latest ketamine infusion. Stella is my willful, independent dog who sometimes flat-out refuses to listen to me. In trying to piece together the events of my day, that phrase bounced around in my head without context. What had happened?

Apparently, I had refused to close my eyes. Dr. G repeatedly told me to shut them but dang it if that little glass dragonfly suspended from the ceiling wasn’t absolutely mesmerizing. I remember it glittering and moving gently while I stared. I closed my eyes eventually.

This infusion was different in a few ways. For one thing, it was a higher dose of ketamine paired with a sedative to make it less intense. I also am completely off of one of my mood-stabilizing medications, Lamictal, which can interfere with ketamine. Like last time, I took some Tagamet before my infusion to slow the metabolism of the ketamine and make it last longer. The sedative kept this infusion from being bizarre, or at least from me remembering any bizarre images I might have seen.

At first, I didn’t feel as deeply removed from the world around me as usual. This was deceptive, though, as I soon began to feel – as trippy as this sounds – like my being was shrinking into my body. Or perhaps like my body was expanding to create a shell around my consciousness. Things were happening in the room – sounds of typing and clicking, machines beeping, Dr. G telling me to take a deep breath (which I also did not listen to, apparently) – but they all seemed so far away as to be completely beyond my caring.

I opened my eyes periodically to see what was going on and usually got sucked into the computer monitor, which displayed a series of calming images of winter mountains. This is the danger of not wearing a sleep mask; when you’re hooked up to a ketamine infusion, EVERYTHING looks interesting and it’s incredibly tempting to let all of your automatic functions, like blinking and breathing, to be abandoned in favor of absorbing whatever magical thing you’re looking at. Nothing matters more than watching a snowy peak meld into a pine forest. Nothing.

It’s a strange experience to realize that you haven’t breathed in a while but not find that alarming at all. In fact, the longer I went without breathing, the harder it seemed to do. It’s sort of a heavy slowness that keeps me from breathing deeply. It has to be quite deliberate. I’ve had to be reminded to breathe during previous infusions, but a simple “hey, take a deep breath” always seems to break through my trance easily. This time, Dr. G repeatedly telling me to take a deep breath reminded me that breathing was a thing that people did, but I found myself reluctant to put in the effort. There wasn’t much that I cared about doing, and I remember thinking that I felt oddly cushioned against the ketamine.

Afterward, I tottered down the steps to the car and marveled at my mom’s apparent lightning reflexes as she drove us home. We stopped at the pharmacy and grocery store (a whole day of essential outings!) and I simply put my seat back and waited in the car while my mom went in. Unable to get comfortable, I flopped around until the car got too warm. I cracked the door open and leaned out a little to get some fresh air, resting my head against the door frame. I wonder what people in the parking lot thought. I was clearly not very with it and kept doing that embarrassing head-jerk that happens when you fall asleep sitting up.

When we got home, I crashed for several hours, then got up and walked the dog around the block. I didn’t think much about how I was acting until I passed a house and then noticed someone sitting on their porch. I had been walking a few steps, stopping for Stella to smell something, zoning out, then repeating all the way around the neighborhood. I have no idea how long I stood in front of that person’s porch with a blank look on my face, but it might have been much too long to look normal. Who knows- maybe they thought it was quarantine brain.

My MTHFR Gene is a Problem. Again.

You would think I had learned my lesson. Refilling my medicines is not something I find easy to do if a phone call is involved. I waited until the very end of my supply to refill my Deplin, and now, because of shipping delays, I’ve been without for several days. Deplin contains l-methylfolate, which fills a metabolic gap caused by a mutation in the MTHFR gene. Essentially, it helps my antidepressant work. Not taking my Deplin is what pushed my suicidality to new lows last year when I was hospitalized. It seems like I can feel my brain slowing down. I sleep all day like I’m hibernating in reverse by starting in spring. There is nothing to get me up except the dog, who stands by my bed and huffs at me, threatening to wake me with a full bark if I do not move. I accomplish the necessary and return to bed, already sinking into sleep. The occasional diversion brings some welcome entertainment, but it’s just a momentary distraction.

tired raccoon lying on platform with black container on its back and foliage in background
Me. It’s me. (Unsplash user @successfullycanadian)

I took some time off of work when my grandfather passed away last week, but then I decided it would be more helpful to have something to do. So, I went back to work (which I thankfully do from home under normal circumstances) on Monday. Unfortunately, it’s shaping up to be a slow week, anyway. I suppose I should turn to hobbies to fill my time. I’m partway through a drawing that I promised to someone, but like many of us judging ourselves for not utilizing all of this time to finish household projects or write a sonnet or whatever we think we should be doing, motivation eludes me.

My shipment of Deplin is finally at my local post office and should be delivered by the end of the day today. It couldn’t come too soon. I plan to rip it open right there at the mailbox and throw one down the hatch. Well, okay, maybe I’ll go inside for a glass of water.