The days following my first ketamine infusion for treatment-resistant depression were filled with anxious self-awareness (Am I feeling better yet? Is the ketamine working?) I’m pretty sure the answer to the first question was “no”, but it’s hard to say. Suffice it to say, nothing dramatic happened for me as a result of my first infusion.
In an attempt to not get my hopes up nor be overly pessimistic, I’ve decided that my approach will be one of detached curiosity. I’m going to see the entire thing- the feelings leading up to an infusion, the experience of the infusion itself, and the potential changes that result- as if I weren’t invested in the outcome. It’s just a fascinating experiment on my own brain. At least, that’s what I’m aiming for.
The first ketamine infusion was so bizarre that I was trying to prepare myself for anything. In fact, I was already faced with an opportunity to maintain detached curiosity. I had some adjustments planned for the second infusion, and I wondered what effect they would have on the overall experience. Instead of over-ear headphones, I brought regular earbuds in the hope that they would eliminate the overwhelming sound of my heartbeat that noise-canceling headphones created. I also decided that I would put my head back against the headrest at the beginning of the infusion so that future me wouldn’t have to consider whether giving my neck a rest was worth ripping the fabric of space-time.
As it turns out, the first ketamine infusion is often the most strange. Subsequent infusions give people something of a tolerance to the trippy effects of the medicine. My doctor suggested that we reduce the dose a little and add a second nausea medication. So, the reduced dose, increased sleepiness from the nausea med, and improved tolerance to ketamine made my second infusion positively… relaxing. I might have even fallen asleep.
When I got there, things were a little busier than at my first appointment. I was introduced to the nurse, who is only in on certain days, and invited into the second room (across the hall from the one I was in last time, mysteriously labeled “Staff Pool and Spa”). The nurse got my IV in, set up the EKG leads, and took an initial blood pressure reading. I then had time to talk to my doctor about the plan of action. I had a tenacious migraine after the first infusion, which he said is rare, but happens sometimes. He suggested we try an anti-inflammatory medicine to prevent another headache, but I wanted to go without. I sometimes get tension headaches that morph into migraines when I’m extremely stressed and anxious, and that’s exactly what this one felt like. I felt much more comfortable with the process the second time around, so I was pretty confident that if stress is what caused my headache, I wouldn’t get one this time.
The nurse came back in and got things started, and I did my best to relax. I put my head back against the headrest, started some soft instrumental music in one earbud, and closed my eyes. The ketamine felt much more subtle this time, which I imagine is a result of both my body becoming accustomed to it as well as the reduced dose. It didn’t hit me as suddenly, but I found myself realizing that I had stopped paying attention to the room around me. I had a thought, and before I forgot, I turned to the nurse and said “What is this room labeled?” She looked at me blankly, perhaps thinking that I was already too high to articulate logical thoughts. I quickly clarified “Y’know, the other room is ‘Staff Pool and Spa’. So what’s this room?” Understanding washed over her face, and she laughed and said she didn’t know. She got up to peek around the outside of the door and came back with the disappointing answer of “nothing”. We mused that this room should have a funny name, too. Someone floated an idea, but by that point, I was really sinking into a ketamine haze and don’t remember what it was.
The nurse sat next to me, taking notes, and the machine beeped softly just behind me. My mother sat in the corner, typing on her laptop. I gently floated in half-perceived consciousness. I waited for the images to begin, but all I saw were the backs of my eyelids. Black and pale yellow shapes inflated and pushed against one another; they were more distinct than what I normally see when I close my eyes, but it definitely felt like the same process of retinal neurons misfiring. I was a little on edge, waiting for weird images to creep in, but once I realized that wasn’t going to happen, I tried to just let go and float. I put the other earbud in (groping for my ear with numb fingers) and settled back.
Large chunks of time were punctuated by movement in the room. I heard my mom close her laptop and take out her knitting. The metallic needles clinked together softly. The nurse put her hand on mine and told me to take a deep breath, in through my nose and out through my mouth. Apparently, I had forgotten to breathe and my blood oxygen level dropped. At some point, the doctor cracked the door open and I heard him whisper to the nurse that I should keep my eyes closed so as to minimize nausea. Later, the nurse and the doctor switched. I noticed the differences in how they walked, sat down, and how much noise they made while taking notes and shifting around. I kept my eyes closed the entire time. My usual discomfort in having my eyes closed around other people and activity was suppressed; I was paying attention when something happened, but I was content to only listen.
When the ketamine infusion was done, it seemed like it took less time for me to return to normal. The additional nausea medicine worked wonders, although I did feel more sedated. I’m happy to report that I did not get a headache following the infusion. However, I’m not happy to report that I’m not happy. Definitely still depressed. I’m trying really hard to not get discouraged, as I’m only 1/3 of the way through the initial series. I won’t lie, though, it’s tough to not be disappointed.
Reminder to myself: detached curiosity.