“Remind me that we need to go to the store after this,” my mom said as we pulled up to a stoplight on our way to my eighth ketamine infusion. We came to a stop, looked at each other, and burst out laughing.
“I’m not making any promises,” I replied.
This was the last of my initial series of ketamine infusions, which are treating my severe depression. After about the fourth infusion, I started to notice a significant difference in my mood, which has steadily improved since then. I feel lighter, happier, and constantly find myself marveling at how simple it feels to just get up and accomplish a task. Before I go take advantage of my newfound enthusiasm, I have to tell you about this latest infusion. Buckle up.
Immediately after my IV was put in, I started an album by the Swedish Chamber Choir and quickly decided that, while beautiful, it was far too dramatic and would likely lead to an unpleasant infusion. So, I hurriedly found a playlist of gentle classical music and set it on low volume in my earbuds. “Are you ready?” Dr. G asked.
“I’m ready,” I said, arranging the blanket on my lap and settling in.
Dr. G pressed a final button on the machine next to me and then leaned back in his chair and put his hand over his mouth as if holding a loudspeaker microphone. “KKshSHhSH. Thank you for flying Ketamine Airlines. This is your captain speaking.” We all laughed, and that’s the last thing of the real world that I remember with clarity.
I closed my eyes, determined this time to keep them closed the whole time. Usually, I leave them open until I begin to feel it, but this time I shut them immediately. I watched the darkness behind my eyelids, wondering if it would be obvious when it started to kick in. It’s easy to tell when my eyes are open because things around the room start to look blurry and soft. At some point, I remember noticing a sensation of tilting to the sides. When I breathed in, I tilted to the right. When I exhaled, I tilted left. Soon after, I began to see vibrant blue against deep, deep black. From above, still in black and blue, was a mountain lion picking her way along the snowy banks of a winding river. The image disintegrated and the blue fell away like grains of sand in an hourglass.
The music played an enormous part in what I saw. Each new song produced new scenes and images, and I remember thinking, somewhere far away, that I wanted to remember which song went with which vision. Alas, I was too captivated to do anything but be carried along with the music.
One song produced a sensation of being underwater, surrounded by jellyfish. They moved with surprising energy, but were peaceful and delicate. The song ended and as another began, I was transported to what I can only imagine were the steppes of Siberia. Nomadic people stood on the striking landscape, dressed warmly in furs, observing their herds. I then sank below the permafrost, light receding upward until I was in darkness. Suddenly, light appeared and brightened until it was blinding and white. People came into view, carrying a large, rounded container. I knew that this was a funeral, and as they put the container down, I felt as though I were being pressed firmly into soft earth. All around me were mossy bones and skeletons that looked at me. They seemed like they had been kind people. Another song began, and the blinding white light returned. As it dimmed slightly, I realized the light was reflecting off of vast landscapes of ice. Strangely, I felt my clasped hands begin to pull apart, and at the same time, I saw an enormous ice floe crack down the middle and start to separate. There was tremendous weight on each side, and volumes of icy water were displaced as the ice floe crashed down into two.
Throughout all of this, I would occasionally become aware of the room around me. At one point, there was talking, and although it was distinctly english, the words didn’t make sense to me. It sounded a lot like this video. Although I felt incredibly immersed in my ketamine dreams, when Dr. G bumped into the door, my eyes flew open. As soon as I realized there was nothing to worry about, I closed my eyes and returned to my skeleton/jellyfish/ice floe visions. When the infusion was over, I left my eyes closed until I could tell that I was seeing normal darkness rather than a d v a n c e d darkness [cue Spongebob clip].
When we got in the car, I pulled out my phone and began writing down as much of the infusion as I could remember. This resulted in notes like “skeletons everywhere” and “SHARP blue shapes”. I’ve done my best to interpret them, but I’m sure there’s more that I can’t remember anymore. When I got home, I slept for five hours, woke up at 9 PM, ate a banana, and went back to bed.
As this was the last in my initial series, I now have two weeks until my next infusion. This blog series will continue, but with less frequent posts. If you have questions about ketamine or anything I’ve written about here, please leave them in the comments. I’d be happy to answer them!