It’s been two weeks since my last infusion of IV ketamine for treatment-resistant depression, and I’m still feeling much better than I did before I started. Minor setback due to my lithium experiment aside, it seems like the ketamine hadn’t started to wear off yet, meaning we could schedule the next one for three weeks out.
A Subtle Beginning
As they all are, this ketamine infusion was pretty…different. I popped my earbuds in and started a classical music playlist. Like last time, I closed my eyes and waited for it to begin. It was subtle, and when Dr. G asked me a few minutes later if I was feeling it yet, I opened my eyes and was met with a normal-looking world. “Not really,” I said. Of course, I was eating my words when, a couple of minutes later, I felt like my nose was sinking into my face. (It should be noted that none of this is ever scary for me. I had the sensation that my nose was sinking, but I was completely aware that it wasn’t.)
I thought that maybe I should say, “My nose is sinking into my face,” as Dr. G wanted to know when I felt it taking effect. Somehow, this got lost when I began seeing a whirlpool in a lake that turned into the eye of a storm, spiraling endlessly (song: Full Room Empty Space by Vincent & A Secret).
[I tried to remember which songs went with which images by taking screenshots of my lock screen. I’m finding it tough to remember the majority of this infusion, but I’ll do my best to match up the songs with what I saw.]
Music Influences My Ketamine Dreams
When I got home, I sat down with my laptop and my phone and began trying to recreate the images I saw by listening to the songs over again. Most of them only evoke general feelings and a vague memory of an image. For example, I remember that Prelude and Fugue in C by Bach produced a vision of bright red ink spreading on a ceiling of thick watercolor paper with a chandelier hanging down from the middle.
Concerto in D Minor by Handel gave me a feeling of very old royalty and led to images of stately, historic stone buildings.
At some point, there was a song – I think it was River Free by Boil the Ocean – that paired with images of vast open ocean and a whale shark swimming slowly near schools of fish. While most of these have faded in my memory and I have screenshots of more songs than I can remember images, there was one that stuck with me:
The Fish Wedding
The song is “Songs My Mother Taught Me” by Dvorak. It begins with two fish tucked into a bed, the linens pulled neatly up to their fins. Then, the bed falls away and the fish are dressed in wedding attire; tuxedo on one and dress and veil on the other.
The fish bride is moving down the aisle (conveniently, I can only see her top half. Not sure about the mechanism of movement, having no legs.) There are rows of guests on either side, and I cannot figure out if they’re fish or human. Either way, they watch her breathlessly.
Now, we’re at the reception. The bride and groom are cutting the cake, fins gripping a large knife. As it cuts into the cake, the entire thing collapses in on itself, as if the cake were made of cardboard. The song ends, Allegri’s Miserere mei, Deus begins, and we return to the church with the fish bride.
And then it’s like my brain went, “Wait a minute – we can’t have an anthropomorphized fish in a wedding dress in here, at least not with THIS song,” and the entire feeling of the vision changed. If you can consider your brain to have “cinematography” in ketamine scenes, the images went from “Pride and Prejudice meets quirky, French cartoon,” to “emotional history documentary.” The fish disappeared, and it was just soaring views of an empty cathedral with light streaming in through stained glass windows.
Memories of Ketamine Dreams are Choppy
It’s mildly frustrating to remember thinking “Wow, this song goes perfectly with what I’m seeing,” and not being able to remember what it was that I saw. Sometimes patients will ask the doctor to write down things they think of while the ketamine infusion is going, thinking that it’s incredibly profound, only to read it later and either have no idea what it means or be entirely underwhelmed by its meaning. I imagine that’s what would happen if I could remember every image with its accompanying song. It probably wouldn’t be as perfect as I thought it was.
This was definitely an entertaining infusion, and when I came back to the room, I had no words to describe it other than to say, “There was a FISH. WEDDING.” And then laugh and shake my head.
What it Feels Like to Come Out of a Ketamine Infusion
The best way I can explain what it feels like right after a ketamine infusion is that it’s like waking up over and over again. You’re listening to someone talk, definitely paying attention, and then all of a sudden you feel like you just woke up again. The words you remember them speaking bounce around in your head for a minute- were they dreams? This happens several times, each coming a little further out than the last one. Eventually, you’re solidly awake and can go home to contemplate the love lives of fish.
If you’d like to read more about my experience with ketamine for depression, start from the beginning of The Ketamine Chronicles or visit the archives. Click here for mobile-optimized archives of The Ketamine Chronicles.