A woman wearing a black one-piece swimsuit floating in dark water with her knees bent and her arms outstretched to the sides

Underwater: The Ketamine Chronicles (Part 12)

Breaking through the thin boundary between water and air is easy, but the farther down you are, the harder it is to swim to the surface. Higher doses during IV ketamine infusions for depression make me feel like I’m sinking beneath vast volumes of water, and the barrier between my mind and the outside world is very far away.

I don’t remember much from this IV ketamine infusion, which I have every few weeks as a treatment for my severe, treatment-resistant depression. I remember sitting in the chair and closing my eyes. Then, a minute later, the machine beeped and the nurse reached over to me. She fiddled with the IV, smiled wryly, then said, “We have to have the clamp open.”

“That helps,” I replied with a smile.

After that, I remember very little. I was listening to classical music in my earbuds, which seems to create (for me) more memorable images than meditation music, but apparently not memorable enough to outweigh the sack of bricks that hit me when the ketamine kicked in. I do remember bursts of thin lines that became ripples on water, and finger painting a nature scene with varying shades of pink. I remember a crocodile, a puffy dress, and watching my inner set of eyelids close to darkness.

It always takes some work for me to come back to the room when a ketamine infusion is over. This time, I kept thinking that people were waiting on me to come out of it, so I thought I should hurry up and return to my body. But, when I dragged my real eyelids open and looked around, somebody said, “Just a couple more minutes.” Oh. That’s why it was so hard to pull myself back. It wasn’t even over yet.

Slow to Return to My Body and Mind

At lower doses of ketamine treatments, I generally feel normal within 30 minutes of the infusion ending, if a little tired. This time, though, it’s all a blur. I remember the rest of the day in jumbled snapshots. Returning to the room around me and talking to Sarah, who mysteriously took the place of the nurse at some point; telling Dr. G that I didn’t remember what I saw; pushing the footrest down with my heels, then walking to the car with my mom. Two kids sprinted past us, almost colliding– wait– was that before the infusion or after? That was before. When I woke up on my bed hours later, I was mildly unsettled that I could remember so little of the day. I know that I wouldn’t have said that I felt weird in the moment, but my memory of it all is so broken that I clearly was pretty impaired.

Four or five hours after getting home, I pushed myself out of bed and tottered to the kitchen for some food. When I turned or bent, mild vertigo briefly grabbed me. A can of soup and a clementine later, I pulled out my laptop to jot down some notes about the infusion, only to sit, stumped by my lack of memory. Listening to the music I chose over again prompted flashes of scenes and images, but I still have the sense that there are some rich plots that I’m missing. It’s like when you know you had a bizarre dream, but you just can’t quite remember what it was about. Ah, well. It’s entertaining to remember my ketamine dreams, but the important part is that it’s getting to work in my noggin to treat my depression as we speak.

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.

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