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.