Owl Eye: The Ketamine Chronicles (Part 25)

IV ketamine treatment for depression is one of multiple treatments I use for my mental health. We’re still adjusting it and trying new doses as things change, which makes for interesting little self-experiments. Last time, we went without propofol and discovered that it was fine for me; in fact, I preferred it. This time, I forgot to check for refills on my scopolamine prescription, so I didn’t use any prior to my appointment. With no propofol, no scopolamine, and a slightly higher dose, this ketamine infusion felt remarkably vivid. It was much like the first few ketamine infusions I had, which were dominated by immersive scenes and imagery that constantly changed.

IV Ketamine Treatment for Depression Feels New Every Time

I felt it quickly this time, the room beginning to sway and bend even before I fully settled in and closed my eyes. Still, I only saw darkness for what felt like a long time but was probably only a minute or two. Then, subtle lines took shape, and my mental lens zoomed in on an owl’s face. The eye was my focus – although the steely beak caught my attention as well. The image rotated slowly before fading away, the owl’s eye staring back at me.

After the rotating owl, the sounds of the room made an appearance in my mind. The gentle chug chugging of the infusion pump reminded me of a train, and I soon saw one on the horizon of my internal view. It belched smoke – an early, coal-powered one – and rumbled closer and closer. The black smoke filled the air, blocking my vision until all that remained was a small view of the front of the train as it trundled by. Black smoke, liquid, or goop filling my vision was something of a theme in this ketamine infusion. On other occasions, it expanded from small blobs until they met and pressed against one another, filling whatever volume my mental space contained while I tried to see through a narrowing hole.

Memory Recall During Ketamine Therapy

If I’m correctly piecing this together from my garbled and typo-riddled notes, which I took in the car on my way home, the sensation of being smothered by the black smoke brought my awareness to my mask. This, in turn, created an image of cloth above my face, with an illegible tag sewn into the seam (a common theme in my infusions is not being able to decipher letters or numbers).

My mind then conjured up a lovely memory of building a couch fort with my brother as kids. The memory itself was jumbled and consisted of snapshots – balancing the cushions just right, sliding head-first over the arm of the couch and down into the fort, and sitting with my knees pulled up in the dark confines of our shared space. The most convincing parts of the memory were the sensations. I could feel the texture of the couch upholstery and the give of the stuffing in the cushions. I noted the darkness with cracks of light where the cushions didn’t meet, and the feeling of the seat cushion grazing the top of my head. I don’t think I’ve ever re-experienced a memory during a ketamine infusion before. It was a comforting feeling to be returned to the experience of being a kid, entranced in the moment by the fantasy of a simple couch fort.

Recurring Themes in Depression Treatment

As usual, water made an appearance in my ketamine dreams. This time, it began with a slowly spinning whirlpool of green/yellow water, lit from within to make the water glow. Soon, I was in the whirlpool, and it turned into the ocean. The water swelled around me, and wave after wave overtook me until I was underwater. It was not frightening, although in describing it, I realize it sounds a lot like I was drowning. Once underwater, I saw an apparently incredible scene which I do not remember but my notes describe as, “Turtle? Fish on lines like balloons. Underwater city of fantastical things.”

A purple striped fish with spiky fins in the ocean.
Photo by Sophia Muller on Unsplash

If only I could remember. What treasures have been lost in the depths of my brain? (Water puns fully intended.)

Altered Visual Perception and Ketamine

I returned to the room several times during this infusion, convinced that it must be over soon, only to find that the people had swapped or left or reappeared. My mother had gone to run an errand and had dropped me off but returned partway through my infusion. I saw her sitting in the corner maybe four feet from me, yet it seemed that she was very, very far away. It was a little like looking through the wrong end of binoculars. I tried to read her expression – was she even looking at me? The more I tried to settle my gaze on her, the more my eyes refused to cooperate. They jumped around and made double images, and eventually, I admitted defeat and closed them once again.

Sense of Time During Ketamine Infusions

The scenes and images I was seeing were so numerous that they seemed to be packed into time in an unbelievable manner. It’s strange to think that I could experience so much in such a short amount of time, but even after all of that, there was more. I remember walking over a mountain range with an enormously tall man – I was also enormous – while he proudly described in great detail how he made the mountains. In another scene, a golden dog (I think it was a statue?) was hidden in a room packed with items. My notes reference my teeth feeling soft, something about lizard scales, and robotic cats. “What if they found my head underneath San Francisco?” must have been in response to an extremely bizarre episode of Star Trek that I recently watched in which Data’s head is found during an archaeological dig underneath – you guessed it – San Francisco.

I’m so glad that I took notes on my phone immediately after my ketamine appointment, because I find that the memory of it fades over time unless I can remind myself of what I saw. I was functioning pretty well after my IV ketamine treatment and was able to get myself to take notes rather than close my eyes on the way home. The rest of the day was fairly pleasant. I greatly prefer infusions without propofol both because of its effects during the infusion as well as because of how it alters the rest of the day. Of course, I wasn’t entirely myself until several hours afterward. I took my shoes off somewhere in the house upon getting home and promptly lost them. I could not figure out where I put them until I found them the next day in a closet. Why would I put them away?! In a closet?? Absurd.

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.

Silhouette of a person walking into a lake at sunset with ripples on the water and a view of the horizon

Just Float Away: The Ketamine Chronicles (Part 20)

Erin, the PA, tells me I have gorgeous veins. It’s just one of my many redeeming qualities. Prone to perfectionism and crippling indecision? Yes. But hey – at least I have great veins! Starting the IV for my ketamine infusions, which treat my depression, is always an easy process, which is nice. This time, we once again did a pretty robust dose of ketamine with some propofol to make it less intense. Erin got me set up while we chatted, and then Dr. G popped into the doorway, explained just how many anti-nausea drugs I got (technically four(?), if I remember correctly), and then stopped. “What are we NOT going to do a lot of this time?” He asked.

“[brief silence] Looking around!”

I got a figurative gold star for my answer. I promised Dr. G I’d keep my eyes closed, popped in my earbuds, and settled in.

What Ketamine Infusions for Depression Feel Like

The familiar floating sensation reminded me strongly of water, as usual. Behind my eyelids, the blackness rippled and flowed, hinting at some unseen current. Soon, minuscule red specks glittered against the dark, moving with the gentle waves and forming dynamic shapes. It seemed as if there were something beyond the darkness that I could nearly see, like I needed to travel through the black, quiet water to reach something.

I began to imagine that I was lying on a beach, submerged in shallow water, looking up at the sky through the water that lapped at the shore. The sand beneath me was gritty, but the water was clear and the sky was blue. It was peaceful. Soon, though, the movement of the water reminded me of my recent road trip vertigo and the anxiety it created, and the peacefulness was ruined.

I wondered if it would even be possible to have a panic attack while mildly sedated, but decided that I should put effort into preventing one, regardless. After all, it would be rather counter-productive. Bobbing and rolling in the imaginary water did make me anxious, although part of it was at the thought that freaking out would be pretty embarrassing. In trying to resist the anxiety, I realized that I was only making myself more aware of the movement. I needed to not fight it – to just accept that I was not going to feel completely still.

Dark blue water with gentle ripples on the surface
Photo by Lothar Boris Piltz on Unsplash

Once I let myself float away, the infusion seemed to speed up, and large chunks of time just disappeared. I don’t remember anything except standing in a room in a family member’s house, recalling the details of my surroundings with what seemed to be incredible accuracy. I actually worried momentarily that I might be flouting Dr. Grindle’s orders by having my eyes open. He might confiscate my gold star!

Except, wait- my eyes were closed. And yet, the windows let bright sunlight in through the blinds. The ones on the right were broken three slats up. The wicker chair with the yellow cushions was angled just right in the corner. The dresser with a sand dollar and a starfish on top sat just how I remember it. That rug that years ago was closer to shag but is worn and aging now, laid on the floor. I took in the scene quietly. There was nothing happening; I was just absorbing the room’s contents.

Recovering from an IV Ketamine Infusion

It seems like the more I think about it now, the less I remember how I got home. The infusion finished and Erin took the I.V. out. Then, Dr. G handed a bottle of apple juice to Erin, who offered it to me. I reached out and took it with my wacky inflatable car dealership arms and then decided to wait for my facial features to materialize before trying to drink it. Somehow, I got my shoes on and made it to the car with my mom, who politely stopped after every three or four steps down the parking garage stairs and turned slightly to make sure I was still on my feet.

I may have fed the dog twice that night. My memory of post-infusion actions is incomplete, and I don’t doubt for a second that Stella would take advantage of that. Maybe that’s why she begs for food in the evening after I’ve already fed her– because sometimes it works! This is why it’s important to not make any important decisions following a ketamine infusion treatment for depression. You might end up with a new boat or no house or, you know, a spoiled dog.

A padded grey sleep mask with an elastic band arranged on white linens

Trying a Sleep Mask During IV Ketamine Therapy: The Ketamine Chronicles (Part 19)

While walking through the grocery store the other day, a cheap sleep mask caught my eye. My previous post about ketamine for treatment-resistant depression, 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 IV ketamine therapy session.

An Unsuccessful First Attempt

My first attempt to cover my eyes during a ketamine infusion for my depression 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, dissociative sensations of ketamine. 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.

Adapting to Change is Tough with Sensory Processing Disorder

A light blue satin sleep mask with a black border and black strap lying flat on a light grey surface

I hadn’t worn a sleep mask during a ketamine 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 ketamine infusion started. My immediate reaction was, “I don’t like this.” But, comorbid 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.

Physical Distortions and IV Ketamine Therapy for Depression

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.”

IV Ketamine Therapy Creates Indescribably Sharp Images

Sometimes, the things I see in my IV ketamine therapy 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 ketamine infusion.

A black dog with pointy ears sitting and panting outside

Memories and My Subconscious

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 ketamine 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 a sense of wastefulness.

I only vaguely remember other images from this ketamine infusion – mostly measurement things like ticking numbers on a digital counter and tape measures stretching out.

The Verdict on the Mask

Overall, wearing the sleep mask during depression treatment with ketamine 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.

Having Hope with IV Ketamine Therapy for Depression

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.

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.