Self-Development | My Dysfunctional Relationship with the Self-Concept
Finn Mertens shares an intense 1V-LSD experience and how it helped him improve his relationship...
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Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Chemical Collective or any associated parties.
I have been utilizing psychedelics for decades, both recreationally and ceremonially, and also as an occasional medicinal remedy for deep depression. These practices began in my late teens and early twenties with LSD and psilocybin. I discovered these chemicals at festivals and drum circles around Philadelphia. At first, I took them recreationally, purely for the existential thrill of feeling the effects of the chemicals, nothing much deeper. However, as I moved into my later twenties and early thirties I had grown an appreciation and respect for these substances along with a healthy fear of going too deep or becoming too far gone by taking too much too frequently.
I had many thrilling and interesting experiences, but never a “breakthrough” experience as some I knew had described when tripping on these substances and others like DMT or Salvia Divinorum. It was as if they had seen God or learned something about the universe, but all I was experiencing was fun side-effects of lower dosages of these chemicals. I had never taken a “heroic” dose of psilocybin and had only been taking small doses of LSD. I was just getting high.
As time wore on, I used them less as recreational drugs and more as medicine to help break cycles of depression. I also sought the aid of antidepressants and therapists, but I already had these psychedelic tools in my toolbox, so to speak, and I knew how they worked and how they helped me. At times, in my late thirties, I would microdose for periods of anywhere from one week to one month, taking a very small dose every two or three days. This practice proved helpful in vastly improving my mood overall, but it didn’t eliminate the anxiety and depression from which I had long been suffering.
I might add here that I was also suffering from addiction to alcohol more and more into the end of my thirties. I am now forty years old, for reference. I also no longer drink alcohol.
When I began researching the use of psychedelic substances and their therapeutic applications, I came across a book titled ‘How To Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence’ by author Michael Pollan. In it, in chapter six, ‘The Trip Treatment: Psychedelics in Psychotherapy,’ the author describes the work of Roland Griffiths and Stephen Ross’s 2017 study on psilocybin and depression for the FDA. “As regulators saw it, the data contained a strong enough ‘signal’ that psilocybin could relieve depression; it would be a shame not to test the proposition, given the enormity of the need and the limitations of therapies now available.” (Pollan, 375).
Antidepressants and traditional talk therapy hadn’t really helped me in the past, so reading about these studies and their positive effects on cancer patients was encouraging. I felt like I was going in the right direction, but I needed more and different kinds of help. I was looking for something involving psychedelics, but I didn’t know what exactly. I suspected I had PTSD or some other condition that was making things very difficult for me.
When I first saw ads for MindBloom’s ketamine therapy on Facebook, I was looking for something different than any experience I’d had before but didn’t want to commit anywhere from 6 to 12 hours that it normally would take to feel any relief with LSD or Psilocybin. This was the summer of 2020, during the height of the pandemic in the USA.
I met with their clinician via zoom and scheduled my first session. The ketamine prescription arrived in the mail and I used their website’s prompts to prepare for and reflect on my experiences before and after the journey. They also sent a blood pressure cuff and a notebook in which I was to collect my thoughts immediately following the journey. I met with the clinician before and after that first session as well as the next one. Afterward, I was on my own at home using their website as a guide along with my wife to babysit me while I was lying down with headphones on and an eye cover. The medication was in pellet form that I dissolved in my mouth over 7 to 10 minutes and then spat out the remainder.
The ketamine therapy experience lasts for around an hour – unless you swallow the medication instead of spitting it out after 7-10 minutes. The concept of ‘set and setting’ has become an important reference point for most psychedelic therapies or healing ceremonies. Where you are situated during your experience and the audio/visual components are crucial in some instances.
For the Mindbloom treatments, I listened to a playlist of music, and inspirational speeches from Alan Watts, the famous philosopher, orator, and expert on Eastern thought. I placed a very soft blanket on my couch and situated myself so that I would be comfortable. After listening to some inspirational talks recorded by the clinician, I would place the tablets in my mouth between my cheeks and teeth and set a timer. By the time I had finished listening to Beatnik scholar Alan Watts’ talk on the meaning of life, I was on my way into the experience. The listening material changed from talking to purely psychedelic music. I have researched this area and have discovered a few applications or platforms built exclusively for psychedelic therapies such as Endel or Wavepaths, but that’s another article entirely.
While under the influence of ketamine, many times, I had “out of body” experiences. I felt like I left the physical plane and went somewhere beyond our limited sense perceptions. At lower doses, I felt like I was on a cloud of pure love being held sweetly by the universe or God or whatever quantum energy is out there beyond this world. I felt like a small pea pod that was part of a much larger, vastly more sophisticated biological organism. It was like I was just a tiny, one-celled organism living on my own face like dust mites or tardigrades. But though I was tiny, I was connected to and part of the larger whole.
As I ventured deeper into higher doses, I would experience egoic death, a place in my mind where I ceased being myself and commenced connecting with all beings everywhere in a giant web of energy as one unified consciousness. I would slingshot way out into space like pulling a camera back from a close-up of the planet and out into the void. Then, as the experience came to a close, I would slingshot back down into my body and merge back into my individual self and become aware of my own existence again.
Here I will speak on the drawbacks of home-based therapy as opposed to a clinical setting. While being in my own environment was certainly helpful in terms of set and setting, it was very stressful for my wife to be my nurse during those experiences. I am twice her size, and a few times, I got up off the couch and fell and hit my head or bruised my arms or legs. This was most likely because I was taking too high of a dosage and should have backed down a bit.
For the last few sessions, I had my brother come over to babysit me because he’s more my size and could handle getting me back on the couch if I stood up. Eventually, I just laid in a foam pad on the floor. I’m sure if I was visiting a clinic that they would have been monitoring my dosages and reactions much more carefully, but I wasn’t about to go into a physical location during a pandemic.
The period of time following the ketamine experience is just as important as the experience itself. During that time, the participant should be focusing on leveraging their ketamine-induced neuroplastic state to form new neural pathways for new thought patterns and new, more healthy behaviors. This is a time of revolution for the mind where you can sluff off old, harmful habits and begin new, more helpful routines. In my experiences, this neuroplastic state was sometimes difficult as the medication made me more sensitive to sounds and lights. However, I was able to eat better, exercise more, and eventually stopped drinking alcohol altogether. This period following the experiences can be challenging to navigate at times. You may be more sensitive in ways you might not have been before. On the other hand, it also may be a very happy time in that you may be feeling relief from other conditions that you haven’t felt before, at least for a very long time. Both conditions are possible and may happen separately or simultaneously. At the time, I was only working with Mindbloom’s website and my own intuition. Looking back, I would have benefited from having a clinician there throughout the entire process.
The various groupings of treatments are structured to be used sequentially, each being a set of four journeys or experiences. First, you are in the “Getting Started” sessions, where you find your dosages and learn how to navigate the experiences.
In “Going Deeper” you have adjusted your dosage and are learning more about how to leverage the neuroplastic state. Further than that, there were two options. I chose to do “Learning to Love Yourself” first as I felt I needed to work on my self-perception. Usually, I would do one treatment every 5-7 days according to our work schedules, etc. For this first set of “Learning to Love Yourself” I only waited 2-3 days between treatments because I wanted to try to connect the neuroplastic states as much as I could to form new self-concepts.
I then did the “Beyond Depression” set and reverted to the previous spacing of days between sessions. I normally waited a month between each set of four sessions. Finally, I did another round of “Learning to Love Yourself” as I felt I still had many negative self-thoughts. During this time, I also attended two “integration circles” online to help process my experiences with others participating in the program via Zoom. I met with anywhere from 4-7 people at each meeting, and we all discussed our experiences and asked each other questions. It was really helpful to speak with others undergoing the treatment.
Additionally, in an effort to more fully understand my experiences, I began studying philosophy and religion again. I wanted to know what had happened to me while I was out there in the void. What I found while I was out there was a never-ending and all-inclusive feeling of unconditional love and I knew concretely that I was just a small shard of loving light situated within a meatbag called me. I knew I was more than just human. I knew there was more to existence than just this one life. I immediately and completely began believing in reincarnation and that my soul was a fraction of an immortal being sent down into this existence to learn something new and that eventually, I would be free from suffering. I knew all this like I knew my own mother. There were no longer any questions in my mind except for what to call all of this and how to organise this new information in my mind so as to aid me in further awakening myself to higher levels of consciousness.
What I found was Advaita Vedanta, a school of Hinduism, which quite perfectly fit my newly found identity. This is now my religion, and I have begun to study the ancient texts and have been very much enjoying the more esoteric teachings of the Bhagavad Gita and The Upanishads. However, I also study Toltec Wisdom, Shambhala Warriorship, the Unity of Being, and the Rule of One. But, I digress, and I shall leave the philosophical and religious conversation here.
Having finished my treatments for the time being, I can say that I have very much changed how I think about life, the universe, and everything. I have a newfound perspective on life and feel like I finally know my place in this universe, or at least I understand why I’m here for now.
After finishing the treatments, I regularly began seeing a new therapist and started on new medications to help with mixed-polar depression. I was previously on Wellbutrin for depression and was issued a medical marijuana card in Pennsylvania for anxiety. Though the ketamine treatments did help to change my mind about who I am and why I am here, it also exacerbated some other symptoms of my anxiety and depression. I was having major mood swings after the final set of treatments. This may not be the case for everyone, but it was for me. So I found help and started taking Seroquel to stabilize my moods. I might add here that I found a therapist with whom I feel safe to divulge my inner thoughts and feelings. This is a very important development as I hadn’t had that experience with therapists before and this particular therapist was a specialist in PTSD and trauma and utilized Cognitive Behavioral Therapy techniques. I now feel more at home in talk therapy and have begun really digging into my past which revealed that I do most assuredly suffer from PTSD for which I will be beginning EMDR treatments presently.
Life after ketamine treatments is pretty good. I know myself better than I ever have before. I know my world and my universe and can make sense of what was before a seemingly senseless and brutal world. I have the perspective of a higher consciousness that reminds me of my purpose. I know that I am here to live a life of service to those around me. I feel enlightened. I feel like I now understand all the zazen and Taoist teachings I read in my twenties. I get it, I get life. I still get frustrated, I still get angry, but I am more able to observe these feelings and either deal with them or let them pass me by like a cloud in the sky. I want to be clear that this is just my own personal experience and that you may have an entirely different one than what I have described here. To those who may venture down the road of ketamine-assisted therapy, I wish you the best of luck and only love and light as you go forward.
Your friend in peace,
Thelonious Jawn | Community Blogger at Chemical Collective
Thelonious is one of our community bloggers here at Chemical Collective. If you’re interested in joining our blogging team and getting paid to write about subjects you’re passionate about, please reach out to Matt via email at firstname.lastname@example.org
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