Tripping My Way Out of Depression: How IV Ketamine Therapy Changed My Brain
This is an original article by patient Kelley Jhung on her experience using IV Ketamine therapy with Pacific Psych Centers.
I’m at my local library, tears welling in my eyes. I’m in so much pain I can’t tolerate it. It’s a familiar pain, really a torture, this depression. I’ve been on psych meds for the last 20 years. And yet, I feel as despondent as when I swallowed too many Xanax at age 15. One of my girlfriends texts me, “Maybe try IV Ketamine therapy?”
I fantasize about walking out onto the railway tracks near my house and having the commuter train smack the sadness, the very existence, out of me. I want to die. I’ve been here before. I am afraid to die. And I don’t want to put my loved ones through the aftermath of my suicide.
I shuffle to my car, the insulting San Diego sun beating down on my already sun-damaged skin. This is not a day where going for a run or deep breathing or getting work done will help me. I cannot stand to be in my own mind anymore. It’s intolerable. I’d rather spend a week in the state prison. Be forced to eat dog poop. Get my toes slowly sawed off.
I do a Yelp! search for Ketamine clinics. I don’t know much about this new practice of using IV Ketamine therapy to treat depression. I’m on Prozac and Klonopin so I assume I won’t be a good candidate.
I call one of the places and ask about the interaction with my psych meds. The receptionist tells me it shouldn’t be a problem. She outlines the costs and then asks, “Are you sure you don’t want to speak with your family about this? Do you need to budget your finances?”
I’m about to kill myself so the steep price seems unimportant.
“No I want to come in,” I tell her in my flat voice.
She tells me their doctor will call me back for a consultation, but that they are very busy and it may take a few days.
No one ends up calling me. It’s the next day and I’m frightened of what I may do to myself.
I dial another Ketamine clinic. It’s difficult for me to even talk, but I utter, “it’s really bad.” The woman on the phone must hear the desperation in my voice because she says, “We have a 9:40 a.m. available tomorrow.”
The hours between hanging up the phone with her and my appointment the next morning are some of the longest of my life. I don’t sleep much; I’m nervous about trying yet another therapy. I stay awake for much of the night watching TED Talks on Ketamine and reading about other patients’ experiences on Yelp! as well as Medium.
I’m anxious and a little hopeful when I arrive at the clinic the next morning. My hands tremble as I fill out the intake paperwork. I think, “I have nothing to lose. If I get permanent brain damage or I end up in the hospital, it’s got to be better than how sad and hopeless I feel right now.”
The doctor tells me I have other options besides IV Ketamine therapy, such as TMS therapy or Esketamine nasal spray. I say, “I need something immediate. I can’t stand feeling this way any longer.”
An hour later a needle is in my vein. Doctor H. starts with 30 mg. Katie, a nurse who works at the clinic, sits in the room with me. Since it’s my first time they need someone to monitor me when I ‘come on’. I start to feel looser, removed. She gets up to leave and says, “You’re peaking now; I’ll let you be alone.”
To which I respond, “I’m peaking? Ha ha ha ha! That’s soooo fuuccking cool.” The contrast between the glum zombie I came in as and the buoyant jokester I am now must intrigue her. Her face lights up, she gets a mischievous look in her eyes, and she laughs with me.
I say something like, “You don’t have to stay. I’m REALLY FUCKING GREAT.” But she sits down again. I say “Can you help me lean my chair back?” then I counter with, “Oh Jeez, that sounded passive-aggressive, like when people in school used to say, ‘Can you just not be so ugly?’ Ha ha ha ha!”
“Your classmates said that?”
“Yeah, but I AM ugly. But I’m gooooood. I really don’t care.”
“Gosh, I’m sorry you feel that way. You are NOT ugly.”
“I am. And I’ve had treatment from so many professionals who don’t really care about me, but I still trust them.”
“Here, people care about you.”
“My depression is a deep, dark, never-ending chasm. You have no idea.”
“I do have an idea.”
“Well, it’s okay if you guys don’t help me. Nothing else ever has.”
“I have a feeling you will get better.”
Even though I’m high, I’ll always remember the earnestness in her face when she says this.
When the doctor comes in to remove the needle I say, “I don’t want this to end! I don’t want to return back to how I was!”
Still in the room, Katie says, “I have a feeling you won’t.”
She was right.
After IV Ketamine Therapy
I fall asleep when I get home. When I wake, I go for a walk. I haven’t wanted to go outside in days. As I’m walking, all the heaviness that’d been plaguing me is gone. Not there. I couldn’t access it if I tried.
Three days later, I drink too much at a party. I’m depressed again the next morning. It’s not as heavy as my usual depression, though. I feel down, a little frightened, but I don’t want to kill myself. And it only lasts a few hours. Then I feel “normal” again. I actually want to answer emails and tackle the list of phone calls I need to make. The perfect San Diego weather doesn’t rile me anymore. I step outside and watch the sunset. I marvel at the fiery dramatic clouds.
During IV Ketamine Therapy
I undergo six infusions over 2 weeks’ time. I don’t enjoy the treatments as much as I did the first time. Dr. H goes up to 40 mg; one time he even uses 45. I can’t handle the feeling on the higher dosage, so we stick with 40 mg.
They insert the needle, and I start to come on a few minutes after. I feel metallic and cold, but in a comforting way, like I’m a chilly metal sculpture who’s covered with a cashmere blanket. I’m also dropping into soft hands that support all of my heaviness. When the Ketamine takes full effect, my mind feels like it’s being shaken and torched, like sizzling scrambled eggs. I think about the people I love. I start to grasp their essence, why they are in my life, the bond we share.
My mind sprouts in different directions, like a young maple tree on steroids. My uncle who recently died appears and tells me that I don’t need to worry so much; I’m held by a cloud as I slowly drop from a Cessna flying over Big Sur; I feel in my marrow that all souls are connected by a benevolent, glowing energy. That sparkling force flashes in my mind. I feel like I can taste it.
The topographic map on the wall blurs into mismatched pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. My brain is still scrambled eggs and the spatula whacks at them faster as they burn. I think to myself, “I might be dead, but I’m ok with it and I know everyone and everything will be alright.”
I don’t enjoy feeling out of control, but I tolerate my brain being torched and thoughts entering my mind like lightning striking a lake. The nurse removes the needle from my vein 40 minutes later. I’m unable to talk to her when she enters the room because I cannot move my face. Nauseated, I open the room’s small window and inhale fresh air. Ten minutes later my husband is driving me home.
I will be in for “maintenance” in a month. For four weeks, I’ll get an infusion every other week, then I will only need to come in every 4–6 weeks. The cost is steep — $400 per infusion. Insurance does not cover IV Ketamine therapy. I am privileged I have good credit and that I can pay some of it off.
I still get depressed. But I don’t want to kill myself. And again, my depression only lasts a couple of hours.
My husband tells me I am much easier to be with, that he feels closer to me. A close friend tells me my voice sounds different. “How?” I ask.
“It doesn’t turn down so much.”
I don’t turn down so much. When I say something stupid to one of my clients, I tell myself I’m having an off day. Before, I’d ruminate over how I disappointed her, her entire family, how I should die for my idiocy.
Now, I’m happy to have a job helping others. I no longer tell myself, “If you don’t say the right thing at the right time, you are a complete loser and you don’t deserve to be here.”
I can look at strangers and smile. I’m no longer a misanthrope who’s afraid of other people, of myself, of the sun.
I’ve told myself some version of “You suck, you shouldn’t be here, you’d better not screw up,” most of my life.
Now, I couldn’t believe that about myself if I tried.
When the sun’s out, I go outside and let it warm my face.
When the train thrusts by, I marvel at its speed, its power. Not at how easy it would be to stand in front of it and be obliterated.
Is this my reality? Is this what it’s like to live without major depression?
If I can no longer pay for the treatment or if it stops working, I’m thankful for the 10 weeks of reprieve.
I don’t miss the old me. I no longer connect to her. I wake up in the morning thinking, “Ok, what does today have in store?”
And instead of wanting to die, I experience this beautiful life.
Pacific Psych Centers is proud to offer IV Ketamine Therapy as one of its available options for treating depression. Schedule a consultation online today.