The Regression

The Regression

I’m not a cynical sort, but my instinct for reality is such that when I embarked on my Ketamine journey, I gauged that at some point I’d experience some sort of setback. Nothing goes up perfectly forever, not the stock market, not rockets and definitely not my recovery. I didn’t know if I’d trip or experience a large-scale relapse or encounter something completely fresh, but I knew that this wouldn’t be an ever-rising flight of increasing mental health.

I know that sounds like cynicism, an inability to stroke the gift horse’s mane without leaning in to check its teeth. But it’s not. I just wanted to be realistic and be prepared to deal with whatever setback I might experience, rather than be crippled by it because I didn’t expect it and had no response planned.

I was right to expect something.

The first manifestation of this downturn in the market has been recurring muscle tension. I’ve discovered I have been holding my body rigidly. It began following my third at-home session and shortly before my second in-office session. It’s a feeling I’m familiar with, though that isn’t the least bit reassuring. I experienced it for more than a year following a bout of depression I suffered in the early aughts. It was related to fear surrounding anger from my former partner after ending a relationship. The phenomenon was explained to me as vigilance, holding oneself ready for the next disaster. In my current state, I account for it as my ego holding onto all the old hurts that helped give it shape. I have no need to hold onto emotional scar tissue, but it would seem my Default Mode Network, the part of the brain that generates the internal editor, has a difference of opinion. I may go hours or even a day without feeling the tension, and then I can go six hours with me feeling my body is rigid every time I take notice.

Even when I feel like I’m relaxed, I’ll often take a deep breath, and then try to settle myself further as I exhale. Invariably, I’m able to release more tension. I dare not check my heart rate because I’m afraid I’ll see it drop by six beats.

The corollary to this has been extended fatigue on the bike for the last 10 days or so. I avoid hills like I dodged homework as a kid.

I’ve bumped up against a few of my traditional triggers, and I’ll admit they still rattle me. Things that were overwhelming or unmanageable back in July are largely still difficult. The difference is that they don’t paralyze me. But I’m waiting for the occasion when one of my old issues really does send me back to the showers. What then? Now that I’m writing about this so publicly, I’m afraid to let people down by admitting that I still struggle with stuff, stuff that’s easy for a great many people but insanely hard for me. Don’t ask me about meal planning; I’d rather get encephalitis again. And I’m not just afraid to let down other people who live with depression, but I’m just as scared of giving ammunition to people who: don’t think depression is worthy of such attention, believe that psychedelics can help with recovery, trust that if I can get out of bed and do my job I can’t possibly be depressed.

This is the stuff of depression itself: the belief that I must project this radiant smile at all times to prove that Ketamine is a legitimate medicine for a legitimate disease, and if I’m not confident that I can do that I attack—myself. And why not? How could I let those providing treatment down? How could I be so selfish as to allow doubt to creep into the minds of those contemplating this course of treatment? What of my own self-confidence? How do I trust that Ketamine will help again if I stumble?

I could have been a prosecutor.

If you don’t think those issues are bad. I have an extraordinary one to add, just the sort of thing to chasten the Marquis de Sade. As the fog of depression has lifted, I’m able to see further into my recesses, into my past. I can tell you it is terrifying to realize that I’ve been far more depressed for far longer than I ever knew. It goes so much deeper and started when Richard M. Nixon was still beloved. But I was able to get out of bed each morning. I’ve always been able to get up, to find something to smile at, even if just one thing in a day. I did enjoy things. I did experience happiness. I’ve managed to fall in love again and again, nevermind the fact that my relationships haven’t lasted, there’s been enough joy in my life to make me think I must be okay. And because I looked close enough to normal on the surface, I never gave much thought to why I was so irritable, so nervous, so unpleasant. The process of beginning to look within didn’t come until the losses in personal relationships really started to stack up. A pattern had to emerge, and I was slow to recognize the pattern even when exposed.

I ache at the desolation of all those years, knowing things could have been so different, less for me than those around me. Here again is another chance to beat up on myself. I rarely knew I was depressed. Why would I if I had the ability to get out of bed and not obsess about killing myself? I had no idea what a panic attack was, though I had any number of friends who had them and could describe them in detail. Somehow I missed that they were as much a part of my life as peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. And how could I have hoped to know I had ADD if the medical establishment didn’t begin diagnosing children with it until I was in junior high school? By that time I wasn’t a teen with a learning disability; I was just a bad student, possibly a bad kid. It would be a couple more decades before the medical community discovered a correlation between ADD and depression. Well doesn’t that fit?

I feel like I’m coming around from a really nasty flu and when I mention to my doctor how that bug really kicked my ass, he looks at me and says, “That was no flu. That was ebola.”

The saddest part? I know I’m not alone. I’m not comforted by that thought. Knowing other people are tortured this way does nothing to reassure me. It makes me sad. I don’t want to be a member of a club. Depression, when viewed toward the pain it inflicts, is best as a party of one. But knowing that other people do hurt has inspired within me a desire to help, to try to be a beacon. Help is out there. And while I’m no medical professional, I’m dedicating myself to being available. I need to do what I can, so others don’t suffer as I have.

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5 comments

  1. dc

    U r massively brave.
    “As the fog of depression has lifted, I’m able to see further into my recesses, into my past. I can tell you it is terrifying to realize that I’ve been far more depressed for far longer than I ever knew.”
    Never have truer words about the Big D ever been spoken.
    Please do everything you can to cut yourself as much slack as possible. Be kind to yourself. You’ve earned it.
    Bravery isn’t ignoring the terror. It’s seeing it and dealing with it anyway.


    1. Author
      Padraig

      I wish I could say something more articulate right now, but I’ll just roll with gratitude. Thanks much.

  2. Jim

    This is great stuff. I don’t know you. I read your webpage and (used to) love to ride my bike just like you so I knew we had certain things in common. Depression is another one. Like you I have always been able to get out of bed each day and a grit my teeth to get through whatever needed to be done. I would occasionally enjoy hanging out with friends, doing things with my family, listening to music and riding my bike. However, it August my mom passed away and this set me into a tailspin. Part of the sadness was of course linked to the grieving process. But it’s gone way beyond that now. I feel like I am adrift at sea on good days and falling into madness on the bad days. I am also thinking that it will take some major intervention to jolt me back to normal. I am reading a book by Michael Pollan about using psychedelics like mushrooms, LSD, etc. to treat depression but it scares the shit out of me. Maybe this is just a short term psychological change and I will revert to normal in time but I’m beginning to doubt it. Just reading the story of a fellow cyclist going through some of the same things I am has given me hope. At least you tried new treatments. I’m afraid to do anything. Best to you.


    1. Author
      Padraig

      Pollan’s book was the single most important step in me deciding to undergo this journey. One thing I’m beginning to see and appreciate is that even if I do slip, I have a clear sense of what a healthier me feels like, and how the world looks. That is an indelible lesson that will help me chart my course any time I get into trouble. Fear is the one thing standing between you and happiness.

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