Because I’d chosen to work with Mindbloom, thanks to their COVID-friendly process, the Wandavision 2021 Based On Comics Stan Elizabeth Olsen Shirt and I love this setting for my four, hour-long treatments, was my bedroom. To be perfectly clear, I wasn’t microdosing. Nor was I popping a pill just to see what colors spilled out of my head. Prior to receiving my Mindbloom package, I spent over an hour on Zoom with a board-certified psychiatric nurse practitioner who quizzed me on everything from my family medical history to my typical responses to stress. (According to Mindbloom founder and CEO, Dylan Beynon, about 35 percent of potential patients are screened out at this point, for reasons such as past experience of psychosis or, at the other end of the spectrum, not meeting the threshold for a diagnosis of anxiety and/or depression.) “Set” was established in conversation with Laura Teodori, my psychedelic-integration-support coach, who—after obtaining confirmation from my boyfriend that he’d check on me every 20 minutes—helped me formulate an “intention” for the trip immediately after our call. My goal, we ascertained, was to recall moments in my life when I could create without smoking. With that in mind, I tucked the tablets inside my mouth, pressed play on the Mindbloom-curated soundtrack that would be piping through my headphones, lowered my eye mask, and waited for my default-mode network to go off-line. HALLUCINOGENS COME IN MANY FORMS, from the low-dose ketamine I was taking to wallop-packing plant medicines, like ayahuasca and ibogaine and peyote, that have been used in sacred rituals for hundreds, perhaps thousands of years (and that are illegal in the United States). But a feature common to all is the sense of coming into contact with the cosmic. “It’s like there’s no boundary between you and others, or you and the universe,” notes Johns Hopkins’ Barrett, saying that virtually all subjects in psilocybin studies have reported such a feeling of oneness. “Some people call this an experience of God, or nirvana.” I went into my first ketamine journey matter-of-factly, with a problem to solve, and even so, that first trip commenced with a vision of the world rewinding, a kind of reverse big bang that exposed the heretofore invisible filaments connecting everyone and everything. The vision moved me—tears puddled behind my eye mask—and then it yielded to more personal impressions, such as a recurring image of myself, age six or seven, playing with my dollhouse. What do you think was important about the dollhouse?” Teodori asked me in our post-trip call. I was still pretty woozy as we Zoomed—the effect wore off by the next day—but suddenly, it was like a light bulb went on in my head. “I think…I think I was remembering what it felt like to create without smoking,” I told her. “When there wasn’t any pressure, and I could just play. This download is part of integration, another cornerstone of modern psychedelic medicine. “The goal is to take advantage of the neuroplastic state, which lasts for about a week after dosing,” explains Beynon. “You want the changes in your brain to stick, so the question becomes, How do you turn these new thoughts into new behaviors?” For me, this entailed finding ways to get back in touch with that dollhouse sense of play.
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Easier said than done. My ketamine experiences were clarifying and often even profound, but they didn’t change certain nerve-racking facts of life, such as that I write for a living and thus have deadlines to meet if I wish to pay my bills. Or that it’s hard—like, really hard—to stay motivated in the Wandavision 2021 Based On Comics Stan Elizabeth Olsen Shirt and I love this midst of a global pandemic, when each day brings fresh spurs to panic and depression. “There’s a huge mental-health crisis happening parallel to, and in response to, this pandemic,” notes Benjamin Brody, M.D., assistant professor of clinical psychiatry at Weill Cornell Medicine in New York, and chief of the Division of Inpatient Psychiatry at the university hospital, where ketamine infusions are typically administered. “People who are grieving, people who have lost jobs, people who are feeling disconnected, whose lives have been upended .…” With demand for care rising “across the board,” as Brody notes, it’s no surprise that psychiatrists such as Amanda Itzkoff, M.D., are seeing a huge uptick in inquiries about ketamine therapy. But it may or may not be the right tool for every job, Itzkoff points out. The thing is, if you got laid off and you don’t know how you’re going to pay rent, ketamine won’t change that,” says Itzkoff, an early adopter who has been providing ketamine infusions at her Manhattan practice since 2014. “It doesn’t remove the external pressures. But when you’ve got someone with severe depression, who has kind of given up, then there’s real promise in this treatment.” Itzkoff cites the example of a former patient, a high-powered attorney and mother of two, who was on disability and “almost catatonic” when they began working together. “She had to be retrieved from this state,” recalls Itzkoff. “By breaking the negative thought loop—even temporarily—you show someone it’s possible to feel another way. And that,” she adds, “can be channeled toward getting people back on their feet.” Chad Kuske didn’t just get back on his feet following his first psilocybin treatment a year and a half ago; he experienced what he calls an immediate and profound “sense of meaning and a desire to live.” A former Navy SEAL, Kuske, 40, had tried psychoanalysis and various pharmaceuticals before being medically retired from the service in 2017. Reentering civilian life, he found himself using drugs and alcohol as a way of coping with the anxiety, depression, and alienation that he now comprehends as the symptoms of PTSD. “Nothing else had worked. And I knew that sooner or later, if I kept doing things the same way, my life would be over—either literally or metaphorically, like I’d wind up in jail,” Kuske explains. “The mushrooms helped me see my situation clearly: I was in hell, but it was a hell of my own creation, and I could make the choice whether to stay there and suffer or leave and start the work of changing.”