The Magic Castle


Today is Sunday. On Friday I had my first injection of  horse tranquilizer for depression. “Treatment-resistant depression” officially. And I got my meds, not from some guy in a van, but from the very legit Treatment-Resistant Depression Clinic (which I like to call the TRD clinic. )

I’ve been interested in ketamine since before I got clean. I heard it was a magic bullet for anxiety/depression, which has ruined half my life (I was solely responsible for the rest). Of course since underwent the metamorphis of rehab, I’m much better than I ever was. I have tools to manage the thoughts of catastrophe and failure, the feelings of emptiness and anhedonia. I’ve learned to sing in my chains.  But, as I told the PA who did my intake, I’d like to try it without the chains.

When I was in rehab, I heard one of the shrinks, Dr. Giorgadze – Dr G – was using it. Dr. G wasn’t my doctor but I used to hem him up whenever he was in the building, grill him about G-proteins and existentialism. Once when I was in the big bathroom in the Day Hospital he walked in and started peeing at the next urinal and I was actually starting to feel good again (pink cloud), so I started singing “I’m the ket- a – mine man, fixin’ up depression, making the world taste good.”

He looked at me like I was nuts. It was a mental hospital, after all.

After rehab I contacted Dr. G again about ketamine, but he was hesitant to use it in addicts (I don’t know if things have changed). I also got in touch with the famous psychiatrist Keith Ablow. He said he actually thought it was good for addicts, that in his experience it cut relaplse rates.

Now that I’m clean I’m the most anti-drug person you’ll ever meet, and though I knew I was seeking this out for the right reasons I was still worried that people might think I was trying to find some new high. But one of the main reasons I started using opiates in the first place was to kill my longstanding depression and anxiety and feelings of worthlessness. Obviously that wasn’t a great idea but it did work for a while. What if I did things the right way this time, actually sought help and trusted a doctor with my care?

So I paid the tariff, jumped through the medical hoops. The clinic was no worse than any other medical facility – by that I mean they were kind of a mess. Wrong lab, wrong appointments, wrong orders, mishandled results. The usual. But I resisted my emotionally un-sober urges to scream at the staff and fun off to start over at some new place.

I was counting the days until my big appointment like it was Christmas, high hopes for how the “miracle” treatment might change my life and free me to pursue even higher goals.

The appointed morning at the TRD clinic came. A crisp, no-nonsense nurse took me to the back, to a room with a comfy couch and pulled blinds. As the blood pressure cuff sighed and let go of my arm, she announced they might not be able to do it. She would check with the Dr. I was distraught and was already preparing my speech begging for injection/telling them off for being incompetent.

Finally she returned with a syringe and a band aid resting on my chart.

She gave me the shot like she was angry at me. Right through the crotch of the pin-up girl tattooed on my left shoulder.

“Here’s to a nice ride,” she said and closed the door as I pulled a blanket around me and put on a Phillip Glass soundtrack.

Nothing. I felt nothing. She had told me it was a low dose “to see how you respond.” Jesus, why couldn’t they just do it all the way? I knew this was a waste of time.

Within about five minutes, I started to feel like my skull was going numb. I kept trying to rub my scalp but it was like touching a mannequin. And then moving anything at all became a great effort so I just stared at the windows. The blinds were closed but I could tell from the glow that the rain had moved off and it was very sunny outside. Occasionally wind gusts would throttle the windows and the thought occurred to me that this was the earth breathing.

At some point the nurse came in to check on me and take my vital signs again. I remember mumbling something like, “Does it do this to everyone?” She said most.

I remember for a time I couldn’t move at all (or just had no interest in moving) and the minimalist music I was listening to became very interesting. I thought I heard my own pulse woven beautifully into the music.

At this point I consciously tried to focus on all the thoughts that usually made me depressed. I thought about people who made me feel small. Times when I felt scared or insulted out of control. I thought about people whose validation I wanted, situations I feared and desired. I can’t say I found any specific answers, but there was a point where all the worries and imagined catastrophes just disappeared and were replaced by the image of a white flag waving in the breeze and the bright sunshine. I felt strongly that all of reality, everything in the world was, like the flag, a symbol for much deeper truths, and even though the flag was beautiful it was also just the thinnest surface inflection of the universe. Not unlike a hologram.
After about an hour the drug started wearing off. I came gently down and the nurse reappeared to take my vitals one last time and tell me I was free to go whenever I felt up to it.

The rest of the day I was tired and a little tranquillized – “chill.”  I didn’t miss the feeling of the drug or experience craving or any of my old “addict” thoughts, but I didn’t feel exactly cured either.
I went to bed, slept deeply, and had a vivid dream. I dreamed I lived in a place like Disneyland, in a building like the Magic Castle only much bigger. There was a group of people I liked a lot who were visiting. I was showing them around when I noticed some cracks in the walls and the supports of the building. I realized the building was about to collapse and convinced a few people to leave with me. We found an underground tunnel that led out into the real world, which was less “pretty” but wild and felt full of promise. I looked back and the castle was collapsing and I knew we had just escaped being killed. I was relieved to have made it.

In the morning I got up and looked around. The inner critic was gone. The worrier was gone. I looked everywhere and couldn’t find them. Something had happened. I was changed.