Depression, Psychedelics and Healing

Depression, Psychedelics and Healing

2010/24 years old – Let’s get straight to the point. I was depressed. I had just earned my Mechanical Engineering degree in 4 years with a respectable (3.1) GPA and landed a good job ($60K w/ benefits, somewhat interesting, lots of travel, no OT). However, I could not fathom making it through the next day, let alone the next year. I was so engulfed by sadness with no idea what to do. Long story short, I drank myself close to death and woke up in an ambulance. I had sent out some pretty sad text messages to my family and my ex-gf so they had some context as to why I was in this state. They relayed that information to the doctors and they agreed to let me into a 7-day inpatient psychiatric rehab.

Rehab was great. I painted, wrote, did group therapy, and met a lot of people who were in similar situations. There was a sense of community and routine that was very comforting to me at the time. For the most part, the therapists were nice enough, but they were primarily focused on helping people “get on their feet” (find jobs, quit drinking, etc). I quickly realized that no one was going to offer actionable advice, let alone “solutions” to the existential dread that brought me here. To make matters worse, I was extremely overprescribed with SSRI’s and (inexplicably, IMO) – drugs like Seroquel which knocked me out and diminished any lifeforce in me.

I continued group and individual therapy when I got out of inpatient. It was helpful at first, but the progress halted quickly. In group therapy, I felt like an imposter. Some people shared intense stories of physical abuse. Some were mid-life, in debt and struggling to pay their bills. I didn’t have any of these problems. This was most evident in a gambling/risk-taking session where a man was describing how his life was ruined because of his $40/week scratch-off lottery addiction. I didn’t feel much like sharing the fact that I lost $3,500 in AC that weekend and it didn’t really have any material effect. I felt shame about my sadness, which eventually landed me in in-patient for a second time a few months later.

What I really needed was a mentor. Plenty of people told me that they loved me, but there was no one there to tell me what I needed to hear. I needed to re-assess everything. I needed to break the mold of whatever character I was playing and start to re-build. Most importantly for me at the time – I needed to lose some fucking weight and get some love in my life.

So, I swapped psych pills for diet pills and started working out and counting calories. I’d eventually lose 110 lbs from my all-time high (5’9” 280 lbs -> 170 lbs) and hit 10% body fat with a 305 lb bench press. I was a good athlete in high school and was always strong and athletic, but being kinda shredded was new to me, and it felt great. While this didn’t solve all of my problems, it was a step in the right direction and my first piece of advice to anyone who is very depressed. In a world where progress is so obscure, it felt good to have a guarantee – if I carried a calorie deficit every day, I would lose weight.

That being said, my biggest breakthroughs can be attributed to openness and honesty, and that’s why I’m writing this. I am blessed to have a friend, Matt, who is the most open + honest person I have ever met. Because of that, he is super easy to talk to about……anything. When he saw that I was struggling, he reached out. We had plenty of good talks which made me feel normal, but the big breakthrough came when he invited me to do psychedelic mushrooms with him. That session brought me back to life. Colors were brighter, nature was fascinating, and I didn’t hide from the rain. My mind felt so light. I knew there was something special here.

After the first session, I had worked up the nerve to try psychedelics on my own, and this became a truly transformative experience. While there were at times heavy visuals (morphing, synesthesia, trees “breathing” and all that jazz) those were always just a pleasant complement to the main event– unloading my mental baggage. Mushrooms and LSD gave me the ability to grieve my grandparents, whom I was very close to and recently lost. My emotions became so much more real + addressable. I saw my life as a story. The little decisions I make not only matter, but they are my life.

From these sessions I gained the emotional maturity I needed to let everyone know how much I loved them. I wrote letters to everyone who was important in my life. This was the greatest thing I have ever done for my mental well-being. There were no more worries about miscommunication. I didn’t have to live in fear that a loved one would die without knowing the impact they had on me.

Psychedelic “therapy” also helped me realize the larger games I was stuck in. While I’ve never been too serious about jobs/ideologies (evident in my silliness or less-attractive sarcasm). I was starting to see the larger “roles” I was stuck in. In high school, I was a good kid. I was straight-edge, authoritarian and ruled by fear.  I felt that people should be punished and that there were no real excuses – everyone should pull themselves up by their bootstraps. I was “lucky” that this role lingered long enough to land a good degree/job, but it’s what I would call a level 1 personality. Very functional and sometimes very admirable, but you’re usually not too good at a party and you don’t really know yourself.

I only recently realized the next major role I played, the ultra-depressed liberal. I spent maybe too much time reading + empathizing in college. I had no doubt that the world was an evil, difficult place and that nothing was fair. I wanted to kill the billionaires and enforce massive debt jubilees. Of course, I was way too sad/overwhelmed/underequipped to do anything besides bitch and moan. I call this level 2, not because it’s any better than level 1 (in fact it’s a lot worse in many ways), but it was a necessary step in my evolution.

I guess I consider myself Level III right now. I recognize that everything is a spectrum. There is no black and white. I also believe that most things swing on a pendulum, oscillating between extremes. We need the left, and we need the right, and we need them to continuously knock each other out of power. Periodically, when the people have lost their voice, we need the Kyklos to move to the next stage.

But this isn’t a political paper, and I’m starting to forget why I am writing this. Oh, that’s right, we need to talk about the numinous.

I was raised Roman Catholic but considered myself atheist from a young age. I went to CCD and was confirmed and all of that. My greatest mentor for my young life was my grandpa, who was heavily religious. However, the whole Catholic thing was a bit heavy handed. I grew into a neck-beard scientist and got into the whole material view of the universe. Religion was an instrument of control and spiritualism was something that your weird aunt did to cope with failing to integrate with society.

However, some spiritual and religious things always lingered with me. Unfortunately, I’ve always had the Catholic guilt, and the feeling that God is constantly updating your permanent record (good prep for surveillance state and blockchain). However, I also had this sense of wonder and mystery. My grandpa had all of his fingers severed off in a construction accident. He calmly picked them up, put them on ice, and drove himself to the hospital. The doctor re-attached the fingers, but told my Grandpa he’d never feel them again. After a week of praying and talking to his fingers, Pop Pop not only had full feeling, but he also had full functionality. This level or miracle was repeated when a mine shaft collapsed on him and he was told he would never walk again. You can guess the result.

Mushroom and LSD sessions were certainly very spiritual, but they did not give me an overwhelming feeling of God. I sensed an interconnectedness between things and maybe even a divine intelligence…something akin to mother nature.

And while life was going very well for me, I still felt this pit in my chest. My love for my wife and kids was unparalleled, but I still had this feeling of despair deep within. When I read pessimistic works of Arthur Schopenhauer and Thomas Ligotti, they resonated deeply. I could put on a happy face and pretend to be a hippie, but I couldn’t truthfully say that I believed in God or an afterlife. The universe was not only meaningless but also kind of cruel, with ominous overtones.

This all changed when I took DMT. Now unfortunately this stuff is hard to get, hard to smoke, and is very intimidating. It’s often referred to as “the tip of the psychedelic pyramid”. For this reason, many think you have to be very experienced with psychedelics before you use. However, some almost recommend it for beginners who are afraid of the 8-hour commitment of LSD.

When I finally “broke through” on DMT (after 3 failed attempts), it was indescribable. I was blasted straight out of my body and saw the entire universe. There was no doubt that there was a higher order of reality and that everything was deeply interconnected. Did I now believe in God? I’m not sure. I certainly didn’t see anything like the Christian God that I was raised with. I was however humbled and amazed.

After one breakthrough I kind of took the advice “Once you get the message, hang up the phone.” However, re-integrating to normal life after such an experience has not been easy. I now have a feeling that what we call “life” is part of a much bigger picture. I also believe there is some kind of order, or at least that we are not pawns in a meaningless existence. This is all helpful, but the rapture of the DMT experience is so intense and real that waking life sometimes pales in comparison.

It’s been my goal to try and reach the same DMT experience though transcendental meditation, breathing techniques, and occasional use of nitrous oxide. I’ve been pretty successful, often leaving sessions refreshed and positive. Sometimes meditation helps me clear present stresses. Other times I go deeper and address past conflicts. Now, my conscience is usually clear enough that my sessions focus on “re-wiring myself” to be grateful, positive, and energetic. Occasionally, I reach a very divine state where I encounter many of the deeply psychedelic feelings experienced while on LSD/DMT.

At the core of it all, I still feel a great fear before reaching these divine states. And often, I am plagued with fear/anxiety in my normal life. I am currently struggling with this. Fear and anxiety have served me well in my life. They’ve made me a good planner and a responsible adult. However, I feel like I should be able address and transcend these unpleasant feelings and leave “level IV”. I feel I can be effective without anxiety. However, I’m at an impasse. I literally hold no ill will towards anyone, and I have very few problems that I am not directly addressing.

I’m currently reading “The Holotropic Mind” by Grof and am pleased to report that so far he has very eloquently described many of my psychedelic experiences. He suggests that this underlying fear and anxiety may be tied to unconscious emotions, specifically related to perinatal experiences. Is there something massive I still need to address? Or do I just need to “fake it ‘til I make it” and pretend to be chill until I become chill? Or, as I’m apt to accept, like many in the western World, is the fear/anxiety hard coded in us to keep working, to keep “progressing”, and will never leave us at peace?

I guess it’s time for another mentor. I try to take advice from people younger than me as well as older than me, as wisdom is everywhere. So, that’s why I’m writing this. If this resonates and you think you can help me, reach out. If you think I can help you – reach out. We’re all in this crazy world together, and being open + honest is the only path to a better future.

 

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