Socially Distancing From Myself, On Ketamine

What psychedelic therapy feels like ...

My hands — they are growing rapidly! My clasped palms press onto each other and my fingers struggle to find familiarity with adjacent fingers as if they are all new neighbors in a strange cul de sac. I can still feel the soft pillow beneath my head and the gentle breeze from the Dyson fan through the light duvet that's keeping me cozy. But I know I'm about to stop noticing it all. 

I remain unabashed with the steadiness of a veteran soldier — it's not my first tour of duty with Ketamine therapy. Ketamine was first approved for medical use by the FDA in 1970 as a field anesthetic for Vietnam soldiers during the war. Over the years, it also proved its prowess as an effective treatment for depression, anxiety, and stress, culminating with relevant FDA recognition in 2019. With its dissociative and psychedelic properties, K has been long-loved by the buzz-seeking nasal cavities of underground ravers. Now psychiatrists too began putting it into productive use, often administered as intravenous (IV) drip in therapeutic settings. This new research had aroused my curiosity to seek a utilitarian relationship with the so-called ‘horse tranquilizer’. 

Speaking of nasal cavities, I start noticing my own. My breath increasingly sounding like an approaching wind tunnel. Waves of air fighting to escape, bumping against the ridge of my nostrils like a group of drunkards fleeing a burning tavern. The air feels metallic but pleasant. My skin feels rubbery but soft. Things often take up rubber and metallic textures on K, I recall. 

Strength. That will be my intention this time, I tell myself. I need to be strong. I'm strong. With great willpower, I shall overcome the trials and tribulations of startups and life. I feel as if I’m a granite tower, getting stronger in response to assaults. But I'll soon forget any intentions I set anyway. I smile inside. 

The music streaming through my headphones — a meditation sounds mix — stops being music and morphs into the fabric of my new reality, gently engulfing me, undulating rhythmically. The feeling of oneness starts setting in, a connection to all there is. What if we are all just one giant organism? Like a web of mushrooms that is all one being underneath, with individual sprouts peeking above ground, each sprout naively convinced of its own uniqueness.

“Everyone should experience this,” I think — what an outlandish perspective, in just a few minutes. 

And then I realize that my body is gone! What am I? Will I ever return from this? Is this a case of overdose? "Hey, calm down. I will be ok," says my inner voice — who-or-what-ever 'I' am at this point. 

As I'm getting close to the peak words are becoming increasingly useless to describe my experience. ‘All-ness’ is what it feels like. Like one-ness, but connected to all there is. I’m rapidly dissolving into nothingness while experiencing something like the big bang in reverse. Maybe this is the essence of consciousness. Delicate, pure, and minuscule. A meta thought about theories in physics that describe the formation of the universe via replicating fractals crosses my mind. How marvelous is it that I sprang out of literal nothingness! 

That peak feels like a split second and I settle in for the gradual come down. The party is far from over since most of the learnings occur while I'm re-formulating back into the blob of meat I usually am. 

My re-sprouting infant self is zooming through an expanding tunnel. A tunnel with flat walls and of immense proportions, with a dark, metallic texture. I think I'm zooming upward. "But what if it's downward?" I wonder. Shit, I am falling downward now. Psychedelics 101: you go where you think. I should know better. 

At the end of a fall that lasted an eternity, I am now stuck in some purgatory. I panic. Who is down here? It's the workers. Sentient beings in the universe are like a colony of ants, and these are the ones who are born to sacrifice themselves. They don’t ask questions and they follow the rules. Now I'm marching alongside them. Oh, my terrible fate, to be a worker ant forever, grinding away for life in my designated lane, leaving no particularly special dent in the universe. My quest to stand out as a genius individual is over. I’m another ant in the crowd. My ego laments. 

But then I feel a strong sense of peace. It is peaceful to be a worker. Now I know what I'm doing with my life. Fear, uncertainty, and doubt vanishes. I’ve been freed from making decisions and fighting existence as the universe has carved out my perfect path. Pure bliss! As another eternity passes, I am happy and content in my harmonious worker-life. Happiness is what I seek after all, and I find it in my freedom from striving.

Something changes — maybe it was the music? Lindsey Stirling? Sparkly and dancy shapes form around me.

Why is Elon working so hard on his rocket? I wonder. But then, I know. Existence is confusing and you have to work on something to distract yourself. Rockets are cool, and I feel a lot of love for that goofball. Deep love and appreciation comes easily in this state. I think of my amazing friends and of my beautiful fiance and feel tremendous love for them. 

Fragments of past thoughts on theoretical physics and free will sparkle throughout my thought space, in various geometric forms. Not that now is the best time for complex topics. But who am I kidding? Now is exactly the best time, because now is the only time when it all makes sense. 

I’m in the middle of trying to recall why the dark forest theory of the universe is flawed and... did I hear the toilet flush? I switch out of my thought space instantly. My eyes are open, and I peek outside, pulling down my mask slightly. This is one of the strangest things about ketamine. You feel like your normal self is right there next to you and you can snap into it whenever you want. But why would you want to? I imagine how cool it'd be if I could have my k-self right there next to me during my day-to-day life. Say I'm bored at a meeting — no problem, snap to k-self. Or waiting at the checkout line — k-self! 

I think about the joke I heard a self-described psychedelic comedian make recently: "Ketamine, ya' know, is for socially distancing from ya’self!". So funny and so true. I smile. 

I’m at the tail end of it. I switch audio from music to an episode of the Lex Friedman podcast, with MIT physicist Frank Wilczek. "What is the connection between beauty and physics?" asks Lex, in his typical robot-like monotonous voice. Frank responds in long sentences with complicated words, invoking Plato's discovery of beauty in mathematics. These musings make perfect sense and no sense at the same time. My now tired mind starts drifting off into sleep, with Lex’s pontifications fading into the background. 

I wake up with my eyes filled with tears and realize I was dreaming of my father. I haven’t seen my parents in 3 years. My typical pilgrimages to Sri Lanka were interrupted by work stress and the global pandemic. Swelling with emotion, I feel the immense yearning to see them — they are aging so fast! When will I get to see them, with all these lockdowns?

It’s 5am. I wipe tears off and get out of bed, still feeling ungainly. Is it the ketamine or the vivid dreams that I just stepped out of? I take a sip of water and sit down with my laptop, feeling peaceful and grateful. I start typing. I am looking forward to my re-sprouting being completed soon.

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Note: Ketamine is FDA approved as an effective treatment for depression, anxiety, stress, etc. It has been available at clinical settings for a while, and now also available as an at-home therapy thanks to innovative companies like Mindbloom, founded by a dearest friend.