I Took Ketamine for My Depression. Things Got Pretty Weird.

That’s where I come in. Over the years, apart from the good old psychotropic medications, I have also tried several types of talk therapy, meditation, acupuncture, singing lessons, bungee jumping and transcranial magnetic stimulation. (I still have sweet memories of the woodpecker sounds tapped into my brain.) Nothing worked. So I was ready to jump at the horse tranquilizer. As an expert in psychological distress, and in the spirit of scientific inquiry, I’m here to share my findings.

In August, I found myself at a low ebb: The pandemic was continuing its deadly course, Brazil was ruled by someone who claimed that vaccines could turn people into crocodiles, and I was confined at home with my often sick toddler. So I signed up for a course of infusions. Each session — there would be six in total — cost me 1,700 reais, around $300. It was very expensive, but it felt like a gamble worth taking. And besides, for an obsessive like me, it would be a shame not to complete the set.

Ketamine is not a classic psychedelic, but it can have a strong dissociative effect — people might feel detached from reality and from their own body. Under its influence, patients usually enjoy mild and agreeable feelings. I certainly had some of that. Sometimes I felt I was an elephant swimming under the sun, an extroverted octopus or a balloon slowly inflating. I repeatedly requested the presence of a dog. I also grew giant hands. This was all quite pleasant.

Other times, not so much. At the start of my second session, I blurted out a silly thought: “An infusion of ketamine is like taking a two-hour Uber trip with a clown.” (Luckily for me, the anesthesiologist didn’t seem offended.) But a few moments later my mind slipped, inevitably, to evil clowns — and that’s how our president, Jair Bolsonaro, appeared during one of my bad trips. His eyes were glazed, hair parted to the side, as he hovered happily over the pandemic dead. It was terrifying.

During these frightening moments, I often asked to “come back,” saying that the experience was “too difficult.” I pleaded for help. In my worst moments, I felt that I had to solve impossible temporal paradoxes to stay alive. (What if this session began before I was born? What if I’m permanently stuck in a ketamine loop?) My brain was filled with loud construction sounds and I felt like I was about to die.

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