This post is part of The Euthymia Train, a series documenting my experiences with depression and anxiety.
A scant six months ago I said something that now sounds kind of absurd—that I was basically feeling fine. Or, in clinical terms, I was feeling euthymic. And then I began telling the tale of how I got there, a series I am calling The Euthymia Train. Go ahead and catch up, I’ll wait.
I have lived most of my life with both depression and anxiety as constant companions. In 2019 I saw my first major relief from these illnesses after an intensive round of psychedelic therapy with ketamine.
By the end of the year I was feeling–for the first time in my life–basically okay. It’s funny how something as mundane as okayness felt like a revelation, but it did.
Then this thing happened. This COVID-19 thing.
In March 2020 I felt the most severe anxiety of my life. In the haze of unknowns, vague dangers, and hysterical media coverage, I began to wonder if my life was in imminent danger. Would COVID-19 ravage my little island community? Would we be triaged in the community auditorium, left to die as the regional hospital system collapsed and medevac became impossible?
In March anything seemed possible. My mind and body raced. I raised the alarm in my community. I began planning to evacuate my home of four years. I thought a lot about death…and began talking to a squirrel about it.
It was not my usual moderate to severe anxiety disorder. It was redline, I’m-gonna -die anxiety. I don’t experience panic attacks, but it felt close to that. The depression was somewhere in there too, but I couldn’t hear it over the wailing siren of my anxiety.
Now I will tell you a strange thing. I am mostly feeling euthymic again.
Part of it is that we know more about how COVID is behaving in Washington State, and our efforts to slow the spread appear to be working. I belatedly realized that much of my anxiety was fueled by the unknowns. We know *some* things now.
I can also thank the healing work I did in recent years. In the time of COVID I have leaned hard on every little learning and tool I have collected… Cognitive behavioral therapy, mindfulness, breathing exercises, EMDR, and so on. I’m thankful that, by sheer chance, I did the work in advance of this crisis.
And finally, I have had two experiences with psychedelics during the pandemic. I can say that in those two experiences I felt absolutely zero anxiety. I felt bliss, gratitude, I wept until my face was covered in snot, but I felt no anxiety at all.
In the most recent experience, which took place in our gentle old growth forests, I saw vultures circling and I thought, how nice. They’ll take good care of me if I die right now.
So, from redline I’m-gonna-die anxiety, to pleasant thoughts about being eaten by vultures.
A friend of mine described the coronavirus as a “truthbringer,” and I heartily agree. Much of the suffering that we are currently witnessing was already happening before the coronavirus. It’s just vividly, in-your-face obvious now.
And death has always been looming over us. My response has historically been to fret about it, to feel anxious about it. My ego wrings its hands—there’s so many things I want to DO and BE before I die! I’m not married yet, or famous, or rich (oh, ego…)
Psychedelics offer us an ego vacation, a temporary egoless state. This can of course go a number of different ways depending on set and setting and other factors above my pay grade. But for me, I have been fortunate to visit a state where there is no suffering. There is no depression. There is no anxiety.
There’s something else. In this state I became aware of a vast benevolence. Someone or something that can mean no harm, that can only love. And I realized that loving thing was all around me: it was the forest floor that cradled me, the old trees that encircled me, and the sun above that warmed me (and everything else, without prejudice).
It’s one thing to write it, or read about it. These sorts of epiphanies are frequently described in psychedelic literature. The gift of the medicine is to feel it, to embody it, to know it in your bones. And for that all I can say is thank you, thank you, thank you.
It’s also clear to me how very fortunate I am: To live in a beautiful and benign place, to have safe shelter and abundant food, to have good health. I’m also very aware that many among us are not so fortunate, and are suffering doubly so under COVID.
Coronavirus, the truthbringer, makes it abundantly clear to me that psychedelics need to be available to all who might benefit. Now more than ever.
MDMA and psilocybin are winding their way through the FDA approval process. At this rate they will not be widely available for several more years.
It saddens me because these substances have a particular affinity for healing trauma, for easing anxiety, depression and addiction. And it is clear to me that we are experiencing a species-wide trauma right now, called COVID-19. And without the proper tools to process trauma (I’m looking at you Western civilization), we will experience societal scale PTSD, addiction, depression, and anxiety.
Which, come to think of it, was already the case. Once again, the truthbringer brings to light that which was already so.
I don’t believe that trauma is bad or good. I do believe that trauma is a paradigm shift. There was a before, and now there’s an after. The only certainty is change.
I hope that one of the changes we see is a (much more) compassionate policy toward mental health, and as part of that, the legalization of substances that have already demonstrated their profound ability to heal.
So let’s get back on the damn euthymia train. Stay tuned. Toot, toot.
A Note of Caution
I don’t advise anyone to take psychedelics. That’s a complex personal decision. Please do your own research, seek expert advice, and explore psychedelics with due caution.
Tim Ferriss speaks to author and meditation expert Sam Harris about psychedelics in the time of coronavirus. Includes some notes of caution about pursuing psychedelic work.