This post is part of The Euthymia Train, a series documenting my experiences with depression and anxiety. See also On Going to Space Part I and Part II.
I expanded and contracted, expanded and contracted. I heard a wooshing noise like wind. I realized it was breathing. I realized I had a body. I realized I was a human person. I realized I was a human person sitting in a chair, in a ketamine clinic, in a place called Seattle.
I pulled off my eyeshade and saw, through nauseating double vision, a dimly lit room. I put my eyeshade back on.
A man’s voice, quietly: What did you see?
The nurse. Of course. In the room with me.
My face was wet with tears, my body was damp with sweat like I had been through a great ordeal.
My throat was parched. I summoned words. I said: I went to a place.
I saw this place, in various forms, in each of my three high dose ketamine-assisted psychotherapy (KAP) sessions.
Each session began with a kind of cosmic waterslide, which I dubbed The Swirl. In the Swirl I lost my identity, my name, my human body. I also lost my life story, my location, my sense of time. Whatever was left of me witnessed and took part in an all-consuming tumble through the great Question Mark.
And then, in each session, I washed up on a quiet shore.
In notes and drawings I made after each session, I described the Place. It felt clean, peaceful, safe, familiar. Soft wintry light, like Scandinavia, or the Pacific Northwest. Reminiscent of forest parks in West Seattle. After the tumult of the Swirl, this Place was utterly still.
I still had no identity, but I sensed I was a being now. A being in the Place.
I recall being able to see, from this peaceful vantage point, the entirety of my life on earth in fast-motion montage.
I recall thinking, how sad. So much suffering. That’s no way to live.
There is no suffering here. I’d like to stay here. Should I go back? I’d rather not.
I have since wondered if the Place is an analog for what we call heaven. I’ve seen versions of it described in other people’s accounts of psychedelic, near death, or mystical experiences.
On a few occasions I saw beings or heard voices. In one session, a woman’s strong voice: Back to work. I assume that did not mean my lucrative career at the time as a restaurant busser. Still puzzling over that one.
Other times I was left in the quiet to mull over my life from an enormous distance. Over the course of the treatments I began to see the benefit of this distance. I could examine my life as if it was another’s. If I felt feelings about my life they were muted, they lacked the often painful emotional tone I felt in waking life.
I suspect this distance is something we call mindfulness.
And then, inevitably, I had to leave the Place. I often thought about staying, but either couldn’t or wouldn’t.
It has occurred to me that staying might have been what we call death. Before the ketamine work I had a near obsessive fixation on my own mortality. I’ve largely lost that fear. If death is like the Place, it’s fine.
After the Place I emerged in waves. I heard music and thought, Ah, I am in a room where music is playing. And I slipped back into a psychedelic reverie: memories, people, daydreams. Suddenly it was an hour later and I stirred in my recliner, inhaled deeply (I had lungs!), and a familiar voice said, What did you see?