Readers Note: This is an account from a recent client experience, written in the first person.
In 1988, four years after acquiring the virus we now know as HIV, I began to experience a continuous, unrelenting fatigue. This is what I have dubbed my “brain frog,” which has continued to persist to this day, for thirty-two years.
During those years, I have consulted with a multitude of medical professionals, and none have been able to ascertain whether my chronic malaise has been caused by the virus, the medications, depression, trauma, or a combination of them all.
Searching for Psychedelic Treatments
After years of searching for answers —everything from brain scans to exercise to meditation to antidepressants— I stopped being concerned with what caused the fatigue. I just wanted to feel even just five percent more “alive.”
In recent years, I finally decided to entirely stop looking even for a remedy. I resigned myself to the idea that this was going to be how the rest of my life would be. And I tried to adjust to that.
Then I began to hear about psychedelic treatments, and that gave me new hope.
After a year of doggedly pursuing clinical trials with psychedelic medicines, to no avail, a colleague who knew I had been interested in ketamine treatment told me about Mindbloom.
From the very start of my journey with Mindbloom, in October 2020, I have been impressed with the staff’s professionalism, knowledge, and care. I felt safe, which, in my mind, was of utmost importance, since I really didn’t know what to expect of ketamine as a psychedelic medicine.
Preparing for the First Treatment
The Support Team
Mindbloom provided me with a step-by-step treatment plan. The first step was choosing a virtual “guide” from Mindbloom’s list - someone who has been trained to answer questions and to be a steady person of support during the first four sessions. The next step was to choose one of Mindbloom’s clinicians, who assessed that this treatment would be appropriate and safe for me.
I had assumed that I would be going into a clinic for my treatments, and that the ketamine would be delivered through infusion. Because of COVID-19, Mindbloom was providing their support virtually —through Zoom conferencing— and the medicine came in the form of lozenges.
I was both impressed, and a bit humored, by the “Bloombox” kit that Mindbloom sent for my initial treatment. Along with the lozenges, there was the largest eye mask I had ever seen, a wrist heart monitor, a Mindbloom journal, a pen… and a pack of Listerine strips. A thoughtful touch.
After dissolving the lozenges in your mouth for seven minutes, one is instructed to spit the remaining liquid into a vessel. The Listerine strips are there for those who want to dispel the taste of the medicine, for that “fresh breath feeling.”
Beginning the Journey
With an emphasis on safety, Mindbloom requires that a supportive individual called a Peer Treatment Monitor be nearby (in another room, perhaps). This is often a friend or family member who checks on you during the journey, every fifteen minutes, and gently rouses you when the hour’s treatment is up.
This was such an important part of the experience for me. Knowing that a friend was in the living room (along with my two cats), while I was in my bedroom eyemasked, headphoned, and on a psychedelic with which I had no experience, enabled me to relax and “go for the ride.”
Whenever I felt slightly anxious during the session, for whatever reason, I could relax knowing that I was safe with a trusted friend nearby.
For my initial treatment, Mindbloom’s clinician prescribed my first dose based on a clinical evaluation. I didn’t know what to expect with this dose, but knew I was in good hands with their clinical guidance.
After talking with my guide, I learned Mindbloom provides choices of music tracks to listen to during the session. Some music tracks are specifically chosen for each step of the treatment, and range from “binaural beats” to the sound of a consistent heartbeat.
I chose to listen to the music they provided. With the ebb and flow of the music’s intensity, together with the peak of the ketamine’s efficacy, the psychedelic element began to emerge. With the eye mask tightly covering my eyes, I could see the “sky” opening up above me, as I shot into space and rocketed among the stars. At another point, I was floating above the tall buildings of Manhattan. These images never frightened or alarmed me. I never felt disassociated from my body (though this ultimately can become the goal, in a sense, in later sessions).
For the initial session, I wanted to feel safe. And I did. I knew that I could, at any time, take off the eye mask and the headphones and stand up. That knowledge, together with my friend in the other room, allowed me the freedom to enjoy the experience and to take in whatever images or feelings came forth.
During my initial treatment, some images of memory did emerge: images of childhood, and of people somewhat forgotten, in the back of my mind. Phrases, such as “let go,” also appeared, It felt like an exploration into a new world, and it was even joyous. I felt an overwhelming sense of peace.
The insights I had during the treatment lingered through the week. My fatigue remained unabated, but I knew that this was a process. And I looked forward to my second treatment, the following week.
The psychedelic aspect of the second session was similar to the first after adjusting the medicine’s dosage. But now I was totally comfortable with the experience, and I kept saying, to myself, “Show me more.” I was eager to gain insight. But I was also not paying attention to the suggestion of stillness: instead of letting each experience just happen, I was forcing them, wanting to see more, to experience more, to have more insight.
By the third and fourth sessions, phrases such as “trust,” “be open,” “peace”, and “opening my heart” now accompanied the ever-present “let go.” Certain musical passages would bring on memories as well: the sound of children laughing, the ringing of a bell. But, through it all, I knew I was always in control of my body.
During the period of these first treatments, Mindbloom also introduced me to a series of “Integration Circles.” These were Zoom meetings, in which a handful of clients from across the country took to discuss our experiences. I found these sessions to be extremely useful, and I found it interesting to hear others’ stories, realizing that my experience was both unique and universal.
Following my fourth session, after a month’s hiatus, I decided to do another four sessions. What Mindbloom refers to as “Going Deeper”. The clinician again adjusted my dosage based on our clinical conversation.
These four sessions continued along the same path as the first four, yet the adjusted dose did, indeed, bring with it a sense of going deeper: deeper insights, a greater sense of peace, and more fodder to include in my post-treatment integration. Gratitude, a concept I struggle with, became more of a reality to me, and I embraced it.
Having completed eight sessions, I now am assessing what’s next for me. While I have not experienced the ultimate cure for my fatigue, I have accessed tools to lessen the accompanying depression.
The key is in the integration. And it is up to me to follow through with it. Like any integration, using the insights from ketamine treatment is like going to the gym, or eating right. It is a muscle. And by integrating journaling, meditating, and using these tools in everyday life, it makes sense that positive results will follow.
Through treatment, I experienced a bit of happiness and color to break up the grey in my world. And that counts for a lot, especially during the modern reality of pandemic quarantining. I feel stronger, knowing that I am continuing to try and find new ways out of my fatigue. In other words, I have a renewed hope.
During the final audio recording of my eight-session journey, the narrator gives some suggestions for the mind, body, heart, and soul. He ends with:
“The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. The journey is all we have, in the end.”
This article is for informational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment. If you are in a life-threatening situation, call the National Suicide Prevention Line at +1 (800) 273-8255, call 911, or go to the nearest emergency room.
Important FDA Safety Information
Ketamine is not FDA-approved for the treatment of depression or anxiety. Learn more about off-label uses here.
Side effects of ketamine treatment may include: altered sense of time, anxiety, blurred vision, diminished ability to see/hear/feel, dry mouth, elevated blood pressure or heart rate, elevated intraocular or intracranial pressure, excitability, loss of appetite, mental confusion, nausea/vomiting, nystagmus (rapid eye movements), restlessness, slurred speech, synesthesia (a mingling of the senses).
Do not proceed with ketamine treatment if any of the following apply to you:
- Allergic to ketamine
- Symptoms of psychosis or mania
- Uncontrolled high blood pressure
- CHF or other serious heart problem
- Severe breathing problem
- History of elevated intraocular or intracranial pressure
- History of hyperthyroidism
- Other serious medical illness
- Pregnant, nursing, or trying to become pregnant
Ketamine has been reported to produce issues including, but not limited to, those listed below. However, lasting adverse side-effects are rare when medical protocols are carefully followed.
While ketamine has not been shown to be physically addictive, it has been shown to cause moderate psychological dependency in some recreational users.
- In rare cases, frequent, heavy users have reported increased frequency of urination, urinary incontinence, pain urinating, passing blood in the urine, or reduced bladder size
- Ketamine may worsen problems in people with schizophrenia, severe personality disorders, or other serious mental disorders.
- Users with a personal or family history of psychosis should be cautious using any psychoactive substance, including ketamine, and discuss potential risks with your MindBloom clinician before proceeding with treatment.
- The dissociative effects of ketamine may increase patient vulnerability and the risk of accidents.
To promote positive outcomes and ensure safety, follow these ketamine treatment guidelines:
- Do not operate a vehicle (e.g., car, motorcycle, bicycle) or heavy machinery following treatment until you’ve had a full night of sleep
- Refrain from taking benzodiazepines or stimulants for 24 hours prior to treatment
- Continue to take antihypertensive medication as prescribed
- Avoid hangovers or alcohol intake
- Refrain from consuming solid foods within 3 hours prior to treatment and liquids within 1 hour prior to treatment
- Ketamine treatment should never be conducted without a monitor present to ensure your safety