It hasn’t even been a week yet and so many things have changed. I’ve developed a routine for the days I have to take the ketamine. I tune my internet radio to an electronic, chill out station, turn off my phone, inhale my three puffs and ride out the ketamine cloud for half an hour, hazy and floaty, like a ballon lingering above a children’s party. After half an hour, I can engage my mind, but wait another half an hour before trying to actually move. Within two hours I am fully recovered, both mentally and physically, and am able to drive, teach, grade papers, or do whatever I have to do or want to do.
I have already noticed a significant improvement in my short-term memory and intellectual abilities. I beat my record of solving a moderate Sudoku by a minute, down from 4 and 1/2 minutes to 3 and 1/2 minutes. A new semester started this week and during my first-day introduction to the course, I did not lose track of my thoughts once during the hour and a half lecture. I was even able to go on several lengthy tangents without forgetting what my original point was and then seamlessly tie the tangents back to the original point. I even remember the title, author, and the names of the characters of the book I am currently reading — Dancer, by Colum McCann.
Before I started taking ketamine, my memory had been so ravaged by depression that I could not remember anything. Even while in the middle of reading a really interesting novel, I could not remember the title, author, or the names of any of the characters. Anything that I had to do, I had to write it down or I would completely forget, and I had to keep the things I needed every day, like my keys, wallet and sunglasses, right by the front door or I would leave the house without them. It became a running joke with those who know me because if they ever referenced a prior conversation, I would have no memory of that conversation and they would have to tell me the original story all over again. Even at the end of a semester, I could not remember a single one of my students’ names.
I am also now able to handle last-minute changes in plans without having a complete meltdown. I was so fragile before I started the ketamine, like an egg shell riddled with hairline fractures, the slightest jostle breaking it apart into dozens of tiny fragments. Any event that required me to leave the house or deviated from my daily routine had to be planned days in advance, so I could mentally prepare for it. If the event was rescheduled or cancelled, I went into a panic because I was unable to handle the disruption to my schedule.
On day four of my ketamine journey, I receive a phone call from my mother just after I have started a walk around my neighborhood. She is stuck at the airport and needs me to come pick her up immediately.
“No problem,” I say. “I’m on my way.”
It isn’t until I am in the car on the way to the airport that I realize it really isn’t a problem. My mind had easily switched gears and transitioned from my original plan to the new emergency plan without the slightest emotional distress. After battling rush-hour traffic for 45 minutes, my father calls me to say he is at the airport to pick up my mother and I don’t have to come. By that point, I am already at the airport, but again, I smoothly adapt, turn around, and drive home.
When I get home, I resume my previously-aborted walk, and it is as if I am seeing my neighborhood for the first time. Although I’ve walked through my neighborhood hundreds of times before (two dogs equals lots of walks), it’s as if this is the first time I.ve ever taken this walk. The brilliant, south Florida pastel colors of the houses jump out at me with their joyful beauty. Each different species of tropical foliage grabs my attention and makes me gasp in wonder and exclaim, “Oh, I’d love that in my garden.” The birds sing out to the late-afternoon sky, cats laze on porches and lawns, and dogs strain against the fences enclosing them. Within seven minutes, I have reached Biscayne Bay. Even though I have lived in this neighborhood for two and a half years, I had never realized how close to the bay I am. Boats bob lazily in the water, docked in front of a mixture of traditional Spanish-style houses and modern, glass and steel homes. The air smells of a combination of sea water and freshly cut grass, and I suddenly feel the excitement of a child at the beginning of summer vacation. “I love my neighborhood,” I gasp. “It’s so beautiful!”
And suddenly it hits me. I have spent my entire life living at the bottom of a murky, scum-covered lake, everything appearing muted and dull through all that darkness, every step forward taking tremendous effort as the muddy bottom sucked my feet into its mire, and now, suddenly, I am out of the lake, standing in the sunshine, walking effortlessly across the soft, grassy bank, and staring in awe at how bright all the colors are and sunny the sky is.
I wish I had somebody to share this moment with. I’ve spent so many years in self-imposed isolation, and now all I want to do is socialize. Before I started taking ketamine, I cringed at the thought of human interaction; it took so much energy to pretend I was not depressed and fake my way through social situations that it would take me days to recover. Now, I actually crave the presence of other human beings, and not just superficial, temporary social interactions, but real friendships. I feel like I am discovering myself for the first time, meeting and learning about the real me, not the husk of me who learned how to pretend so well, learned to mimic the facial expressions and movements of others so that I appeared as vibrant as them, like a foreigner fumbling her way through a conversation in a language she did not really understand.
My life is now a blank notebook waiting to be filled with experiences, feelings and words. And I’m so excited!