- I've struggled with depression my entire life, and it got worse after a close friend died.
- My depression was affecting my relationship with my teenage daughter.
- I tried ketamine therapy and it made me feel better.
I never wanted to burden anyone with the sadness that has been my life's companion, especially my 18-year-old daughter, Lauren. So I kept it hidden.
Some experts call my condition "atypical" or "smiling depression." Mine was a lifelong case that got better sometimes and worse at others. During dark phases, I had to force myself to brush my teeth or fix dinner, and I thought a lot about dying. Even during lighter moments, I felt a vague sense of despair. One thing never changed: the cheerful expression on my face. Looking happy was my superpower.
Over the years, I tried everything to improve my mood — talk therapy, support groups, meditation, exercise, diets, and medication. Nothing worked. During family game nights, I'd play Monopoly or MouseTrap and mimic the cheerfulness of my husband and daughter. I didn't want to model behaviors that could be harmful and thought faking it was in Lauren's best interest.
That's until I tried ketamine therapy.
Things got worse
After my oldest friend died from suicide, though, I couldn't white-knuckle my way through depression like I always had. My symptoms got harder to hide. More than once, despite my efforts to protect her from my pain, my daughter caught me with tears running down my face. "What's wrong, Mom?" Lauren asked.
"I miss my friend," I said. It was easier to use grief as an excuse for being down than to admit to my underlying depression. "Maybe tomorrow," I said when Lauren suggested making cupcakes. "Maybe tomorrow," I said again when she wanted to go on a bike ride. Faced with my rejection, she'd pick up her phone and wander into her room. I knew something had to change and decided to try a treatment I once would have considered extreme — ketamine.
It was hard to get my head around using a substance drug dealers call "cat Valium" or "blind squid," and I visualized heroin addicts on filthy mattresses with needles littering the floor. Then I did some research and discovered that ER doctors and anesthesiologists use ketamine for sedation during painful medical procedures. Its off-label use can provide immediate relief to people like me with depression and PTSD.
My doctor encouraged me to dovetail ketamine with other therapies like journaling, meditation, and art. By that point, I was willing to try anything.
I felt better
After I made the appointment, I decided to tell my daughter about my depression. I shared my treatment plan, which called for six infusions over a period of two weeks. She listened and hugged me. Our conversation lasted only a few minutes, but I felt unburdened and a new sense of closeness.
The reality of my ketamine experience was very different from what I'd imagined. In a safe, clean environment, a physician I trusted oversaw my infusions. While ketamine trickled into my bloodstream, I floated on a hot-air balloon made of shooting stars and watched flowers bloom inside an igloo. My body morphed into a sky-blue marshmallow and then became a river flowing through a tropical garden.
When the first session was over, I felt liberated from pain for the first time in memory. Later that day, I made a pot of tea. "Look how it sparkles," I said to my daughter as I poured boiling water from the kettle to the pot. It was as if cloudy lenses had been removed from my vision, as if I were experiencing a miracle.
But the real miracle isn't sparkly water. It's the invisible wall that disintegrated between my daughter and me. Ketamine helped me let down my guard and be myself. It made me a better mom.
If you or someone you know is experiencing depression or has had thoughts of harming themself or taking their own life, get help. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255) provides 24/7, free, confidential support for people in distress, as well as best practices for professionals and resources to aid in prevention and crisis situations. Help is also available through the Crisis Text Line — just text "HOME" to 741741.