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“It was as if I was rewiring and rearranging my thought processes to what I knew deeply to be true, that I was not my depression, anxiety or PMDD.”
Full disclaimer: I am not a doctor nor a medical professional. I am a regular person retelling my personal experience on the topic of psychotropic drugs, in order to help anyone gain insight into the reemergence and progressive field of psychedelics as alternative medicines for mental health.*
On March 7, 2018, I walked into a psychiatric clinic a couple miles east of Downtown Los Angeles. I sat in a black cushioned leather chair across a young doctor with dirty blonde hair, beady brown eyes, and a warm smile. I couldn’t tell whether she was a year or two older than me, but I knew she recently completed med school. Her name tag was labeled “residency.” She asked me what I needed help with that day, and I began to explain the plethora of symptoms I’ve had in the last year. The constant tiredness, the inability to enjoy the things I once found pleasure in, the isolation, the constant dread, the crying spells, the suicidal thoughts (that I’d never act upon), and the irritable, irrational, irate self that comes out a week or two before my period.
After a lengthy hour to two hour discussion of my family history, past abusive relationships, substance use, and bulimia, my doctor diagnosed me that day with major depressive disorder, generalised anxiety disorder, and PMDD also known as premenstrual dysphoric disorder. PMDD is basically PMS, but on steroids. According to the Office on Women’s Health, PMDD is a health problem that is similar to premenstrual syndrome but is more serious. It causes severe irritability, depression, or anxiety in the week or two before a period starts. Which means I’m an emotional wreck. There were four options I was given to begin the healing process: birth control, antidepressants, therapy, or no treatment at all.
I decided to give antidepressants a try after much consideration. I discussed with my therapist that this wasn’t a lifetime solution I was looking for. I wanted to be on medication only as long as I felt back to my old self again. Happy, up-beat, funny, and unhinged Lisa. Medication to me was a temporary assistance like a band-aid over an open wound. I walked out of the clinic that day with a prescription for 10 mg of Lexapro and began treatment that same afternoon.
The first couple months on Lexapro were torturous. I was more tired than I had ever been before. I slept nearly 12-16 hours a day and the rest of the hours in the day, I was fighting a dull aching headache and desperately trying not to fall back asleep. I called my doctor to explain to her the medication was making me feel worse. She urged me not to stop and give the medication a little more time to work its magic. So I continued on.
I remember it was a hot California summer day, I was in the shower when I suddenly realised that I hadn’t thought about death nor had a crying spell in well over a month. The medication was finally working. I jumped out of the shower and danced circles in my bedroom. The future was looking bright for the first time in months, and if Lexapro was a human, I would have bear hugged her and twirled her around inside my arms.
In the following months, I didn’t feel depressed but neither did I feel immense joy. It was as if someone grabbed my emotions and shoveled them into the ground beneath my feet. I knew they were there but I couldn’t quite grasp onto them. I was a blunted version of myself, better than depressed but less than my best. Also, the medication made it nearly impossible to orgasm. Which began my search for another medicinal alternative.
I began doing research on the psychological effects of microdosing psychedelics. I had tried LSD and psilocybin mushrooms before and the insight from a single trip was a major shift to my psychological perspective in a positive manner. Scientific research has shown that these drugs may be especially beneficial for those who suffer from depression, anxiety, addiction, and mental health issues. After reading books on the psychedelic experience like Doors of Perception by Aldous Huxley, How To Change Your Mind by Michael Pollan, and Trip by Tao Lin, they all reaffirmed what I knew to be true: psychedelics are a mind expanding, self-reflecting and catalyst to a life changing experience.
With that in mind, my microdosing journey on psilocybin mushrooms began about a month after my last dose of antidepressants. A friend of mine gave me 3.5 grams of dried up mushrooms, which I took home and put inside of a mini blender to a coarse grind. I jam packed the ground up mushrooms into 35 empty gel capsules that I ordered online from Amazon. I then placed one gel capsule of approximately one tenth of a gram into my mouth and chased it back with a gulp of water. After about an hour or so, I didn’t feel anything, so I took one more capsule. Soon after, I didn’t feel high, but I felt the warmth of calm and joy settling beneath me. It was as if someone turned a light switch on inside my brain and suddenly, I felt lighter. The ever pervading dark cloud inside my brain was no longer there. It could have been some sort of placebo effect, so I took another microdose a few days later and the same feeling came over me. And the next time after that.
I continued microdosing mushrooms (or LSD) on and off for the next two years, and it radically changed my overall sense of well-being and mood. The thing about microdosing is that it doesn’t cure your depression and anxiety entirely, but it allows you to view your thoughts from an observing perspective. I was able to recognise my negative thought patterns more quickly, and I had more control over my reactions and behaviour to those thoughts. It was as if I was rewiring and rearranging my thought processes to what I knew deeply to be true, that I was not my depression, anxiety, or PMDD. I could choose what I wanted to believe in and what I didn’t want to believe in. These are the very basics of what every therapist wants us to see for ourselves. That it is possible to change the story we tell ourselves. Microdosing helped me believe in that possibility. And my life has been all the better because of it.