It was a sunny SoCal day in December at the Dr. Bronner’s parking lot. As a new hire, it was my first employee Holiday Celebration. The meeting was full of hearty and healthy foods, decadent Spiced Magic Hot Chocolate,and lively chatter. During the customary end-of-year presentations, President Mike Bronner announced a new mental health benefit: Ketamine-Assisted Therapy. He introduced the benefit by opening up to the entire company about his own mental health struggles—he had been in the throes of depression recently, with terrible insomnia to boot. Traditional anti-depressants had stopped working, so his brother David recommended he try Ketamine-Assisted Therapy.
Mike Bronner said he saw it as a way to speed up the healing process, and that the sessions had been helpful for him to find some light in the darkness. He was so brave and honest. I was instantly intrigued! I had never heard of Ketamine but I could relate to that dark place Mike spoke of.
The Covid-19 crisis has been one of the most challenging times of my life. My husband and I dealt with a cross-state move, navigated virtual kindergarten, found new employment, and lived in an isolated, sanitized bubble. I spent my formative years in a very abusive home—the uncertainty of Covid combined with social isolation caused a lot of unresolved trauma to surface.
After having an anxiety attack over a cancelled birthday party, I decided to seek mental health help. I started EMDR therapy around the same time I started my new job with Dr. Bronner’s. EMDR seemed effective for trauma work but I had been going an hour a week for months. It was exhausting and expensive, so when Mike Bronner said Ketamine-Assisted Therapy had sped up his mental recovery process, I couldn’t wait to learn more.
Ketamine is used in the medical field everyday as an FDA-approved anesthetic, but it’s now gaining legitimacy as an effective treatment for a number of mental conditions such as depression, PTSD, addiction, and anxiety. Ketamine-Assisted Therapy (KAT) is a series of sessions where an administration of Ketamine is combined with talk therapy to help integrate your experience. Even though Ketamine-Assisted Therapy can have profound benefits, it often comes with a hefty price tag. I definitely would not have been able to afford this type of treatment for myself, so the fact that Dr. Bronner’s covered 100% of the treatment for me and my family was absolutely awesome!
To provide this benefit, Dr. Bronner’s partnered with Enthea, the nation’s first nonprofit benefit plan administrator for psychedelic healthcare. The sign up process was super simple, Enthea handled all the provider paperwork and through their platform, I was able to find an amazing female-led clinic in my area, Flow Integrative Ketamine. The founder, Christi Myers, is a kind person and her whole team made me feel like I was in a safe space.
Flow Integrative Ketamine administers their Ketamine intravenously in a series of three to six sessions which are followed by integration sessions with a cognitive therapist. Not all clinics do it that way. Some provide lozenges or administer the medication intramuscularly. Some have the therapist sit with you during the medication session, while some have you talk to the therapist a few days later. Ketamine-Assisted Therapy is such a new form of treatment for mental wellness that the best protocols for the various applications are still being tested out. I recommend spending a bit of time finding the type of session and establishment that makes you feel most comfortable.
After a thorough but necessary onboarding process, I arrived at my first session feeling awkward and hesitant. I had never taken a psychedelic substance before. Even though I did a ton of research, I didn’t know what it was going to be like because everyone has a different and unique experience with psychedelics. I knew I needed to do something though. I felt stuck in a hole of depression and anxiety that I just couldn’t escape from.
As I got comfortable in my oversized lounge chair with my weighted blanket, they hooked me up to an IV and slipped on headphones and an eye mask. I knew when the medication started working because Ketamine is an anesthetic and I would no longer feel the eye mask on my face, accompanied by a sense of falling and landing which some people refer to as “dropping in.”
Everyone’s experience with KAT differs. I had six sessions of Ketamine-Assisted Therapy in total. The first two sessions were spent crying. I cried so hard that my mask soaked through like a wet blanket. I felt like I was releasing years of old pain and sadness that were stuck and tucked in pockets throughout my body. Even my tears seemed to smell like an infection. When the sessions were over, I felt tired but incredible. Like I was just given a massage to my soul.
By the third session I became extremely frustrated because I hadn’t “seen” anything yet. No bright colors, no space travel, no ancient relatives. The only thing I ever “saw” was black. All I could think was “Great, I’m broken, I can’t even do drugs right!” It was at this point that my integration therapist suggested I might have Aphantasia. It’s a condition that effects roughly 4% of the population in which people are unable to see images when they close their eyes. I didn’t realize people saw pictures in their head on a daily basis. That’s what I thought psychedelics were for! Mind blown.
After finding out I wasn’t “broken,” I spent the next three sessions being alone in the literal dark with my thoughts, which were rapidly changing. Ketamine acts as an antidepressant by increasing the number of new neurons in the brain, which stimulates neurogenesis. This in turn leads to the creation of neural pathways causing new thoughts and behaviors. I was becoming enlightened!
The dissociative effects of Ketamine allowed me to disconnect myself from my trauma to feel the real me inside. I know that sounds weird—but the first and few memories I have as a small child all involve instances of abuse, so I’ve lived with my trauma self as if she were a conjoined twin. Ketamine broke that bond and I was able to assess the abuse, my abusers, and myself from an entirely different perspective.
It dawned on me by my last session that trauma is a part of the experience of existence. We all share moments of moving through grief, being bullied or abused, or helplessly witnessing the ones we love endure trauma in some form or another. Some wounds are deeper or harder to process than others but at the very root, trauma is a shared human experience that connects us all. Just like love. These traumatic moments hurt but don’t need to shroud your life or define you as a person.
I had been living in survival mode for many years by suppressing my sadness, anxiety, anger, and grief. These feelings would then bubble up during arduous times. By participating in Ketamine-Assisted Therapy, I went from surviving by suppressing trauma, to thriving by processing and going beyond my past to live in the present. This life is just a blip in the radar so you can’t get hung up on “why me” or “woe is me.”
I’m not saying I’m 100% cured. Not by a long shot. I just got to level two. Mental wellness, like physical wellness, is something that needs to be continually nurtured through therapy and mindfulness exercises, being in nature, or creating art. I also don’t know how much of this world we take with us when we die, but there is an essence within all of us. Call it your seed, your soul, your consciousness. What I do know is that through the help of Ketamine-Assisted Therapy, I’ve met mine and she’s one really extraordinary light, with a bright and beautiful future.