I Tried Ketamine to Fix My Brain

Me, high as a kite

Ketamine, to me, was just a party drug in the 90s. When my doctor recommended I try it, I was more than a little confused.

I’ve experienced varying levels of depression and anxiety since I was a teenager. It peaked during my years running ÄKTA, especially during our sale process.

Depression amongst founders is incredibly common. 49% of entrepreneurs suffer from a mental health condition. Ironically, the same characteristics of our brains that give us the ability to be fantastic businessfolks also make us highly fragile in handling the pressures and risks associated with the job.

Founders are:
2X more likely to suffer from depression
6X more likely to suffer from ADHD
3X more likely to suffer from substance abuse
10X more likely to suffer from bi-polar disorder
2X more likely to have psychiatric hospitalization
2X more likely to have suicidal thoughts
TechCrunch

IV Ketamine Therapy

My doctor had told me about new studies showing profound effects that ketamine can have on some mental illnesses, like depression. When he first mentioned it, I did some research, and didn’t feel ready to go down that path. The IV treatment creates a dissociative effect, and plunges you in to your subconscious for about an hour. I honestly wasn’t prepared for what I would find down there.

After spending a lot of time on wellness after selling my company, I felt more prepared, and told him I was ready. I visited his posh new office in downtown Chicago and we got started.

The physiological and neurological effects of ketamine are realized simply by exposing your brain to enough of the drug over a period of time. You could sit there and watch Netflix while doing it, although I am guessing it wouldn’t make much sense. Perhaps this is what Black Mirror is for.

But, many therapists take advantage of this highly disassociated state (not unlike DMT / ayahuasca) to guide you through a spiritual journey. To gain strength, answer questions, etc.

For mine, I reclined in a comfortable chair with a blindfold on and a blanket. Five or ten minutes in to the IV, I started feeling a sense of deep relaxation. I was heavy in the chair, and frankly, feeling fantastic, but still lucid and present.

A few minutes after that, everything changed, almost at once. My brain clicked over, and I was no longer in the room. My doctor’s voice suddenly felt 1000 feet away, and I didn’t feel completely confident that I could move my limbs or speak properly.

He began to ask me questions about what I was feeling and seeing, and encouraging me to explore various places in my subconscious. This was weird on many levels. I didn’t see too many literal places or people, but rather, symbols, shapes and art. It was beautiful, in its own way.

Time slows down considerably. I thought the hour was almost over, when he informed me it had only been 10 minutes. This does create some discomfort and panic, as you ask yourself “am I ever getting out of here?”. The doc was great at talking me through that.

Finally, the treatment is over, and you sit feeling drunk and stoned for about 30 minutes until you’re able to stand. The effects over the next 36 hours were a sense of relaxation, but nothing terribly profound. Until the following day.

I was back in Los Angeles, having a walk at sunset to get a smoothie. I was looking at the sky and mountains. When I had a sensation I don’t believe I’ve had in my entire adult life: my brain was quiet. No fleeting thoughts, no brainstorming, no problem solving, no anxiety, no thinking about…well, anything. My brain was perfectly at peace. It had finally shut up.

The long term effects of the medication are still being determined. All I know is, while my depression has been under control for years, it still was able to bring my mind to a place I have not been able to get it to, and it was the most welcomed feeling I can imagine. Even things like meditation have become more relevant to me, since I now better understand the “point”.

Why Don’t We Get Help?

Founders rarely seek support, for a litany of reasons. As I see it, the top three are:

  • Fear of negative repercussions that would come from admitting we have a “problem” (the stigma of mental illness)
  • A subset of “toxic masculinity” where seeking support would be acknowledging a problem, and we aren’t supposed to have problems
  • Denial there is a problem that needs addressing

In the chaos that is a startup company, trying to imagine stopping long enough to recover from an issue is unfathomable. We are redlined 24 hours a day, and turning that off is inconceivable. That intensity, and confidence, is also what makes people follow us, and believe in us.

We also fear someone is going to try and “fix” us. While we have problems, we aren’t broken. And the notion of someone approaching us like a sheet of broken glass is not going to work.

It becomes easier, and more lucrative, to suppress our issues and drive forward. This also leads to the fallout and tragic fates of so many entrepreneurs and companies.

The Book

The harsh reality of entrepreneurship is a topic I’m deeply passionate about. My memoir on the subject is releasing soon (click here to get more info). The more we can be honest and vulnerable about the struggles that come along with entrepreneurship, the more we can proactively seek and create system of support, and together, create a movement to improve our lives.

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