a-ok: the ketamine diaries #4 - adrift in an ocean of suck

Oh great, it's only been *checks watch* four MONTHS since my last post. I'm sure things are fine.

an orange life raft floating in the middle of the ocean

"I promise I'll be back before another 2 months pass." Famous last words pulled directly from my latest post, over FOUR months ago. Fantastic.

Guess that means I've been doing so well and remaining so busy that I simply forgot to update, right? On the awful frickin' contrary, it's indicative of the category 5 shit storm that was looming over that promise when I wrote it.

A man stumbling through a torrential downpour with the caption "it's just a little rain"

Enter the storm.

Some big bad stuff up and happened. First off, the startup I was working for folded a week later (end of April), and I lost what had become the favorite job experience of my career. Total bummer. Even though things changed a lot after my initial ketamine treatments, that's the kind of thing that throws even the most normal folks into a spiral.

Unfortunately, that was only the beginning. Around the same time, we found out my uncle had colorectal cancer that had metastasized to his liver, which turned out to be a death sentence after about 3 months of suffering through radiation and chemo.

Cancer is weird. In conversation, we label it anecdotally by location on the body (colon, pancreatic,  breast, etc.), when really "cancer" itself is like a thousand diseases in a trenchcoat, masquerading as one big, scary word.

Death is also weird. There are some that affect us profoundly and some that exist more on the outskirts of our personal pilgrimage through this great big world. Not that most people know how to deal with either.

I saw my uncle all the time growing up. We lived next door and my cousins were the closest things I ever had to siblings. But people grow and move, some become more a part of your life and some less. Our relationship wasn't bad by any means, but it was the "see you a couple times a year at family things" version at this point, so I never felt like through this whole ordeal that it was my experience to latch onto. Everyone's "sorry for your loss" felt misdirected when aimed at me.

It was, however, extremely difficult to watch my father and his middle brother (who I'm very close to), experience their baby brother deteriorate to nothing, and even harder to watch my aunt and cousins lose the head of their family, since all the grandparents are gone now, and this 59-year-old, otherwise healthy man, was far too young to perish. He'd only just retired within the past couple years and had so many things he was looking forward to finally doing. Instead, he died, and that's that. Those closest to him will have to work out how to forge ahead differently, plans be damned.

A picture of Michael Scott from The Office looking very grim with the caption "side effects include: the worst thing imaginable"

Brain chemistry sucks.

In the middle of all that -- which included a lot of family travel and sitting and generally wondering what the f to do, when in reality there's nothing -- near the end of May, I started feeling sick every morning after I took my antidepressants. Ketamine had already enabled me to wean off Lamictal, which had served as my mood stabilizer for bipolar II since 2014.

Side note: Though I have no problem labeling the drugs I've taken and being very clear about the experience I've had with them, it's never with a bias against the drug itself. Different people react differently. I am extremely sensitive to medications and have always had trouble with pharmaceutical interventions. Anti-psychotics almost killed me. Super fun stuff. However, I'm well aware that one man's nightmare can be another one's saving grace. Take what helps you!

Back to the sick. At that point, I was still taking both Pristiq and Wellbutrin to help with depression. I had no real intention of quitting either of them, to be honest. I'd been on Pristiq as my main antidepressant for about 6 years, with little side effects, and Wellbutrin for about 2 years. While I had some weird side effects on it, they were tolerable, and it seemed to help my ADHD with energy and focus.

Until that first morning I noticed it. It was the queasy kind of nausea that's a hard pass and a few days into it, once I realized the cause, I was almost excited about it!

Yeah, bear with me for a second on that. My theory is that the new side effects were indicative of my body rejecting what had once been somewhat helpful. Granted, I started ketamine because the drugs were certainly not perfect, but they did serve a purpose and this seemed to show me that purpose had come to an end. Ketamine was helping rewire my brain so much that it was no longer interested in processing SNRIs (serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors).

So, next came the weaning. I was already on low dosages, because I really cannot overstate how sensitive I can be to meds. Now, I'm not a doctor, but I have a ton of experience with psych drugs, to the tune of about 17 different ones, so at the very least I can tell you this: don't go cold turkey! Never abruptly stop your meds without medical intervention.

There does come a time though, once you're splitting pills into a myriad of tiny pieces you can barely pick up, you have to call it. No more. I quit Pristiq first, and boy, I was not prepared for the withdrawals I was still going to experience, even after responsible discontinuation.

I'll be back!

This comeback is getting verbose, so with that, I'm calling a "to be continued"... very soon. This time, if I don't post within a couple DAYS, someone come looking for me!