Guest Post: Closer to Fine

My friend wrote a thing. I want you to experience it. More coming from me SOON!! -beep

photo of an IV drip
Photo by insung yoon / Unsplash

I’m the OG “Ketbabe.” I’m 38 years old, and I have suffered from mental illness related to trauma and PTSD my entire life based on some pretty horrific circumstances I lived through as a minor. I’ve been “medicated” since I was 16, I’ve done over 10 years of therapy, and I’ve aggressively pursued a cure that would put my demons to rest… but never found one. I once had a therapist tell me that she listened to the song “Closer to Fine” by the Indigo Girls and she couldn’t help but think how perfectly it described me.

And I went to the doctor, I went to the mountains
I looked to the children, I drank from the fountains
There's more than one answer to these questions
Pointing me in a crooked line
And the less I seek my source for some definitive
Closer I am to fine

No matter where I looked, I never found my “definitive,” I never found a “fine.” When the pandemic hit and I lost my job of 12 years and my ability to go out into the world safely due to my chronic illness, I fought for almost two years before I completely lost my mind. I spiraled down into a 9 month period of passive suicidal ideation, agoraphobia, and anxiety attacks that I couldn’t pull myself out of and was in the valley of the shadow of death. My dreams turned ominous, and I felt God near.

Princess Carolyn from BoJack Horseman saying "I'm sending you the number of a specialist"

My psychiatrist recommended I go to a ketamine clinic for treatment. I knew someone on Facebook with anecdotal positive results from IV Ketamine therapy, so off I went. A week and two IV treatments later the weight was lifted from my shoulders, the constant negative tape in my head was quiet. I assumed the title of “Ketbabe” and told Beep, “You have to try this, go to the ketamine clinic… it works.” Soon after we were both plugging in for IV Ketamine therapy at two different clinics in two different states; encouraging each other, comparing notes with each other, and making inappropriate drug user jokes to each other while our brains underwent changes due to the neuroplasticity effects of Ketamine.

My experience with Ketamine IV was that after two very pleasant and IV treatments 3 days apart my first week I woke up no longer depressed, magically, and no longer petrified. I suddenly had the energy to attend family gatherings. I was at peace, and curious (rather than terrified) about the outside world. I remain so today, but as I continue to improve I’ve of course refined my experiences to ways that I could “do better.” That sounds silly when I see it written down, how could anyone possibly expect a better or faster turnaround for me than this?

Harley Quinn saying "Normal is a setting on a dryer! People like us, we don't get normal!"

It’s been about two months since my first Ketamine IV and I am now employed in my dream job, no longer suicidal at all, and bopping around the world running errands with zero hesitation. I would say I couldn’t be happier, but people like me don’t know what happiness looks like. We’ve been depressed our whole lives. I’ve been stuck in “fight, flight, freeze, fawn” for so long my brain has built permanent tunnels to get there. These new neural pathways don’t have roadblocks and I don’t know what to do with an unencumbered brain. I have to learn these new skills. The ketamine evened my playing field, and now it’s time to play the game.

I look back on where I came from and while I see such strides, I see room for growth. I don’t know what to do with all the time and energy it takes to fight a depression and anxiety I no longer have. I can paint. I can train with my service dog. I can try and bury myself in work. None of them replace the energy it took to NOT function every day. Who am I with my new normal? I don’t know. I thought finding out would be fun, but I must admit it’s actually quite intimidating. The problem is we’ve never been on any level of normal, and now I have to learn how to function on my own.

I’ve had 10 I’ve treatments now. I’ve had 6 treatments over a 3 week course and 4 weekly treatments for a month. I’m slowly titrating down to once every two weeks for a month and then fully expect to do monthly IV Ketamine infusions to keep the demons at bay. Every time I go in for treatment I see my nurse, Jen, who fills out an evaluation with me of how I’ve been since my last treatment. I never see the results of week over week but I have to assume that I am startlingly better than my baseline. When I met Jen, I asked her how much I was going to have to lie to her to keep from being held on a 72 hour hold. My last treatment with Jen, I took her cookies. I literally can’t fathom the difference, but I am living it. So where do I go from here? My hope is Closer to Fine. Two months ago I was dying from mental illness, today I have two laptops and a phone running as I write this, looking for the right combination of steps in the right order to keep functioning. I’ll take it.

Meanwhile, I still find myself looking towards my next Ketamine treatment with not just the excitement and nerves, but as some magical medication I need to “stay here” in this place I have found post-depression and anxiety. In my head, I’ve made Ketamine my magic cure because in the beginning, I desperately needed it to be. Not to be overstated, I was dying from my depression. Not only could I not leave the house or perform some of the basics of my ADL’s (activities of daily life) like eating appropriate meals and self-care, etc. but I was functioning from bed to couch to bed and back again, spending all my time doom scrolling on TikTok to dissociate from the life I wasn’t living.

For me, the truth is that Ketamine is magical. It shook off the weight on my shoulders. It brought me peace in a mind that was raging with “should’ve, could’ve, would’ve” and telling me that I was the worst person who ever existed. After talking with several people who have been in my similar situation, it seems that those are common issues that the Ketamine has been able to quell. It gave me the ability to shut those thoughts down when they come. The truth is also that Ketamine is not a magic cure. It can change the neuroplasticity of my brain and heal parts that I always thought were irretrievably broken due to trauma and CPTSD. At the end of my sessions though, I go back to the same life. The same life that I built with walls and rituals and fear-based responses is still revolving around me, even though I don’t need the crutches anymore. The day will come, however, that I have to rely on what the Ketamine “did” for me and not what repeated Ketamine treatments “does” for me.

pug riding a 3-wheeler being pushed over by another pug

How do I walk on my own and deal with the day to day? The cobwebs might have been cleaned out with the ketamine (I don’t do science), but that doesn’t mean I am still not facing the same daily challenges and stressors that come with life. It’s like riding a bike. I had flat tires, Ketamine aired them up, and I didn’t know it could go this fast with the tires fixed. Sometimes I feel like I need training wheels because I’ve never ridden a bike that worked before.

I’m riding that bike though, even if I fall off a few times when I get hit out of left field with some wild situation. I’m determined to continue moving forward, whether it’s “during” my Ketamine IV treatments or if it’s “post Ketamine” when my treatments taper off and eventually stop. I’m determined to find out what’s out there in life for me though, I’m always looking for a way to get “Closer to Fine.” I was who I needed to be to survive for so many years. Now, it’s time to thrive. I’m looking forward to it.