3. It's Good to Talk
So said Bob Hoskins. Although I think he was marketing landline telephones, back when they were a thing. I remember seeing that advert and being totally convinced that it wasn't him. I mocked my sister for suggesting that it was. I knew so much about everything back then.
So - on the subject of my own mental health - you'd have thought I knew it all too. It turned out not to be so. I guess that is one way you could categorise the illness: a sudden and deadening realisation that you have no clue whatsoever what your purpose in life is and why you should even be in existence. A self-destructive existential crisis. I certainly remember the early stages of the condition being confusing and guilt-ridden. Something was wrong, but I was loathe to admit it to anyone initially, and who was I to be unhappy, anyway? I was very well looked after physically and materially.
Only with hindsight can I clearly see how my life situation at the time was contributing to a slow destruction of my perceived self-worth. I was holding myself up to an ever enlarging measuring stick and making myself adhere to a never-ending list of 'necessary' life goals.
I had to totally change my life situation and reset all of my expectations about how my life was meant to pan out in order to beat the illness. It was a total un-tethering that would be the most beneficial treatment for me at the time. Even after that I still was unaware of why it might be so helpful.
Luckily I had some very good friends who were able to counsel me through the most distressing times. They were the most valuable resources - for me to contrast my sick mindset against theirs would relieve the pressure immediately and show me that it was mostly in my head. I will be forever grateful to these people for listening to me in my time of need. I also consulted University counselors and the Samaritans at various points, which served a purpose at the time, but I did not get to the root of the issues in the same way as I did talking to my friends.
The Best Chats
Regarding talk therapy, a lot of the 'work' that was done in this area of self discovery was done at raves. It was a happy (ecstatic even) by-product of trying to escape my problems, that left me with more understanding and yet more curiosity about the origins of my mental disease.
So far, any advice I have given so far in this series has been fairly conventional, and I must stress at this point that what worked for me will very likely not work (at least in the same way) for people who are struggling with the condition and looking for a way out. The most effective techniques I learnt were all, in the end, good self-care habits and learning to be open enough about what was happening that I could receive help. MDMA affects the serotonin system and should be approached very carefully by people with a serotonin imbalance*, and not at all by those on SSRI medications (from my own experience - it will not work).
Given this disclaimer, I would be missing a large (and crucial) chunk of my story if I didn't relay the use of psychedelic medicines to help treat me or guide me through the process. The SSRI medications I tried did very little for me, and blocked the use of natural supplements that I later found to be beneficial such as 5-HTP. After a close friend lost a parent to the illness, and I had been given the chance to offer advice that was less conventional (but didn't) I have found the courage (or rather, stopped caring about the repercussions) to speak up for the more alternative routes to healing that were so pivotal to me.
The best chats came on MDMA. It also played the following roles:
- Showed me, at the time a very sad person, what it was like to be euphoric: without a care in the world, not a shred of anxiety or despair. In knowing this feeling even for a few hours I was shown a glimmer of hope about the realms of my human experience and that my future mightn't be filled with darkness.
- Opened me up emotionally to the point where I could admit my life choices were very much led by the need to please others and that this was not enough of a basis for a healthy mental self-image.
- It acted as a gateway - primarily because of prohibition and the realisation that the government was very wrong about this, and many other things - to exploration of other, more natural, psychedelic medicines; medicines such as Salvia divinorum, Psilocybin (which I will explore in parts IV and V) and later dissociatives such as Ketamine and its analogues.
- Led me to the use of 5-HTP and L-tryptophan as supplements - initially used to stop the 'come-down' after the drug.**
Science, not just anecdote
I am not alone in having experienced the medicinal properties of this drug. In fact, we seem to be entering a psychedelic renaissance in which the true helper roles of many substances that are now illicit will be fostered using medical institutions and with government approval. The role of Rick Doblin, founder of MAPS, in this transition, cannot be understated.
For a more nuanced opinion on the whole thing, try this video interview discussing the pitfalls of the current resurgence in psychedelic use. I'll leave you with a quote in which the interviewee (author of a book on 'flow states' and other ecstatic experiences) talks about the research done by MAPS with MDMA-assisted psychotherapy.
[MDMA] does something very specific - it shifts your neuro-chemical profile [...] and the closest neurological analogue they have found to somebody in an MDMA therapeutic dosage is post-orgasm - and it's a state of satiety - you have oxyctocin, you have prolactin, you've got an increase in serotonin, basically feelings of safety, security, belonging, wellbeing. And that actually allows people to relax their vigilance response, turn off their amygdala, and their threat scanning, and have a little bit of distance between themselves and their stories, and their past pains. And that alone can be transformational.
* The 'chemical imbalance of serotonin' theory on the origins of depression is being found to have a lot of holes in it, and to have been funded by drug companies with vested interests. I direct anyone interested in this to the book 'Lost Connections' by Johann Hari
** I later used it to combat winter blues. I will probably do that this winter as well, although so far have not felt the need. Supplementing vitamin D3 is also hugely helpful at this. For some scientific research on D3 deficiency, try listening to this podcast: https://www.foundmyfitness.com/news/s/ugizkn/timeline_joe_rogan_experience_502_with_dr_rhonda_patrick