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Why Ketamine Infusion Therapy Was the PTSD Breakthrough I Needed

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Editor's Note

Any medical information included is based on a personal experience. For questions or concerns regarding health, please consult a doctor or medical professional.

If you or a loved one is affected by addiction, the following post could be triggering. You can contact SAMHSA’s hotline at 1-800-662-4357.

If you’ve experienced childhood trauma, sexual abuse or assault, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact The National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 1-800-656-4673.

When I made the decision to use ketamine infusion therapy to treat my post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), I had no idea what to expect or what results I would get afterward.

• What is PTSD?

I walked into the clinic, tense. I wanted badly to be optimistic and hopeful. I needed this to be the push in my recovery I hadn’t yet been able to find on my own.

I sat in the chair, half-skeptical and half-terrified. My heart was pounding. The back of my shirt clung to the chair from my sweat. I was crawling out of my skin with anxiety. I envisioned I’d feel inebriated. Maybe even a little high? I’ve experienced neither of those things before, so even that was hard to imagine.

I leaned back as the IV was placed. I watched the liquid trickle out of the line. I took a deep breath. There wasn’t any going back now; at least I didn’t have to be anxious about that anymore.

I drifted off and my eyes closed. I had the sensation I was lying back on the ground, looking up at the stars. I gazed up in amazement at what seemed like an infinite blackness. I was surrounded with a warmth and peace I have never felt before. 

As that faded out, I could feel my body at the top of a cave. Memories were dripping down to form stalactites. I slid down with one. I was watching myself in one of those memories.

I was the audience. The memory couldn’t pull me in. It couldn’t hurt me. I was only an observer. I watched.

It’s dusk. A group of kids are huddled in a circle at the grassy high point of the cul-de-sac, chanting “ready, set, go,” flashlights in everyone’s hands. I see my younger self in the group. As my friends disburse to run and find the best hiding spot, I watch as she sprints off. 

They were playing manhunt. She comes over to play any chance she has.

She darts into the vacant lot. It’s narrow and has a worn path in the grass from them cutting through it as a shortcut to school. In the middle is a huge boulder. When they were little, they loved climbing it and jumping off. Their initials are carved all over the sides of it.

I watch her crouch down behind it. She waits in anticipation of a flashlight beam coming in her direction.

While her focus is being held by the game, a white van slows down on the side street her back is facing. A man in the back slides open the door. He reaches out to grab her shirt collar to pull her into the van.

She turns around at the last second. His hand brushes past her, slipping right through her hair. She stares at it all happening like it’s in slow motion. Her heart is pounding in her ears.

I’m on the grass next to her holding down her legs so she can’t go anywhere. I keep her safe. 

She knew I was there. I was by her side. I could protect her now and she knew it. I could feel the fear come out of her and go through me as it evaporated.

Then, I started to wake up. The hour I had been under the ketamine had only felt like a few minutes.

The loneliness and panic I had felt previously when I recalled this particular moment vanished and it lost the power it had held over my life. The same chilling emotion it had elicited before was no longer there.

I was in control of the impact and I could finally let go of tension it held deep in my body. I had this weird sense of ownership over how this memory made me feel. 

The breakthrough that had been just beyond my grasp in my three years of psychotherapy came to me in three weeks of infusion therapy — not a cure but the chance to finally have the capacity to bring this trauma and the others behind it into therapy without having to experience the same triggering intensity of emotions that had me continually spiral with each attempt.

All of these traumatic memories still need to be processed with my therapist. But now, after the infusions gave me the unique opportunity to rewrite my own narrative, they evoke a sense of finality. I can put each of these memories back in my mind where they belong instead of having them looming over me unsettled and ever-present.

I was hesitant to give ketamine infusion therapy a chance. I was guarding myself from putting any hope into it. But in trying something new, I allowed myself to be part of what I believe will be a treatment many others who are stuck and scared like I was will benefit from also.

I went into this experience timid and heavy with a sense of powerlessness over the traumas I had lived through. I had put an enormous amount of energy in psychotherapy to heal, but felt like it was all too much to get past. It all seemed as if it was a wall in my life I might never climb over. 

Ketamine infusion therapy threw me a rope to scale that wall, as my therapist and I can now work on making it to the other side without losing my grip and falling back to the ground.

I had the chance to be the person I wished I had in those moments. I was given the opportunity to save myself. I was able to come back for her and saved her in a way no one else had before. Ketamine infusion therapy gave me that when I felt like nothing else could.

Follow this journey on the author’s Instagram.

Image via contributor.

Originally published: November 12, 2019
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