Updated: Jan 15, 2021
I couldn’t breath, let alone form sentences. Both my head and my belly slammed against the trampoline, bounced, twirled, and hit the ground with a thud. No breath. Breath-taking pain. I was 8 years old. My mom rushed outside.
She said, “Show me where it hurts. Point to the pain.”
I couldn’t. The hurt was… everywhere.
In February, 2019, I had my first suicidal ideation. Even writing that sentence causes my fingers to shake, and I paused for many hours before deciding to put this story into the world. Should I? It’s terrifying to open yourself up to others and their potential repulsion or judgement. Yet, I know that going numb and staying private will not keep me safe. I feel an urgency in expressing my thoughts here because I know that I am not alone. I know that ignoring the reality of what I have experienced is deluding the reality of millions of others who may think they’re existing in isolation.
I sat next to the river that night, and in a foreign daze began scheming ways that I could make my death look accidental. I wrote the storyline and weighed the possibilities as if I were simply planning a trip. It was logistical. Methodical. It wasn’t until a deer appeared in the tall grass in front of me that I was jolted from my thoughts. I stared into the water, suddenly sick to my stomach at how easily, almost comfortably, I had psychologically surrendered to the foggy allure of non-existence. I flashed back to that time my 8-year old little body slammed into the ground and I remembered the all-encompassing bewilderment. No blood. No bruise. No wound. A hurt with no outward physicality. There would be no pointing to this pain because it wrapped around me like an invisible cocoon. These were the warning signs that a slowly corroding force was rising up, amidst a growing pandemic, and with the ferocious, insidious tactics that any virus deploys to overtake its host.
For most of 2019 I was able to cope. I showed up to my office. I legitimized my ideations as symptoms of stress and anxiety. I normalized this new neuro-chemical state as an expression of my proclivity towards existential thought. I had grown comfortable with concepts of mortality, yet this was altogether new and frightening. I had never felt compelled towards suicide. It had simply never occurred to me as an option.
I went to Nepal in January this year and it was glorious yet difficult in that it seemed to require that the person that I went in as be replaced with another version of myself—one with a fundamentally altered self-understanding and a new relationship to where and how I would place my time and energy. I had experienced such grand humanity there and was bone-deep humbled by the experience. I felt renewed. The volume of dark ideations was turned down to a low buzz. Then, March came. Surely, you will remember those early moments of chaos in your own world. We decided to lay Wylder laid to rest that month. That’s a lovely way of saying it, isn’t it? It was not lovely. A whole identity and reason for being died with it. A slow collapse began.
We all have stories of this strange and agonizing series of months. I will remember 2020 as the year I no longer recognized my life. The year I no longer belonged in it. The year that occurred for me as an entire decade. For me, it was as if an alien force had come to slowly remove my sanity, taking small pieces of happiness and wonder in the process. In extreme moments, I felt as though a projector was pointed on the wall of reality in front of me, a steady reel of shame, despair, and loneliness on repeat. The old episodes of past failures played on a loop. Then came the future scenarios of all the loss that is yet to come. Depression rose up like a calculating ghost, haunting, brutalizing, disorienting. What was this new narration in my head and why was it so excruciatingly loud? Did I cause it? Did isolation cause it? My logic fought back with statements like, “I have so many wellness tools. I’m fine. I’ve endured worse things.” The rationale that probably kept me from physically hurting myself was the fact that I do know what death causes. I know the sound of mothers who have lost their babies. I know the searing agony left in the wake of loss, whole voids left in families, whole communities left obliterated, and yet. And yet. I longed for a way to simply be swallowed up into the ether. How else could I make the sinister voices stop? How comforting it became to imagine simply melting away.
It wasn’t only my own turbulence I was rolling around in—the sour soup of racism, tyranny, the pandemic, cultish conspiracy theories, and environmental crisis ravaged our country like a ruthless tornado, obliterating any sense of normalcy. This context made it nearly impossible to express personal mental unraveling for fear of being burdensome. Or worse—disgustingly self-centered. Frankly, I think we have all likely felt the need to “hold it together” this year as whole systems collapse around us.
I decided to try ketamine as an alternative to anti-depressants. Let me be clear—antidepressants have their place and also, ketamine is not for everyone. Undoubtedly, some people cannot afford to give the anchor of sanity even the slightest tug. But it was a powerful tool for shaking me up violently and wondrously. I can think of no right more fundamental than the right to intentionally steward the contents of one’s own consciousness. During those sessions, the significance of my existence bore down upon me like an avalanche. For me, ketamine was not actually an antidepressant, but rather, a stark and existential journey through death in all its forms. My egoic sense of self died a thousand deaths in those sessions. Over and over again. I think that’s how I’ve been able to remember for the first time in a long time, that misery is a choice, that I am not my thoughts, that I deserve to be alive, that I can thrive, that I will be okay, not in spite of my losses and failures and heartbreaks—
but because of them.
Psychedelics do not guarantee wisdom or a clear path toward healing. They merely guarantee that the contents of consciousness will change. That change, for me, signified hope—a small but steady return to a flowing current of meaning, wonder, and awe running through my bones and belly and heart. Through these last few months, I have been able to extinguish the person I made up, to which I had become completely attached, and replace that person with something else. Not better. Not worse. Not good. Not bad. Just different. I do not believe that I am fixed or that depression is gone once and for all. No. It is simply part of the panoply of emotions that will exist along this journey for the entirety of my life. I am not immune as I once naively suspected. But I do not need to run from it. I am choosing not to be embarrassed by it, avoid it, or pretend it away. And I know better how to respond when it arises.
To say that the entirety of this experience has been traumatic or intrinsically bad would be to negate the potency of how wondrous small acts of kindness and ordinary beauty have become. I learned to play the guitar this year and even though I was totally awkward, there were moments of strumming when whole swaths of time disappeared. Pure flow. Sweet, sweet relief. There were also Zoom dance parties. The satisfaction of finishing my trailer project with my dad. Endless board games and park wanderings with Jordan and Bird. Mountain biking new ridge lines. Navigating slot canyons. And many new babies came into the world. I watched my friends become mothers. What a wondrous thing it is to witness new life emerge amidst calamity.
All of us have been boundary walkers this year, scanning the edges of extreme new territory. None of us could have known we would face a mental health epidemic at the same time we would fight a viral pandemic. I have found that by attempting to transform my inner world, it has required that I consistently turn outward. We are not islands unto ourselves. No person can be well and whole on their own. My closest friends and family became like human life rafts to me this year. Those intense phone calls and long walks were the thread holding my entire world together. I am not comfortable asking for help. It did not come easy to me, yet I have learned that asking for help is the most heroic god damn thing you can do when you find yourself consumed by thoughts of self harm.
Please remember to listen to you body, it tells the truth.
But question your mind, it often lies.
And if you are drowning, please reach. Though it may seem impossible to breathe, hope, or find your way back to sanity, love, or peace again—
Please keep reaching. We're here.
All my love.