Ketamine-assisted psychotherapy helped this pediatric physician and academic excise her own childhood trauma and, finally, understand the power and necessity of integrated care.
I took my first psychedelic substance when I was well over the age of 48. It does sound trite to say, I found myself in psychedelics. Yet what did happen with psychedelics helped uncover the darker truth to my wounds.
As a middle-aged, successful physician with my own holistic practice and a history of pediatric hospital care and academia, I was “happy,” engaged, and resilient. Yet, I was beginning to feel the burnout, empathy fatigue, and distraction of daily life. It made sense that I needed more restitution and “self-care.” My sister convinced me of my despondency in myself and suggested ketamine to achieve a “brain reset.”
Looking back, the first ketamine session I had – now one year ago – was one of most pivotal experiences of my life.
I lay in the recliner of my therapist’s center pondering why am I doing this? Ketamine, an anesthetic, still felt questionable as treatment for mental health. Of course, this is safe, I thought. Ketamine is a drug I had used for short procedures in many pediatric emergency rooms I had worked in previously.
The setting my sister referred me to was perfectly designed for the psychedelic experience. The center was tucked on the side of a coastal road of northern California, with jade expanse of the ocean and waves caressing the coastal terrain. We had driven through ancient giant redwoods as they hovered over the forested and sheltered road to the center. Inside the center, I noted the stillness of the space – no screen, only books on plant medicine, philosophy, nature, diet, and poetry. The walls were curated with art of chakra, Buddhas, and nature. Musical instruments lay apparent to be used and heard.
The décor all presented itself with the intrigue of achieving mysticism, unity, and spirituality. The plants both indoor and out blossomed and brightened the space. The flora, self-sustaining, as if they nurtured themselves from the energy of the space within. I, however, didn’t really know what I was doing here.
I awkwardly eased into the soft leather chair. I was told to lie down in the therapy room, which was more like a living room than a clinic. While my treatment was being prepared, I attempted to focus inward to my intention for the experience.
Thoughts of who I was, as a doctor, mother, and wife emerged. Viscerally encased memories of the loss of my father, biases embodied as an immigrant, and fears of the future, whirlpooled in my head. I would have rather been on the beach than lying here to focus on my pain, I thought. Yet, here I was, curious to the healing impact of ketamine and not fully prepared for what would come next.
I whispered reassurances in my mind that I was going to allow whatever was present in me to be revealed. I didn’t fully realize it then as I do now, what I had denied existed in me.
I had spent years caring for others – my family and countless children in hospitals, refugee camps, and underserved clinics in the US as well as overseas. I had often cognitively reflected on those hard moments, as an attending on rounds with residents and students.
As the ketamine medicine entered my blood stream intravenously, I quickly felt submerged. It came on strong. Like a wave carrying you into the warm ocean waters, I suddenly succumbed to my inner space. The weight of my body lifted. Not having done any sort of substances, I got wary to visual distortions. I looked at a painting in the room that was immersed in geometric shapes. Staring at it, I noticed it was undulating like the ocean waves in and out of the wall.
More Articles by Dr Alya Ahmad of ShaMynds Healing Center Sacramento, CA – visit The Context of Care – Narrative Medicine: STORIES IN HEALTH